PSG finally gets its man in David Beckham in frenzied transfer season
There aren't that many surprise transfers anymore; the nature of the press, clubs leaking information and the rise of social media make secrets hard to keep. But there was genuine surprise Thursday, when French league leader Paris Saint-Germain announced it had signed David Beckham. The former LA Galaxy midfielder is one of a host of big-name players to switch teams this month. Here is a breakdown of some of the biggest moves in a bizarre January:
1.David Beckham (to Paris Saint-Germain, out of contract)
Paris Saint-Germain learned its lesson. Twelve months ago, it tried to sign Alex Pato, and failed. It tried to sign Carlos Tevez, and failed. It even tried to sign David Beckham, and was so confident about the deal happening, it reportedly had 80,000 shirts printed with his name on it. Back then, Beckham stayed in L.A. PSG sports director Leonardo looked bad: the triple rejection was seen as his failure. PSG had blabbed about each deal too early, and got stung.
On Thursday, though, PSG proved the upside of quiet negotiations. In fact, it took everyone by surprise, announcing that a five-month deal for Beckham had been agreed, and that the player had passed a medical. Choosing this day was a gamble that paid off handsomely for both parties: the transfer window closes Thursday for players currently under contract with their clubs, so Beckham, as a free agent, could have signed any time he wanted -- like next week, for example. Announcing the deal on deadline day gives him, and crucially, PSG, maximum exposure.
Let's not kid ourselves, exposure is what PSG owner Qatari Sports Investment wants: it got it to a certain degree by signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva from AC Milan last summer, but Beckham is on another level. He will sell shirts, but as So Foot put it: "He will also help PSG flood the Asian and American markets; bring his Champions League experience to the squad; advise and act as role model to young players; persuade other talents to come to Paris; develop the PSG brand."
It helps that PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti (in 2009), and then Leonardo (in 2010), were Milan coaches when Beckham spent his two six-month periods on loan there.
"People have a false image of Beckham, he is someone who is very intelligent," Ancelotti told So Foot in 2010. "As well as being very serious and hard-working on a day-to-day basis, he's really someone who loves hard work. He understood very quickly when he lost a little bit of his speed that his vision of the game, his reading of the game, was going to help him to adapt to a more central role. He is a little bit slower than he was, but tactically and technically I think he is stronger."
So where will he fit in at PSG, currently joint-top of Ligue 1 with Lyon, and in the Champions League round of 16 with a winnable tie against Valencia next month? Given that Ancelotti has been accused of failing to find a winning formation this season, and that PSG has also signed the most expensive player of this transfer window, Brazilian winger Lucas Moura, for €40 million, we could see a change from a 4-2-3-1 system to a 4-3-3.
Beckham could take on a "Pirlo role" playing as a No. 6 in front of the back four, with two of Blaise Matuidi, Thiago Motta or Marco Verratti in front of him. The three across the front would be, from right to left, Moura, Ibrahimovic and then Jeremy Menez, Ezequiel Lavezzi and Javier Pastore fighting it out for the final spot. If Beckham was one of the duo in a midfield two, it might leave PSG exposed. As Jacques Crevoisier, former Liverpool assistant coach and now a consultant to clubs in Ligue 1 put it, "The physical demands of Ligue 1 are different to the MLS."
Today, though, the eyes of the football world are on Paris, and for that, Leonardo does deserve some credit. He made his first call to Beckham about moving to France in August 2011, and the initial formal offer came through that October. It took another 14 months after that, but finally PSG got its man.
2. Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan to Galatasaray, €7.5 million)
One of the surprise moves of the month, the Dutch playmaker ended his spell at Inter Milan on bad terms, leaving after refusing to take a 30 percent pay cut it offered on a bumper contract he signed after inspiring Holland to the 2010 World Cup final. Turkish champion and current leader Galatasaray was keen to stress he had not come for the money: he will earn a reported €4 million per year, excluding bonuses, on top of a €3.9 million signing-on fee (not much more than what Inter offered him), and, according to his new club, turned down more than triple that from Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala.
Crucially, Galatasaray said it wanted to build its team around Sneijder, still only 28, and, unlike Inter, in the last 16 of the Champions League. Coach Fatih Terim has some prestige, too: he was in charge when Galatasaray won the UEFA Cup in 2000 and has coached Fiorentina and AC Milan in Serie A. Sneijder's presence may even have helped convince Didier Drogba to join, too (although that deal is currently being challenged by Shanghai Shenhua, which claims Drogba is still under its contract in China).
