Taking measure as Premier League transfer window nears end
Frustrated at Chelsea, Scott Sinclair has emerged as a pivotal player for Swansea
Wigan Athletic's Victor Moses is heading to Chelsea on a $14 million transfer fee
Tom Huddlestone's impact upon the Derby County team was instant in the opener
Just a week in to the new Premier League season and we can already say that a number of players have made evidently good moves over the course of the summer -- Eden Hazard has needed no time to bed in at Chelsea, Michu is already having a ball at Swansea City, and Mladen Petric has quickly embraced the team ethic at Fulham. As we barrel towards the end of the transfer window, however, there are a few moves that, if not entirely baffling, at least give rise to a feeling of unease.
As a 16-year-old, Scott Sinclair was signed by Chelsea from Bristol Rovers and made just a handful of appearances between loan spells at six other (lower division) clubs, never making more than 20 appearances for any of them. Two summers ago he signed for Swansea City, calling it "the best decision" he had ever made after growing tired of being told that 10 minutes here and there was enough of a chance to impress.
"I had to leave Chelsea," he said at the time. "My career was going nowhere and the chances were so limited. It's just getting harder for the young English players. The club just decides to spend millions of pounds on an international player rather than trust someone young. We're never really given the chance."
Now 23 and with two good seasons under Brendan Rodgers behind him, perhaps Sinclair's perspective has altered; perhaps he no longer considers himself a player waiting to break through. But it is less than a year since he said that "there was never a time I thought I'd cracked it at Chelsea. It was like a brick wall in front of me. I couldn't deal with playing reserve football." The move to Manchester City seems an odd one on the heels of this confession.
From being a bit-part player, Sinclair immediately became pivotal to Swansea, playing 50 games in his first season there and scoring 27 goals (yes, he was their penalty taker, but still). "When we won the play-off final at Wembley that was the best day of my career -- because I was a part of it," he said in an interview with The Independent in the first half of last season. "I'd played a full season, scored goals, played in the final and was fully involved in the promotion."
He was not so prolific a scorer as Swansea adjusted to life in the Premier League last season, but he remained one of the first names on the team sheet, appearing in 40 of the club's 41 matches. When the time came for talk of a new contract, he said it would "definitely" be his preference to stay where he was playing every week for a manager who had faith in him.
Despite the change of manager, the change of heart has not been Swansea's; the club would far sooner have Sinclair than the $8-9 million it will get from Manchester City. It may be that the loss of Rodgers, who was reserve team coach during Sinclair's spell at Chelsea, changed the player's attachment to the club. He may also feel that his game will develop faster for training alongside the kind of quality that Manchester City's squad is stuffed full with. Adam Johnson, whose spot on the bench Sinclair seems likely to fill once Johnson's proposed move to Sunderland is completed, may beg to differ.
Chelsea has been promising for a long time to bring young players through, but it is striking the swiftness with which the likes of Josh McEachran, Jeffrey Bruma, Tamas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt (to select just the names from the top of my head) have been shipped out on loan before another season really gets going. A couple of years ago, aged 18, Neymar dismissed links to Stamford Bridge by saying that he would be better off staying in Brazil than making a big money move to Chelsea's reserves.
That same summer, Carlo Ancelotti hailed Gael Kakuta as "the future of Chelsea". That's the same Gael Kakuta who is now pleading for a move back to France so that he can get a game -- not a good sign for Victor Moses, the Wigan Athletic player for whom Chelsea have just agreed a $14 million fee. "We like him very much," says Roberto di Matteo, the Chelsea manager. "He's young and hopefully he'll be the future of the club."
Di Matteo has, at least, shown a decent appreciation of the kind of player he is getting, and what Moses offers Chelsea that the side currently lacks. "He can play on either wing and will give the team width," he said. Moses cuts in more often than not when playing on the left, but on the right he would certainly offer service from wide positions. "He has good dribbling ability, has pace and is powerful."
Those qualities come in no short quantity, to the bittersweet delight of the fans who watched him develop at Crystal Palace. Even as a 17-year-old he was capable of creating chances against teams who had otherwise worked out how to contain Neil Warnock's side. In his first season at Palace, 2007-08, he was instrumental in the results that lifted the club in to the Championship playoff places. Though he couldn't turn the tide as Bristol City triumphed 4-2 on aggregate, it was already clear that Moses was bound for the Premier League, with or without Palace.
Last season, Moses was frequently Wigan's best attacking player -- always difficult to handle, tireless -- and would have carried more responsibility this season with the departure of Hugo Rodallega. Now there are legitimate questions as to whether or not Chelsea will afford Moses sufficient opportunities to do justice to his talent. Having already spent upwards of $100 million this summer alone, Roman Abramovich does not need the outlay justifying.
Tom Huddlestone's impact upon the Derby County team was instant, producing a man of the match performance on his debut, aged just 16. Such is the composure and maturity of his play that it is difficult to believe that he is still only 25. After he established himself at Tottenham Hotspur in a similarly immediate manner, the manager Martin Jol was so taken with his immaculate passing game and the effortless defensive interventions he made that likened him to Franz Beckenbauer, and has at least thought about signing him to each club he has subsequently managed.
Last season Harry Redknapp favoured the pairing of Scott Parker and Luka Modric in Spurs' central midfield, but in any case a recurring ankle injury ruined the campaign for Huddlestone, and might yet scupper a proposed loan move to Stoke City. The Potters famously turned down the opportunity to sign Demba Ba because of a knee problem that they described as "a ticking timebomb" (which has yet to go off). If the deal does go through, however, there are other reasons to think it odd.
Firstly, it is being reported as a half-season loan deal, ending in January - the sort of thing usually reserved for unproven young players and emergency goalkeepers. It suggests a lack of confidence from all parties -- Stoke uncertain of his suitability and fitness, Spurs uncertain as to his redundancy, and Huddlestone agreeing with both.
The new Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas is stripping his squad right back before the window closes, indifferent to Michael Dawson's presence and happy to field offers for the collection of midfielders that his predecessors have accumulated. In that context Huddlestone's possible move is not surprising but it is still strange -- he is not as mobile as Sandro, say, but he is the most refined deep-lying midfielder on Tottenham's books.
And Stoke? There are a lot of fans who are understandably delighted to see their club linked with a player whose subtlety is inversely proportional to that of Rory Delap, despite his galumphing size. That says a lot, however, about the goodness of fit between the two. Though there are still overblown myths perpetuated about Stoke's style of play, it is fair to say that Wilson Palacios, the out-and-out basher who left Tottenham for the Britannia last summer, was ostensibly a more natural fit -- yet it has taken them this long to get him in to the side.