Some years, soccer’s winter transfer window is busy, and in other years, British sportscasters are reduced to asking Paul Merson about Lewis Hamilton switching racing teams. With me as always for this less eventful transfer window is my imaginary interlocutor.
Great to be back. What happened this winter?
Remember all those players I referred to in February going to the Saudi league to take some of that sweet blood money? Seems like a bunch of them want back out now. They found out that the KSA sucks as a place to live and work. We’re talking commutes of several hours between home and the stadium, with nothing to do except stare at the sand. Then you factor in the language that’s famously difficult for non-native speakers to pick up, the unavailable alcohol, the strictures on women, and matches that sometimes draw less than 600 fans, and all the money doesn’t look so good anymore.
Is it really that bad?
Karim Benzema tallied 12 goals in 20 games but deleted his social media account because of all the abuse he was getting from all the French and Saudi fans over his attitude. He also seems to have fallen out with his coach (which granted, can happen anywhere). Benzema had to publicly say he was happy after some of his friends told the press that he wasn’t. Between that and the teammate’s sex tape that resulted in Benzema being blackballed from the French national team for years, Benzema needs better friends. Neymar also fell out with his coach before hurting his knee, and Roberto Firmino got benched by Al-Ahli for seven straight league matches before scoring a hat trick against bottom-feeding Al-Hazem.
What about Jordan Henderson?
Jordan Henderson (whose family was living in Bahrain, making his commute even longer) wound up breaking his contract with Al-Ettifaq to sign with Ajax. The team is even worse off than they were before he arrived, and breaching his contract may cost Henderson more money than the contract is worth. His reputation is enormously damaged — even people who hated Liverpool respected him when he was their captain. That’s gone now. I figured that the Saudi league’s backers would be more committed than the Chinese league’s, but their bubble has popped even faster than China’s did.
Why’d he go there in the first place?
It’s hard to tell amid the word salad of his justifications, but he did say some stuff about wanting to improve life for LGBT people and other marginalized communities in Saudi Arabia. I’m not sure what he thought he’d achieve in that area. When he wore a rainbow-colored captain’s armband during matches, the kingdom’s state-controlled media blacked it out. He also wanted more playing time to protect his spot in England’s national team, as his advancing age and diminishing abilities would seem to portend fewer starts had he stayed at Liverpool. It’s not clear his time in Saudi really helped that, either, and now England coach Gareth Southgate is under fire for keeping Henderson in the lineup and not saying anything about the KSA’s intentions.
Was he the biggest-name player to switch teams?
Kylian Mbappé is reportedly set to join Real Madrid from PSG, but that won’t happen until the summer. Tottenham signed Romanian defender Radu Drăgușin from Genoa, beating Bayern Munich to the signing (what?) and seeing the Bavarians sign their defender Eric Dier as a second choice (WHAT?). To add to the drama, the player’s agent Florin Manea told anyone who would listen that his client was going to be one of the all-time greats, and that Drăgușin wouldn’t be long at Tottenham before Barcelona or Real Madrid came calling. Maybe Donald Trump should hire this guy as his new lawyer.
What about USA’s players?
USA goalkeeper Matt Turner lost his starting spot at Nottingham Forest to Odysseas Vlachodimos, only for the Greek national team stopper to also spit the bit. Forest made an offer to David de Gea, but the former Manchester United and Spain keeper turned them down, so they signed Belgian netminder Matz Sels, who started Forest’s 1-1 draw against Bournemouth this past weekend. Oh, and Welsh goalie Wayne Hennessey remains on their roster with Turner and Vlachodimos, so at least Forest goalkeeping coach Rui Barbosa will stay busy maintaining all of them in game shape. Even if Turner isn’t in goal, American soccer fans should still follow Forest because they borrowed Gio Reyna from Borussia Dortmund. Reyna had some flashy games for Dortmund, but he’s running out of chances to show that he can produce consistently.
Who will be the big free agents in the summer?
Coaches! The coaching carousel in June figures to be as crazy as the NFL’s has been the last couple weeks. Jürgen Klopp caused much wailing and gnashing of teeth around Liverpool by announcing that he’s leaving his job at season’s end, citing his “running out of energy.” His team responded by reeling off a bunch of wins and taking a place atop the Premier League, and they may well send him out with more than one trophy. He said he doesn’t intend to coach anybody next season, but Barcelona would do well to make him an offer regardless, since Xavi announced his end-of-season departure after a loss to Villarreal. (Losing to the Yellow Submarine isn’t embarrassing in itself, but giving up five goals at home for the first time in decades is.) AS Roma fired José Mourinho, plunging their fans into despair. The giallorossi’s results justified the sacking, but a lot of fans in Italy think it’s still 2010 and that The Special One just knows how to win. Mourinho got a job offer from Al-Shabab in Saudi Arabia but turned it down, and it’s hard to know what ownership group in Europe will put up with the coach’s crap now.
Any other Liverpool news?
Their one loss in the season’s first half came to Tottenham, thanks in generous part to a Liverpool goal that should have counted but instead was disallowed because of a miscommunication between the replay officials and the officials on the pitch. The media got a transcript of their conversation, showing that when the replay ref realized that the game had restarted with the goal chalked off, he screamed, “I can’t do anything! I can’t do anything! Fuck!” We’ve all been there, friend.
What about FC Dallas?
The local side was quiet, too, picking up free agent defender Omar Gonzalez. Remember when he was going to be the future of Team USA’s defense? He fell on hard times in New England, but he does have a resume that includes winning the CONCACAF Champions League. The Hoops also bought Ecuadorian winger Patrickson Delgado from the Argentinian league. That’s about it.
Arturo Vidal went back to his boyhood team of Colo-Colo in Chile, where they welcomed him back with an elaborate ceremony with a helicopter entrance followed by him riding around the pitch on a horse while wearing a cape and waving a sword around. I guess it’s because they used to call him “King Arthur” when he was a player. He had a stellar career with Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, and Inter Milan, winning nine league titles in 10 years and two consecutive Copa América titles, though never the Champions League. (Wait, what?) Was the ceremony a bit much? You decide.