The favorable tax rate in Turkey, of 15 percent for high earners, actually seems a red herring in this deal. Clubs take on the tax demands of its country, as the case of PSG spending over €50 million to meet Zlatan Ibrahimovic's annual net salary of €14 million. Yet this move still spells financial danger for Galatasaray.
"When a club's revenues increase, its indebtedness increases automatically because it starts spending its revenues without any discipline," warned Turkish football economist Tugrul Aksar in newspaper Hurriyet. "We have a financial black hole because revenues are not covering expenditures, so financial discipline is a must. Turkish football is not transparent. And that's an essential problem. When there is no transparency, there is no accountability; so there is also an administrative hole as well."
When Galatasaray was drawn to face Schalke in next month's Champions League tie, the German side was favored: now, with Schalke selling Lewis Holtby to Spurs and Galatasaray bulked up with Sneijder and (possibly) Drogba, the Turkish leader could be a dark horse in the competition.
3. Yann M'Vila (Rennes to Rubin Kazan, €8 million)
A cautionary tale of what can happen to a player who takes his eye off football matters, or an ambitious move by a player hoping to return to the big-time soon? Not so long ago, M'Vila was wanted by the likes of Inter Milan and Arsenal, which had a €20 million bid rejected by Rennes 18 months ago.
Since then, a series of disciplinary issues and a loss of form saw his value plummet. This month, though, he was offered a deal by QPR, but rejected it. Fair enough: it is bottom of the Premier League and could struggle to avoid relegation. Rubin, on the other hand, offered more money -- €4.5 million per year (yes, more than Sneijder!) -- but also the promise of European football: Rubin is in the Europa League and faces reigning champion Atletico Madrid in a high-profile round of 32 tie. It is fourth in the Russian Premier Liga and still in with a shout of qualifying for the Champions League next season -- more than can be said for QPR. And the idea of M'Vila in London was probably not the best for him. As he put it, in an interview with Rennes' website: "I'm here to concentrate on football -- and there won't be anything else to do in Kazan!"
4. Nicolas Anelka (Shanhgai Shenhua to Juventus, loan)
The irony of this move, another major shock of the window, is that Anelka's arrival ended any hope that his big friend, Drogba, might have had of moving to the Italian champion. Drogba recently told France Football Juventus was the only other side apart from Shanghai Shenhua that was interested in him post-Chelsea (mainly because everyone else expected him to extend his Chelsea deal), but that move is now off the table with the Frenchman's arrival.
Juventus does have a problem with center-forwards -- its top scorer, Fabio Quagliarella, has only scored seven this season, and loan signing Nicklas Bendtner has been a total bust -- but is Anelka the man to solve that problem? Over the last 18 months, he has scored four goals in 39 games and last played center forward in France's doomed 2010 World Cup campaign.
He explained his drought in China (three goals in 24 games) to Le Parisien: "When I played in the middle, there was no one to give the ball to, and when I was forward, I couldn't get the ball."
His time in Shanghai was not made easier by his appointment as coach after Jean Tigana was sacked five games into the season. "It was difficult to manage because I held three positions: coach, player and captain," he added.
Anelka has not played for over a month (although he did train with Paris Saint-Germain last month), and so he will need time to get match-fit, which makes the short-term deal even more surprising. There is a clause, though, that if he does well, Juventus will extend his spell by 12 months -- even though it completed the deal for free agent Fernando Llorente to join in June as well. Then Juventus will have some real firepower in attack.
5, 6, and 7. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa, Mathieu Debuchy, Moussa Sissoko (Montpellier, Lille, Toulouse to Newcastle)
Newcastle is Ligue 1's 21st club, goes the joke in France, but no one was laughing at Aston Villa on Tuesday night as Yohan Cabaye opened the scoring and Sissoko set up Papiss Cisse for a second goal in its first away win of the season. Yanga-Mbiwa, coming off the bench, made a decisive goal-line clearance late on. Newcastle started with four Frenchmen but now has 10 in its squad.
"The French players have had a fantastic education in terms of tactics and technique and the success and pleasure we get from working with Cabaye and [Hatem] Ben Arfa is why we are recruiting in France," chief scout Graham Carr told L'Equipe.
Newcastle is trying to copy the Arsenal model from the 1990s: "They signed [Thierry] Henry, [Emmanuel] Petit and [Patrick] Vieira and then they became the best players in the world."
There is no doubt that Newcastle has found value in all three players, but whether it can keep them for more than a season or two remains to be seen. Cabaye (who cost €5 million) and Ben Arfa (approximately €8 million) might both leave this summer, but only if Newcastle makes a decent profit on the pair.