Thursday, 1 September 2011

Reflections on the 2011 summer transfer window

Sven Goran Eriksson will lead his team out against Barnsley with the most expensively-assembled Leicester City team of all time. The Swede, armed with cash from the King Power owners of the football club, was given a near-unlimited budget and has spent widely since making his first signing, snatching the promising Lee Peltier on a three-year deal in the middle of June.

But what of Eriksson's spending tactics? Has he got value for money? The Foxes' manager has, after all, spent an unprecedented amount for a Championship club, not including huge wages (rumours of some £25,000 per week being offered to the likes of Matt Mills are not completely unfounded).

Cream of the crop: Leicester City's twelve new signings of the summer of 2011

Of the players Eriksson has signed - with copious assistance from the likes of football director Andrew Neville, and vice chairman Aiyawatt Raksriaksorn, who must both take credit for splashing the cash - the most exciting must be the last-ditch capture of Jermaine Beckford, a snip at £4 million should he deliver on his sure promise of goals at this level. He may not have fired for Everton, a memorable solo strike against Chelsea among just seven other goals for the Toffees, but in the Football League he has an incredible average more than equal to the hitherto-elusive 20-goals-per-season striker Foxes' fans were seeking.

To date, Gelson Fernandes' appearances in royal blue have proven that his loan from St Etienne is a savvy one and Foxes fans are hoping already that deal will be made permanent next summer. Meanwhile, fellow central midfielder Michael Johnson is one of the few failures of the summer, his lack of fitness seeing him yet to appear in a league match for Leicester. One can only hope that he delivers on the promise he once showed as an England youngster and Manchester City starlet.

One of the biggest talking points at the football club is young Kasper Schmeichel, whose on-field performances have earned him praise and criticism in equal measure. His ability and talent as a goalkeeper is clearly hereditary, as is - perhaps not entirely unfortunately - his aggression. That is the subject of any criticism surrounding Schmeichel, notably for his silly red card at Forest which he earned from two yellow cards for dissent. The refereeing was arguably to blame, but Schmeichel put himself in that position and he is yet to demonstrate a footballing maturity that may be needed from a goalkeeper with a defensive line so low in confidence.

That defensive line has seen significant investment - the aforementioned Matt Mills became the unconfirmed club record signing when Reading agreed to a rumoured £5.5 million fee - whilst Sean St Ledger, Paul Konchesky and first summer signing Lee Peltier all joined for undisclosed fees. Meanwhile that back line has been strengthened further with Michael Ball and John Pantsil joining as free agents, the latter immediately making his mark on the first team but not yet proving his fitness. Ball, meanwhile, provides a useful squad presence, already demonstrated in his League Cup appearances, and Premiership experience.

Also arriving for free, having reached the ends of their respective contracts, are the two most canny signings Eriksson has made this summer. In Neil Danns he has secured a talented and versatile midfielder who was Crystal Palace's best and most consistent performer last term, whilst David Nugent's arrival from Portsmouth adds a Matty Fryatt-like poasher-goalscorer to the front line, albeit with certain criticisms of his injury prone nature, proven true as he is currently on the treatment table nursing a torn hamstring. But Nugent is a goalscorer at heart and he has already found the net twice for Leicester and will be a crucial asset up front, even if he ends up playing on the wing to provide space for Beckford in the middle (a more accepted tactic may be to make use of the two of them at the top of a conventional 4-4-2).

Despite international acclaim it is probably the two most highly qualified signings that have the most to prove: Johnson has yet to return to full fitness and part of the logic of his loan deal is surely down to his gaining first team football at a level below that of title-chasing Manchester City. Meanwhile, John Pantsil fell out of favour with Martin Jol at Fulham and was released, only signing for the Foxes on the eve of the new season.

Nonetheless, the talent is there for Leicester City to mount a sound promotion push this season. Indeed, any position outside of the top six would be an utter failure for Eriksson and his job might be on the line should he fall even at the final hurdle in a play-off final at Wembley, but football is a strange game and it is up to him, and his team, to prove their worth and earn that exclusive place in the Premier League. In Sven we must surely trust.
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