The soccer transfer window closed more than a week ago, but I usually run this feature after the Super Bowl has been played, so I decided to wait until Bruce Arians had won his first-ever title before I blogged about this subject.
Why was this winter so quiet?
Because no one has any money. The coronavirus pandemic messed with everyone’s cash flow, so that even the big spenders and the teams that needed a midseason push largely kept their wallets closed. The biggest moves were mostly loans like Arsenal taking Norwegian former wunderkind Martin Ødegaard from Real Madrid for the rest of the season.
Wait, teams can just borrow players off other teams like library books?
More or less. Such moves cost a small fee, and most come with a clause that allows the borrowing team to keep the player permanently if all parties agree. Theoretically, this ensures that everyone makes out: The borrowing team receives the player’s services, the player gets playing time that he’s presumably not enjoying at his current team, and the team loaning out has a chunk of cash and the chance to monitor their man’s play in game situations. American sports leagues have something similar with teams trading for players at the trading deadline, but that market is generally limited to players whose contracts are running out. In soccer, these loans can happen for anyone at any time, and they add a fascinating wrinkle to managing a team. Liverpool, for example, had all their central defenders get hurt in the first part of the season, so they’ve taken out a couple of such players at cheap rates until the season ends in May. Even if Ben Davies and Ozan Kabak are only average, they may be able to keep the team afloat. (If one of them had played, they might have kept Liverpool from being shellacked by Manchester City this past Sunday.) By the same token, Arsenal is struggling to produce goals, and while Ødegaard hasn’t been able to crack the starting lineup at Real, he has the talent to help create chances.
Why doesn’t every team do that, especially now?
Loan moves typically don’t generate excitement among the fans or the press, even when superstars get loaned (like James Rodríguez from Real to Bayern Munich a few years back). Most loans are just for half a season, which can mean difficulties integrating loaned players into their new surroundings. Still, it would be a potential boon for teams that are suffering from cash problems.
Barcelona! That team is publicly owned, so its finances are public record, and a recent report showed a big, smoldering crater where their money used to be. They are now frantically trying to push back the due date on their $1.5 billion debt, and if they can’t, they may have to declare bankruptcy. Last October, I mentioned the mismanagement that alienated their biggest star, Lionel Messi, but none of us had any idea how bad it was. It all makes you wonder why the club didn’t go ahead and sell Messi last summer when he wanted out. The fee they would have gotten for him wouldn’t have erased that $1.5 billion (that’s more than the endowments of Baylor or Texas Tech), but it would have made a big dent. Now Barça is eating the dust of Atlético Madrid in the Spanish league after having sold Luis Suárez to Atléti and watching the Uruguayan striker rediscover his form. When Messi buggers off to Manchester City in June, the abyss will beckon for Barcelona. The good news? Sergiño Dest appears to be paying off.
Speaking of him, which Americans moved this year?
Lots! DeAndre Yedlin went from Newcastle to Galatasaray, so instead of spending the winter months watching the rain in northern England, he’ll be in the thick of a tooth-and-nail fight for the Turkish league’s title between the Lions and their archrivals, the Yellow Canaries of Fenerbahçe. (For some reason, the Turkish teams were the only ones spending money this winter.) Meanwhile, speaking of loan moves, Chris Richards couldn’t break into the starting XI at Bayern Munich, so the German titans have loaned him out to TSG Hoffenheim. FC Dallas sold Richards to Bayern two years ago, but what has everyone talking is that this term, the Hoops sold Fort Worth’s own Bryan Reynolds to AS Roma. The giallorossi have a great history, American ownership, and an outside shot at overhauling the two Milanese teams ahead of them in the title race. Two years ago, Reynolds was turning out for North Texas SC, and now he’ll be playing alongside the likes of Edin Džeko, Pedro, and Chris Smalling.
Doesn’t FC Dallas want to keep its best players?
I’m sure the local side would like to be a financial and footballing behemoth like Manchester City or Real Madrid. For the moment, though, supplying players to top European teams is far better than being off their radar completely. It used to be that the U.S. national team would have one Dallas player on their roster in the best of times. Now, FC Dallas is on the résumés of Richards, Reynolds, and Weston McKennie, who, despite testing positive for COVID-19 back in October, has become a bright spot in a flailing season for Juventus, and has been called the steal of the last transfer window in Serie A. (That will take some of the sting out of robbers literally stealing from his house in Turin recently.) The future of Team USA could have these guys who have worn the red and white stripes of the local team.
What else happened in the Italian league?
The most notable name to go by in Italy’s news ticker was Romano Mussolini, the great-grandson of former dictator Benito Mussolini. He had been playing defense for an under-18 team in the farm system, and now he has been called up to the senior team at Lazio, appropriately enough.
Why is that appropriate?
Lazio has a lengthy history of cozying up to fascists in their fanbase and in politics. When I say “fascist,” I don’t mean disagreeable right-wingers, I mean real-deal people who wear jackboots and armbands, carry Benito’s picture in their wallets, give Nazi salutes, and make monkey noises at opposing Black players even though they have Black players on their own team. Lazio’s games are often accompanied by violence, especially when they play against Roma (their cross-town rivals whose fanbase is working-class) or AS Livorno (whose fans are die-hard communists). Diplomatically, Romano has said that he’s just there to work on his game and not discuss politics. Seeing that his mother is an active member of Italy’s parliament who’s devoted to keeping her grandfather’s legacy alive (and feuding with Jim Carrey), we’ll see how well that goes.
The Dutch cup tournament was enlivened considerably when second-division team Den Bosch went down by three goals to Excelsior Rotterdam, only to roar back with four goals scored by striker Jizz Hornkamp, whose name has, uh, come to global attention. Jizz dribbles toward goal! Jizz shoots! Jizz hits the target! Jizz is hot tonight! The possibilities are endless.