Blogs & Opinion


Coutinho, Zaha, Balotelli and MK Dons... Jeff Stelling blogs on football's movers and shakers

Features - Jeff Stelling Posted 31st January 2013 view comments

Mario Balotelli's departure to Milan has to be good business for Manchester City.

Not only have they got a handsome fee back for him but, more importantly, they've got a boat-load of trouble off their hands.

I can't imagine that any manager could have been more accommodating than Roberto Mancini was towards the striker; he gave him every opportunity and every encouragement and yet, to my mind, Balotelli was a flop for City.

Mario Balotelli: was 'mad-as-a-hatter' during his time in England, says Jeff

Mario Balotelli: was 'mad-as-a-hatter' during his time in England, says Jeff

For their £24m outlay, City got a return of 20 Premier League goals - a lot of them from the penalty spot - and plenty of trouble to boot.

The funny thing is, though, that while Balotelli was a failure in England I'm sure he'll be fondly remembered by a lot of City fans - and probably increasingly so as the years roll by.

In years from now I'm sure people will still be talking about the 'Balotelli years'.

This is a critical transfer window for clubs like Rangers because the rewards next season are going to be absolutely enormous. But do you stick or twist? Do you invest and hope to stay up or not?

Jeff Stelling
Quotes of the week

More immediately, we'll now have significantly less to talk about on Soccer Saturday, whether it be fireworks in the bathroom or camouflage-coloured cars.

I don't know what the Italian for 'mad-as-a-hatter' is, but that was Balotelli...

Rewards

Over at QPR, Harry Redknapp recognises that he largely needs to sign players who are proven performers in the Premier League but has found it difficult to do so.

This is a critical transfer window for clubs like Rangers because the rewards next season are going to be absolutely enormous. But do you stick or twist? Do you invest and hope to stay up or not?

If Rangers can win the lunchtime game on Saturday against Norwich, they'll be only one point off safety and who would have thought that a couple of weeks ago? Probably not even Harry...

Harry has been critical of the amount of money paid out for some players in previous regimes and yet he has to pay absolutely top-dollar to strengthen his squad, so he finds himself in a tricky position.

He's got a quick return on Loic Remy, which was a great start for him, but signing Christopher Samba will be an expensive piece of business if the fees reported are the case.

In the long term, however, Samba could easily be the difference between them going up and staying down and, on the plus side, he has got the likes of Djibril Cisse, Anton Ferdinand, Rob Hulse and Alejandro Faurlin off the wage bill.

Risk

These are interesting times on Newcastle, where 'Alan Pardieu' has bought in the French Resistance.

Can you have too many Frenchman in the side? Not if they all play like Yohan Cabaye you can't because he's been absolutely fantastic in the last few games.

But it is a risk. I watched the second half against Aston Villa and thought that Mathieu Debuchy, for instance, was really struggling when the heat was on.

Le Championnat is by no means the strongest league in Europe, so Newcastle must be sure that they are investing in quality.

Are the five that he's brought in all good players? We will see.

Newcastle will be encouraged by the fact that they went to Villa and won, with Moussa Sissoko playing an important role, but if I was a Newcastle fan I think I'd be a little bit frustrated that the club's scouting system doesn't seem to extend beyond the south of France...

Underwhelmed

Reading is another club that fascinates me.

They may be owned by a Russian billionaire, yet the players they've bought in the transfer window so far are universally underwhelming in terms of fee.

Maybe that's because the owner has not been willing to put forward the wheelbarrows of money that some Russians have done in the past, or maybe it's a club policy not to spend big on an overseas signing to avoid rocking the apple cart.

We've seen the sort of divide that can bring about in the QPR dressing room under Mark Hughes.

I expect most fans are distinctly underwhelmed by Reading's signings - the likes of Sporting Lisbon's Daniel Carrico, Hope Akpan from Crawley, Nick Blackman from Sheffield United and Stephen Kelly from Fulham.

Some people will say they are buying for the Championship but I don't share that opinion because these are young players, all of whom have big futures. If they can step up then the club's transfer policy will be entirely justified.

Lightweight

Philippe Coutinho's move to Liverpool is an interesting one.

There was a feeling on the south coast that the midfielder, who spent time with Mauricio Pochettino at Espanyol, might go to Southampton.

I know Phil Thompson was worried about that after Saints signed Gaston Ramirez and Vegard Forren, both of whom Liverpool had been interested in.

Yet Liverpool have signed him and it's a risky move from what I understand.

Coutinho - who is still only 20 - was viewed as a bright, young thing of Brazilian football when he was there but didn't play many games. He found the tag of 'the next wonder-kid' hard to carry.

He went to Inter and, in all honesty, didn't make the grade, earning only a handful of league starts before being loaned out to Espanyol.

At five foot 11 and 11 stone there's not much of him but he's a ball player. Whether he'll look lightweight or not, remains to be seen.

Maybe a fresh start is exactly what he needs.

Talent

Meanwhile, I imagine Wilfried Zaha couldn't have chosen anywhere better that Manchester United to go and further his career.

Everybody says he's a fantastic talent and the biggest issue seems to be where exactly he'll fit into the Manchester United side as they've already got fantastic wide players like Ashley Young and Valencia, and they can use Danny Welbeck in a wide role as well.

I suspect he's probably going to have to be patient before fully making his mark.

Until then, I've just one word of advice for him. The next time you are the subject of a big-money deal at one of the world's biggest clubs, wear a different T-shirt...

JEFF'S JEM OF THE WEEK

I've chosen MK Dons for their victory over QPR. For any side to go away to a Premier League side and be 4-0 up if fantastic, even if it was a much-changed Premier League side. Although Harry Redknapp rang the changes and his priority is Premier League survival, he would have wanted to win this and no mistake. He's won the Cup before and it's a competition that he loves. You could see by his reaction afterwards how upset he was with his team's performance.

I've only seen glimpses of MK Dons but they play lovely passing football and Karl Robinson is a smart, engaging, amusing manager - the type of manager that players really want to play for. We know other clubs have been in for him so the Dons have done well to hang on to him. There's no doubt that one day he will manage at a higher level than League One - maybe with the MK Dons, who knows? I've got every confidence that he will get the club's league season back on track.

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