Many Americans celebrated Labor Day by going to the nearest place where the ocean meets land in the most aesthetically pleasing way, or getting in one last Big Grill. Although Europeans don't share our values -- they think our day off is cute and all, while they put in their annual month of leave -- European soccer clubs had a Big Grill of sorts over the weekend, trying to smoke up a juicy catch or two for the supporters before the transfer window closed on Monday night. A lot of money changed hands, and a lot of clubs got better. Some got worse, but are now slightly richer.
The Welsh Domino
On Sunday, Tottenham gave up a goal to Arsenal in the 23rd minute and never retaliated, continuing their streak this season of scoring only on penalties. At that point, Arsenal had not spent a penny in the transfer window, and Tottenham had spent £109 million. The next day, Tottenham would, by selling their best player, set off a chain reaction that would paradoxically make Arsenal a much stronger side than the one that beat them.
When Tottenham finally agreed to sell Bale (after waiting so long Madrid had to dismantle the stage they constructed for their unveiling ceremony), it made Madrid midfielder Mesut Ozil expendable for the right price. Arsenal swooped in and purchased Ozil for half the price of Bale. Depending on which measure you're using to adjust for inflation, Bale may or may not have set a new world record with his transfer fee, so let's just say he did, because why the hell not? The 24-year-old's fee is reported to be £85.3 million, which is almost precisely twice as much as his would-have-been-teammate's at £42 million. So we have the bizarre market valuation where Gareth Bale is worth two Mesut Ozils, a premise few people would have agreed with before today, and which most would likely still argue with.
In a vacuum, £85 million sounds like an awful lot to pay for a player, probably because it is. But a cool thing about markets is that values are relative to other goods precisely so you don't have to analyze them in a vacuum. Ask any analyst, fan, or soccer mind in the world if they would rather have two Mesut Ozils or one Gareth Bale, and I would be willing to bet over 95 percent of them would take the two Meut Ozils and go win a couple of titles of some kind. Ozil, simply put, is on the shortlist of the world's greatest playmakers, occupies a similar role as Bale, and is the same age. Bale has a better shot from distance and more pace, but that doesn't double his value. In the end, you can quibble on the margins, but Madrid paid roughly £42 million for what amounts to a slight upgrade.
Although Tottenham's main competitors just got a lot better, it's not time to pencil Spurs in at fifth place just yet, since they spent more than what they got for Bale on incoming talent this summer, punctuating it with Erik Lamela for a nothing-to-shake-a-stick-at £30 million. Tottenham essentially has a new team this year, and will surely need time to mesh on the pitch, which has been made apparent through the first three matches. The question is, will it take too long for them to catch up?
The Puffy-Haired Domino
Up north, Manchester United officials were scrambling to keep pace with their London counterparts. In the final minutes of the window, United reached an agreement of £27.5 million for long-sought Everton midfielder Marouane Fellaini, which set off a chain reaction allowing Everton to bolster their midfield in kind. Roberto Martinez added to his fetish-collection of poached Wigan players in James McCarthy, in addition to Manchester City midfielder Gareth Barry, who I presume is finally allowed out of the witness protection system and Chelsea striker Romelu Lukaku, who will join Everton on a season-long loan. With these three additions, Martinez did quite well to replace Fellaini, which should ease some concerns at Goodison Park. Still, Everton had three draws to start the season-including against West Brom, accounting for their only point thus far-so Martinez's seat was a bit warm in advance of the deadline.
There's no question United are improved with Fellaini in midfield. Giggs is too old to be playing soccer --that's not me talking, that's science -- and Fellaini's presence should smooth Giggs's transition from player to corpse… I mean, coach. Still, United fans have to be disappointed they couldn't do more. More on that later.
