Manchester United, Chelsea, and Tottenham were all left scrambling forforwards on what was a damp squib of a transfer deadline day as last-minute panic left United desperately trying to seal a deal for random target Odion Ighalo.
All three of those Premier League clubs went into the final day of the window desperate to sign a forward to save their season and torecreate the drama of previous years when the likes of Robbie Keane, Jermaine Defoe, Lucas Moura, Carlos Tevez, Luis Suarez, and Wayne Rooney made dramatic big-money moves to beat the deadline.
Despite having so long to prepare, however, not a single one of those giants was able to land a top target — and in United’s case, it turned into a familiar and embarrassing scenario as they trawled the world looking for deals, seemingly without any strategy whatsoever, until they stumbled upon unlikely candidate Ighalo at ShanghaiShenhua at the last minute.
United’s recruitment has already been heavily criticised, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward becoming something of a pariah for many fans after the club allowed Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez to leave without adequately replacing them last summer.
But you wonder how low the club has fallen after the galling sight of United launching last-minute panic bids for random strikers who don’t appear to have the DNA required to be a success at Old Trafford.
They missed out on Bournemouth’s Josh King, a talented but out-of-form striker who has scored just three goals this season, because they only offered the Cherries a short-term loan deal and were unwilling to pay the full price of a permanent transfer.
Then they turned their attentions to a loan move for former Watford forward Ighalo.
The good news is Ighalo scored 10 goals in 19 games in China in 2019 and managed 16 in 55 Premier League games at Vicarage Road. The bad news is all but one of those 16 came in his first season — and his second was disappointing,categorised by a lack of end product. He failed to score in his last 15 games for the Hornets, and also endured a drought of 599 minutes the year before, even when things were going well.
Now he is 30 and certainly not improving — and yet there were United battling to negotiate a loan move late on deadline day.
Personal terms and salary on a six-month loan, with an option to buy, were agreed, but a travel ban on virus-hit China made it a complicated deal to compete and emphasised just how messy things have become at Old Trafford as the deadline approached.
King, perhaps, would have been a more credible stop-gap — the 28-year-old has an affinity to the club having played there as a teenager, when he made two appearances. But it soon became clear that United couldn’t get it over the line.
It was just as depressing at Chelsea, where manager Frank Lampard believed he would have €200m to spend after the club had its transfer ban reduced.
Again, with top scorer Tammy Abraham injured, it was clear they needed a striker — but they didn’t get one. Proposed moves forNapoli veteran Dries Mertens and PSG’s Edinson Cavani failed to materialise, leaving Chelsea with only unsettled Olivier Giroud and his hit-and-miss team-mate Michy Batshuayi up front.
“It’s clear we wanted to bring players in, I certainly wanted to bring players in, I think I made that pretty clear over the last few weeks and it hasn’t happened,” Lampard admitted.
The knock-on effect of Chelsea’s transfer failure was that Giroud, who had been lined up by Tottenham, could not move either — and Spurs became the third big-six club to miss out on a major target.
The north London club also missed out on Real Sociedad forward Willian Jose, and briefly, but unsuccessfully, challenged United for surprise man of the moment Ighalo, leaving manager Jose Mourinho in philosophical mood.
“Yes, we would need a striker to have a better squad to face the great challenges in front of us,” he said.
But we want to do things not to resolve the problems of today, but things that are also good for the future.
Spurs had at least made some decent signings earlier in the window, including taking Steven Bergwijn from PSV to replace Christian Eriksen. But for Chelsea, it was a bitter pill to swallow, having waited so long to replace Eden Hazard.
Sheffield United showed others how to do it as they completed a deal for striker Richario Zivkovic, on loan with a view to a permanent deal, from Changchun Yatai, while West Ham’s €27m bid for Hull City striker Jarrod Bowen showed what was possible.
Clubs who were less focused on strikers found it easier. Arsenal, for instance, were able to pick up defender Cedric Soares from Southampton.
It was also a comfortable day for Liverpool and Manchester City, who made it clear they did not need to add to already-strong squads, even if Jurgen Klopp refused to crow.
“Yes we are not really busy this period, but we are constantly in talks and exchanging ideas and thoughts about what could help us in the long-term,” he insisted.
“Being not busy in the transfer window does not give you the opportunity to be relaxed in this business.”
Being busy on deadline day doesn’t make you relaxed, either. United can certainly say they were busy — but relaxed? No chance. Scrambling around for second-rate strikers at 11pm isn’t the way business should be done especially not at Old Trafford.