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May 29, 2012

Hazard warning for the transfer window

The Eden Hazard saga is thankfully at an end. His public conducting of his move via Twitter made this a thoroughly modern transfer of the 'look at me' age in which we live. Perhaps his next transfer will be carried out in the televisual style of Lebron James.

Saturday's friendly at Wembley between England and Belgium may even see him lead the news agenda ahead of the home team's last match before a major tournament. Judging on recent form, young M. Hazard will rather enjoy it that way.

To set aside Hazard's X-Factor antics, the first megadeal of the new transfer window can actually tell us something of the machinations we can expect in the summer of fun that awaits us. In paying an estimated £32 million, Roman Abramovich's interest in transfer business has been rekindled. With Hulk said to be on his way too, it seems that the Russian wants more success, and perhaps this time delivered in more style.

Just as you will rarely find a billionaire who doesn't want more money, you will rarely find a winner who doesn't want to taste more success. Those who questioned Abramovich's motivation being lessened by achieving his holy grail of the Champions League now have their answer.

The failure to land Hazard throws up questions from both Manchester City and Manchester United. Have City decided that Hazard doesn't fit into their gameplan, as they already have David Silva and Samir Nasri to play in a similar role? Or is their refusal to entertain Hazard's reportedly sky-high wage demands an admission of a need to balance the budget? They already have a number of players on such earnings, some of whom are unwanted - Emmanuel Adebayor, Wayne Bridge and most likely Carlos Tevez - and getting them off the books may be their first priority. Could City finally be embracing the idea of Financial Fair Play at the same time it looks as if Chelsea have decided to throw off its shackles?

Manchester United, meanwhile, have 'come second' once more, and this is no reference to their final Premier League position. Hazard follows Wesley Sneijder, Mezut Ozil and Karim Benzema as a main transfer target missed, making it four years in a row that leading players have not been landed. Sir Alex Ferguson needs midfield reinforcements fast or faces more accusations of being a Glazer apologist.

Arsenal were linked some time back with Hazard, along with Tottenham Hotspur, so their not even entering the race further confirms their place in the transfer market pecking order; they are not even in it. Yann M'Vila would seem to have been the cure for their ills at the base of midfield yet their interest has reportedly cooled in the wake of finances. Their latest link has been with a somewhat obscure Uzbek midfield enforcer in Odil Ahmedov, no doubt a decent player but perhaps cold comfort for those fans who pay among the Premier League's highest admission prices.

Back to Hazard himself; the young man's latent ambition is clear. Among his many and often conflicting public statements, there was the suggestion that one day he wishes to play for Real Madrid. It is a reflection that the Premier League is seen as a stepping stone for a player to join the real elite of the game's ancien regime.

A few strands to be grasped ahead of three months of speculation: the transfer window, as ever, provides no rest for the wicked. Can we have the football back, please?


Of course, we shall be reacquainted with top-level football soon enough when the European Championship gets underway next Friday afternoon. The squads are in and we have been confronted by the requisite moral panic ahead of any tournament taking place.

"Stadiums of Hate," the BBC's Panorama 30-minuter was undoubtedly shocking in its depiction of the racism taking place in both Polish and Ukrainian club football. Less surprising was UEFA's cursory reaction to the issues raised. This, remember, is the body who fined Manchester City more for being late to the field against Sporting Lisbon than it did FC Porto for their fans' racial abuse of City players. Michel Platini was "too busy" to take part in the programme, when he had been a major force in taking the tournament to Eastern Europe, where his powerbase is strong, no doubt as a result.

Yet some caveats must be placed. Attendance at a major tournament takes the supporter into the theme-park world of the governing body. International football is undoubtedly different to club football in its demographic, while policing of such an event in the public eye is certain to be far more stringent. And let us consider that every major event has a prelude of panic.

South Africa was painted as a no-go zone, and proved anything but. Germany 2006 was prefaced by fears of Neo-Nazism. And a documentary maker on the subject could make hay on the London Olympics with footage from last summer's riots. Context is everything.

However, while the issues raised by the BBC may not rear their ugly head at Euro 2012 at all, that does not mean they should not be addressed once the tournament is completed. We keenly await UEFA's no-doubt swift movements.


This time Gareth Barry does not get the chance to ride in on his white charger to save England's campaign. Two years ago, Barry's absence was reasoned as the problem behind England's midfield misfiring in the opening World Cup draw with the USA. Such an idea proved bunkum when the next performance was delivered in infamous style, or lack of, against Algeria in Cape Town.

And the memory of Barry that rings longest and truest is his one-paced loping behind Mezut Ozil as England exited in Bloemfontein. It is a shame for Barry, who has had his best season as a Manchester City player, that he will not now get his chance to bury those ghosts.

Instead, Phil Jagielka takes his place. It looks a deserved call-up, despite injury rather damaging his season at Everton. Jagielka has rarely let England down, supplying an excellent showing in central defence when Fabio Capello's England beat Spain in November.

He also supplies hope for the lower league professional. Unlike Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, "Jags" was no teen prodigy. He put in the hard yards with Sheffield United before getting his move to Everton. And unlike Barry, whose one-time versatility has receded into a single position, he supplies options for Hodgson, where before only the inconsistent Phil Jones looked capable of doing so.

In fact, it is small wonder Jagielka did not get the original call. He seems almost the archetypal Roy Hodgson player - hard-working and functional yet possessive of tactical awareness.

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