The Russian Club
Before the Bale-Ozil dominos tumbled, Chelsea pulled a fast one on Spurs, snatching prized midfielder Willian out from under them like a cheap rug. Reportedly, Willian underwent a physical at Tottenham, when Chelsea owner/rare yacht hunter (if that's a thing, he does it) Roman Abramovich placed a call to his fellow Russian oligarch owner at Anzhi Makhachkala. I like to imagine the call went something like this:
Abramovich: [Speaks Russian]
Anzhi Owner: [Also Speaks Russian]
[Laughs In Russian]
Abramovich: [Speaks Russian
[Hangs Up In Russian]
Sorry, I don't speak Russian. Anyway, for a slightly higher fee than what Tottenham agreed to, Chelsea officials invaded the Tottenham compound, loaded Willian into a white van, and completed the deal. Chelsea also bought Anzhi striker Samuel Eto'o (one of the most expensive players in the world per week), who will be re-united with former manager Jose Mourinho.
Although Willian will add depth to Chelsea's midfield, they already had that with Mata sitting on the bench. What Chelsea needed most was a striker, and Eto'o, at 32, may have his best years behind him.
Quietly Solidifying the Squad Moves
Liverpool is already exceeding expectations, including the most resounding 1-0 win featuring a fourth-minute goal the world has ever seen. Liverpool's two most recent signings, Mamadou Sakho from Paris St Germain and Tiago Ilori from Lisbon, watched from the directors' box, and had to like what they saw, particularly from an in-form Daniel Sturridge. The two defenders came relatively cheap: £16 million for Sakho and £7 million for the younger and less-experienced Ilori. Liverpool already have Skrtel and Agger at center back, one of the better combinations in the league. These signings provide immediate depth and long-term stability, particularly considering Agger was the subject of Barcelona's fancy over the summer.
On the attacking side, Liverpool acquired Victor Moses on loan from Chelsea for a frugal £1 million. Moses, who was purchased by Chelsea from Wigan last summer for £9 million, will immediately add to a squad that has plenty of prowess up the middle with wonder-signing Coutinho, mainstay Gerrard, and the breakout of Daniel Sturridge in Suarez's absence.
Somehow, Stoke sits fifth in the table right now, which means nothing, since Tottenham and Manchester United will not be behind them for long, but it still speaks to the fact that Stoke may not be terrible. They added Austrian national Marko Arnautovic from Werder Bremen for a reported £2 million. As far as I'm concerned, this is just one more obstacle for Brek Shea to break the first squad, so this is terrible news all around.
West Brom is in last place and is yet to score this season. So they did what teams in last place do when relegation is a thing: they got someone on a free transfer from a club that exceeded expectations in the past, hoping to capitalize on that magic. And so we have Morgan Amalfitano from Lorient. Said manager Steve Clark: "I hope there will be some good news for the supporters, we all need good news…even I need some good news." Everything sounds cheery in the Midlands.
Two-hundred miles north, Newcastle tried to bolster an attacking side that had similar troubles, only scoring one goal so far this campaign. Although they managed to hold onto midfielder Yohan Cabaye, they lost out on a £10 million bid for Florian Thuavin. Newcastle was hoping to make an impact this window, but they will have to make do with Cabaye and their only real scoring threat, Hatem Ben Arfa.
(Ed. note: This article initially stated Thauvin was purchased by Newcastle. This statement was in error, as Newcastle only bid on him. Thauvin was transferred to Marseille.)
Conspiracy Theory Fodder (If That's Your Kind of Thing) Featuring "Imposters," Scuppers and Tax Burdens
It's not often a deadline day features the word "imposters" (at least not when it isn't part of a semi-literate tweet), but this was a truly special deadline day. Apparently, Manchester United were in negotiations for Athletic Bilbao midfielder Ander Herrera for £30 million, when three individuals posing as "United officials" showed up at the Spanish league headquarters, supposedly to "scupper the deal". In the end, the Herrera deal was complicated due to tax burdens and couldn't be completed in time, but reports of "imposters" will give Red Devil conspiracy theorists plenty to chew on.
Cruelly, we have to wait two weeks to see how everyone fares with their new club, as it is the dreaded international break. Get out your whiteboards, draw your formations (or go high-tech and play whatever newfangled video game simulates such matters), and do your best to survive.