Clubs slot final pieces into place
As the annual bout of frenetic transfer activity begins to slow down and the majority of national leagues kick off once again, clubs have been on the lookout for a last-minute bargain or a final piece in the tactical jigsaw. There were many such acquisitions this week, none of which escaped the watchful eye of FIFA.com.
In France, where three league fixtures have already been played, Marseille, Lyon and Bordeaux all claim to have found the missing ingredient in their respective recipes for success, something that has eluded them so far this season. Champions Marseille have brought in striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, hugely effective at Toulouse, to play alongside Loic Remy, signed just the week before. At around the same time, Lyon were pulling off one of the biggest transfers of the year in France by persuading influential playmaker Yoann Gourcuff to join them from Bordeaux, the club he propelled to the Ligue 1 title in 2009. While they ponder a replacement for the former AC Milan midfielder, Les Girondins have boosted their attacking options by taking the Nigerian Moussa Maazou on loan from CSKA Moscow. To plug the gap left by Gignac’s departure, Toulouse have turned to France U-21 international Yannis Tafer, who saw very little playing time at Lyon.
Another player familiar with Stade Gerland, defender Sebastien Squillaci, who had performed consistently well with Sevilla since 2008, has joined Arsenal, thereby giving the Gunners the opportunity to send out an entirely French defence this season if they so wished, with Bacary Sagna, Gael Clichy and Laurent Koscielny making up the quartet. And while one Frenchman arrives, another departs; William Gallas, who had come to the end of his contract at the Emirates Stadium, has signed for the club’s great rivals Tottenham, and can henceforth be sure of a ‘warm’ welcome in this season’s London derbies. Elsewhere in the English capital, Fulham have also been busy strengthening their defensive options with the signing of Mexico left-back Carlos Salcido from PSV Eindhoven.
Another player set to incur the wrath of his former supporters is Alberto Aquilani, who makes his grand return to Serie A, just a year after leaving Roma for Liverpool. The Italian midfielder has been loaned out to Juventus, one of a handful of clubs set to joust with Roma for the title this year. Fans of I Giallorossi are unlikely to welcome Paraguayan forward Roque Santa Cruz to Italy with open arms either, given that he has just signed for eternal rivals Lazio, after falling out of favour at Manchester City. Alessandro Diamanti has also returned to his native land, swapping a West Ham United shirt for a Brescia one. And the movement of attack-minded players does not stop there, with 35-year-old Cristiano Lucarelli putting his experience at the disposal of Napoli, former Uruguay international Ernesto Chevanton returning to Lecce, the club where he made a name for himself before going on to star for Monaco, Sevilla and Atalanta, and former Werder Bremen playmaker Diego joining Steve McClaren's Wolfsburg from Juventus.
Chevanton’s compatriot Marcelo Zalayeta is heading in the opposite direction, taking on a new challenge with Turkish club Kayserispor, thereby ending a 13-year stay in Italy, interspersed by a two-year stint in Spain from 1999 to 2001. The Turkish Super Lig is a championship that midfielder Mehmet Aurelio knows well, having previously performed wonders at Fenerbahce before joining Real Betis. He returns to Istanbul, but will this time sport the colours of city rivals Besiktas. The flight to Turkey will take a bit longer for New Zealand international Shane Smeltz, newly transferred to Genclerbirligi from Gold Coast United in the Australian A-League, and it will certainly feel longer to his fellow antipodean Danny Vukovic, who made a similar trip to Konyaspor from Queensland with the intention of signing for the Turkish club, but ended up joining Wellington Phoenix instead.
The long-haul flight that awaits Nicolas Otamendi is sure to have a more productive outcome. The international defender will get his first taste of European football this season, having left Velez Sarfield to sign a five-year contract with Porto. Colombian striker Adrian Ramos had made the same type of transatlantic trip the year before, but his European adventure with German club Hertha Berlin turned sour, resulting in relegation to the division below. He brought his time in the capital to an end this week, moving back up to the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim, where he will play alongside Sebastian Rudy, newly arrived from Stuttgart. Neither will have the opportunity to count Carlos Eduardo as one of their team-mates, the Brazilian international having departed for Russian champions Rubin Kazan. At the airport, he may well bump into another Brazilian, namely former Santos midfielder Wesley, who now faces the unenviable task of taking over from Mesut Ozil at Werder Bremen.
A similar challenge awaits Spanish defender Alexis, transferred from Valencia to Sevilla as a replacement for Squillaci. The revolving door at the Mestalla continues to turn, with both Asier del Horno and Uruguayan midfield man Nacho Gonzalez crossing the city to join the ranks of newly promoted Levante. Also preparing themselves for a return to the top flight, Real Sociedad have secured the signing of Jeffrey Sarpong, a product of Ajax’s youth system. Deportivo La Coruna, meanwhile, have signed experienced Paraguayan defender Claudio Morel Rodriguez from Boca Juniors.
As the transfer window gets ready to close, it is interesting to note that African players remain in great demand. Algerian internationals Djamel Abdoun and Rafik Halliche have been snapped up by Greek side Kavala and UEFA Europa League finalists Fulham respectively. In upcoming Premier League matches, the Cottagers’ centre-back will find his defensive skills tested by the Nigerian Peter Odemwingie, transferred from Lokomotiv Moscow to West Bromwich Albion, and by the Ivoirian Cheick Tiote, brought in by Newcastle from Twente, and Odemwingie's Nigeria team-mate Victor Obinna, who West Ham United have added to their ranks, bringing him on a season-long loan deal from Inter Milan. 21-year-old Ghanaian attacker Dominic Adiyiah has been sent out on loan by AC Milan to Serie B outfit Reggina in order to gain some match experience, while his countryman Hans Sarpei, 13 years his senior, has again postponed his retirement in favour of one final challenge with Schalke 04, following successful spells with Duisburg, Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen.
Another player who has been recently pondering retirement is Dutch legend Edgar Davids. After two years out of the game, the tough-tackling defensive midfielder has made a surprise comeback in the most unlikely of venues, turning out for Crystal Palace in England’s second tier on a pay-as-you-play basis. Elsewhere, Fiorentina have brought in 23-year-old winger Alessio Cerci from AS Roma, and UAE League outfit Al Jazira have snapped up Argentinean midfielder Matias Delgado on a two-year deal.