Derby County and Middlesborough - The Championship's Galacticos
Love them or loathe them, the bi-annual transfer windows have taken over the media. Website headlines, newspaper back pages and press conferences are now dominated by the latest transfer rumours and their far-reaching implications. In my opinion, you could easily attribute much of this phenomenon to Florentino Perez and Real Madrid.
Whilst all clubs strive to improve through new signings, no team have embraced football’s equivalent to a cattle market quite like Los Blancos and their extravagant president Perez. Through not one but two iterations of his so-called ‘Galacticos’ project at the Santiago Bernabeu, Perez has made it his goal to bring the world’s elite stars to the Spanish capital – and he has certainly succeeded in his endeavours.
The first generation of ‘Galacticos’ saw the likes of Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane, David Beckham and the origincal Ronaldo arrive in exorbitant deals, before the Spanish club president’s second spell in charge garnered Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez.
That transfer policy of signing the world’s finest players at any cost may now be synonymous with Real Madrid, but it is also beginning to spread elsewhere. Manchester United have their own ‘Gaalacticos’, coined thanks to their Dutch manager’s spending spree last summer. Furthermore, Bayern Munich, Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain could also fit into that category, such is their wealth and power in the transfer market.
It may not be on nearly the same scale, but we are now seeing a similar shift in mentality from clubs in the Championship too, with teams desperately spending in a bid to reach the golden chalice of Premier League football. In particular, we can observe this at two clubs managed by former Real Madrid assistant coaches.
Jose Mourinho’s former aide with Los Blancos; Aitor Karanka, took Middlesbrough to the Championship play-off final last season, only to fall at this final hurdle at the hands of Norwich City at Wembley. The Spaniard is considered to be one of the finest managers in the Football League, and it is fair to say that his schooling at Real Madrid has helped him flourish on Teesside.
Yet having lost loanees Patrick Bamford and Jelle Vossen earlier this summer, Karanka needed attacking reinforcements and in acquiring them, he sent shock-waves through the Championship. Stewart Downing impressed for West Ham in the Premier League last season having reinvented himself as a number 10, earning an England recall in the process as he rebuilt his career under Sam Allardyce at Upton Park.
Now though, the 31-year-old has completed an emotional return to home-town and boyhood club Middlesbrough, with Karanka paying an alleged £5.5 million to bring the midfielder back to the Riverside Stadium. This is the sort of fee which dwarves most other budgets in the Championship. Additionally once you factor in that Uruguayan international hitman Cristian Stuani; who hit 15 goals for Espanyol last season, has also completed a £3.6 million deal with Boro, you begin to see that Karanka is building his own ‘Galacticos’ up on Teesside.
Intriguingly, Karanka will come up against his successor this season. Paul Clement arrived as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant at Real Madrid in 2013, before leaving this summer to take his first managerial job in the second division of English football, thus mirroring Karanka’s path. The Englishman has taken the reins at Derby County, whose finances are also one of the hot topics in the Football League right now given their array of new signings this summer.
Goalkeeper Scott Carson, defender Alex Pearce and utility man Chris Baird have all arrived at the iPro Stadium to offer a wealth of experience in the division and potentially push Derby County towards promotion. Perhaps the most noteworthy acquisition comes in the form of ex-England international Darren Bent who cost Aston Villa £18m just over four years ago. The hit-man has signed a permanent deal after a successful loan spell last term.
Then came the big money purchases. Aston Villa’s Andreas Weimann was a major coup in a £2.75 million deal, before The Rams snapped up one of the most dangerous players in the division last season, Thomas Ince. The winger spent time on loan at Derby last season and produced a number of dazzling displays despite a dismal second half of the season for Steve McClaren as a whole. Now secured on a permanent basis, the former Blackpool and Hull City flyer gives Clement yet another attacking option in what looks to be an almost unstoppable force on paper.
Add in former Rams captain Jason Shackell; who has returned to the club for a fee in the region of £3 million, and it takes the club’s spending to around £10m. This is frighteningly close to a Premier League-level outlay – all in the name of reaching the promised land of the top flight; an arena not witnessed at Derby since the disastrous 2006/07 campaign.
So what have we seen so far? Well, Middlesbrough opened with a 0-0 draw against Preston where they looked fairly toothless in attack. This seemingly prompted a £3 million move for Leicester City striker David Nugent in the past few days. A 3-1 win over Oldham Athletic in the Capital One Cup on Wednesday was a boost, with Nugent no doubt aiding the frontline which had struggled so blatantly against Preston.
For Derby County, manager Paul Clement is already under slight pressure given the 0-0 stalemate against Bolton Wanderers last weekend and the 2-1 loss to League Two Portsmouth in midweek. With midfielder Will Hughes suffering a horrific long-term injury, more money could well be spent on a replacement, giving Clement another headache to deal with.
Expectation is high for both teams this season due to their immense spending power and ultimately, nothing less than promotion will suffice. Even after an inauspicious opening week of the season for Clement and Karanka, supporters are hardly likely to be sympathetic should struggles continue.
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