Georgina Turner
Friday August 20th, 2010

They do call the summer transfer window silly season, but this one's got me flummoxed.

Manchester City's attempts to sign James Milner were hardly on par with last year's ill-fated $156 million pursuit of Kaka, but by the time the deal was finally completed this week, it was hard not to question its value. Although, of course, when the family accountant has $1 trillion to play with, value is probably unlikely to come up over the dinner table.

With such visible wealth, City will inevitably have to pay more for players -- whether Milner, unquestionably a good player, is worth $47 million is therefore beside the point, which is this: If the selling club feels the same way you feel when you realize you've been given change for a $20 bill instead of a $10, is it a good piece of business?

In a straight cash deal, it's clear that Milner's absence would have had a big impact on Aston Villa. Though the emergence of pacey, excitable young things Marc Albrighton and Barry Bannan as first-teamers has buoyed the club's start to the season, Milner's work rate and diligence in the middle would have been missed in the long term, especially if the cash could not be spent.

As it is, in a $28 million-plus-Stephen-Ireland deal, Villa has a great return on the $19 million it spent on Milner two years ago and an incoming player whom caretaker-manager Kevin MacDonald has struggled not to describe as an upgrade. Ireland was indisputably City's best player two seasons ago, matches Milner for tenacity and, at his best, is a more refined craftsman with more goals in him.

And then there's Craig Bellamy.

It's not difficult to understand why Bellamy would want to drop down a division and play for Cardiff City, envisioning a year in which he terrorizes defenses, scores a hat trick every week and gets the Bluebirds, his hometown club, promoted. It's a year that has "hero" written all over it, and because Manchester City has ensured he won't take a pay cut, all's the better.

But it's harder to get your head around City's thinking on this one. Bellamy scored 10 goals and created another 10 last season, helping the club to victories over Arsenal and Chelsea along the way. He was dangerous on the break, offering guile in addition to his speed toward goal -- exactly what City lacked until new signing Mario Balotelli arrived an hour into its Europa League meeting with FC Timisoara to score the winning goal.

If City manager Roberto Mancini prefers Balotelli's services to Bellamy's, that is one thing. But this is not the same as loaning out young, unfinished players such as Vladimir Weiss, who went to Rangers this week. Bellamy is entitled to seek a full season's soccer at the appropriate level if City doesn't want him; instead, the world's richest club is paying a large portion of his wages for a lower-league club to prevent him strengthening opponents. If he's worth paying $78,000 a week to stay out of your way, why not pay it to have him getting in everybody else's?

For those Liverpool fans who spend time and money coordinating protest banners like the "Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" effort on which Sunday's television cameras lingered, yesterday isn't soon enough for the club's co-owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, to sell up and ship out. Three years of boardroom battles and broken promises, thwarted takeover bids and mounting debt -- at a time of year when the word "saga" is making its traditional play for soccer's most overused word, the Gillett-Hicks era at Liverpool at least wears the term well.

But four months after Royal Bank of Scotland, which is owed $370 million by the pair, decided that it would not continue to refinance the debt, the whole murky business of reselling the club is as opaque as ever, with conflicting reports on the bidding process, when a deal might be done and the consequences of further delays.

The specter of administration looms large in the background (RBS can call in the debt on Oct. 6), but the bank has made no moves toward taking over Liverpool, let alone sinking it into administration, so long as discussions are ongoing. Ultimately, RBS wants its money back through the sale of the club, and finding new buyers will be easier without that millstone.

A fresh statement from the noisiest bidder, Kenny Huang, has so far failed to materialize, but he is rumored to be set to announce a meeting with the board for next week. That would at least stem fears among supporters that his impatience to see a deal done before the transfer window closes would cause him to walk away from the process and take his money with him. His bid is said to include $150 million he's keen to spend on players, and barely a cent to line the current owners' pockets -- exactly the kind of takeover fans are looking for, if true.

But dealing in whispers has characterized August for Liverpool: Very little has come from verifiable sources and what has, has often been contradicted. Is it true that fewer than five bids were actually received? Is it true that Huang's bid is being aided by former Chelsea and Manchester United chief executive Peter Kenyon, and is the only one to bear scrutiny? Is it true that Hicks and Gillett are attempting to delay things to extract a profit -- or worse for supporters, hold on to the club?

Leading up to Gillett and Hicks' arrival in 2007, the papers were stuffed full of reports on their benevolence and healthy business interests, and quotes insisting that the buyout would be nothing like the Glazers' debt-laden purchase of United. Within a year, the loans the pair had indeed taken on to buy Liverpool were shifted to the club itself. A well-publicized move isn't guaranteed to be the best. And the club's silence may well be a symptom of the care it is taking in assessing all the offers, at a time when bidders' posturing or deadline days ahead might easily force its hand.

The thirst for details, for progress and for a decisive outcome, is understandable, however, and the suspicion that the current owners might be maneuvering to maintain control of the club fuels doubts as to the cause (and effects) of the delays. Didn't chairman Martin Broughton say this would all be sorted last week? No one expects daily updates, but a sensible supply of outline information -- Which bids remain in contention? Are there deadlines in mind for their consideration? -- would at least give fans confidence that they're not being kept in the dark because they wouldn't like what they saw with the lights on.

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