It is a weird sign of the times that the transfer window seems to have become an event of itself within football. It is the razzmatazz that gives the sport the pompous glamour that many want it to have, the factor that turns it from a simple game into showbbusiness.
Southampton’s trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United felt like another milestone, yet it almost feels foolish to mention the Saints.
Considering all the build-up and hyperbole turned the fixture (the first to be screened in a new Friday night slot) into an almost gladatorial affair, it felt like Claude Puel’s men were there purely to make up the numbers.
Yet it is ironic that it should be Southampton who were the opposition, as it seems that their transfer policy seems at a complete contrast to the Old Trafford. The conductor, Jose Mourinho, was recruited with no small press coverage and the prize acts, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba, are examples of the Red Devils’ quest to become the new ‘Galaticos’ that seem to have become priority number one under their chairman Ed Woodward, when he is not finding the club an official noodles sponsor that is.
The Saints rather more calculated, cautious and far less dramatic behaviour in the transfer market is at complete odds. It seems almost impossible that a young player with the talent of Pogba would be let go for £800k and brought back for £89m, but that just shows Woodward’s obsession with the club becoming the biggest brand of them all.
Yet it is Southampton’s business and not Manchester United who seem to be criticised, not praised. A quick look at the club accounts shows a significant debt of around the £60m mark, largely accrued during the Nicola Cortese years, that would cripple most clubs the size of the Saints.
Rather than be pegged back, however, Southampton have finished seventh and sixth in consecutive years in what has been each year their highest Premier League finish, all with a positive net-spend.
Prize assets may have left, yet their absence has not really been felt; only Nathaniel Clyne and Morgan Schneiderlin would be an absolute shoe-in in the Southampton team now, despite the latter’s troubles at Old Trafford.
But the fact that Saints have not quite joined the crazy spending spree that some of the other Premier League clubs are partaking in (Yannick Bolasie, as good a player he is, is not consistent enough to have a £30m pricetag, for example) has led to frustration from supporters.
A quick look on Twitter when Palace signed Christian Benteke for big money, a player who fits the Eagle’s style but not necessarily how Puel wants to play, saw real anger that Southampton did not sign him.
In fairness, the team does not look as nearly as dangerous going forward, but that is as much down to adjusting to a tactically-demanding system as much as recruitment. Of the two players signed that have gone straight into the starting XI, Nathan Redmond and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in particular have both looked good signings.
But the money from a bumper TV deal means that Southampton have money to spend, and with the window coming to its end, there is likely to be movement.
Virgil Van Dijk and Sadio Mané have both been big deadline-day recruits, and the recent trend looks to continue.
Links to the attacking midfielder Sofiane Boufal from Lille have rumoured that Saints are willing to break their transfer record by paying £21m for the Moroccan international; a statement of intent, as well as a smart recruitment.
But a ‘statement of intent’ seems to be code from fans to spend money, even on players that doesn’t fit or are vastly over-expensive.
In a Premier League that seems desperate to make frivolous shows of wealth, Saints want to keep things smart. Even after constraints of debt and a talent-drain, that approach seems to work just fine.