"There's too much talk about our players leaving, it's been a really unsettling preseason, probably the worst preseason I've had since I've been in football," said Tottenham Hotspur manager, Harry Redknapp, as he groped around for something that might mitigate last Sunday's heavy defeat to Manchester City. "'Is Luka [Modric] staying, is he going?' everyday, non-stop. Even this morning, I'm driving in and suddenly there's a $65.5 million offer come in from Chelsea."
The way Modric has conducted himself this summer is hard to excuse: Last year he signed a lengthy (six-year) contract extension, saying, "I have no interest in going anywhere." If it's understandable that the loss of Champions League football might combine with offers from Chelsea to pique his interest now, his inability to perform for his employers should still attract stronger criticism than it has.
Wherever Modric ends up (deals must be done before 6 p.m. ET on Wednesday), Tottenham's management of the transfer window also deserves to go under the microscope. The club is a habitual gambler, senselessly chasing unrealistic targets or unrealistically chasing sensible targets. Too often the most important deals are done last. The window almost catches Spurs' fingers every time it shuts, whether they're pulling Rafael van der Vaart through at the last minute, or handing Dimitar Berbatov out.
If Chelsea has ignored the chairman's repeated insistence that he will not sell Modric, it is because everyone's heard it all before. Three years ago Spurs insisted that Berbatov would not be sold and accused United of tapping up the forward, before reports suggested a $62.3 million price tag had been set and, eventually, a $49.1 million deal went through. Tottenham's protestations this summer inevitably sound like haggling.
If that is the intent, it is dangerous. Two months before Berbatov finally signed, United had bids of $32.7 and $40.9 million rejected. The extra millions made on the final deal could not be spent because it came on deadline day; after a horrific start to the season, Spurs spent $68.8 million in the January transfer window, including re-signing Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Pascal Chimbonda. Between buying, selling and re-buying these three players, the club lost around $24.5 million.
If Tottenham intends to hold on to Modric, the lack of urgency with which they have approached other business in this transfer window seems odd, but it would be a good news story for the game as a whole. It would at least defer what feels like a lamentable inevitability: that the freedom to build a seriously good team is a luxury only the richest clubs can afford, fluttering their eyelashes at the best players elsewhere and getting their number every time.
And so to the weekend's action ...
What a weekend for Tottenham (beaten 5-1 by City) and Arsenal (beaten 8-2 by United). The day's play was made almost unbearable by the fact that United manager Alex Ferguson felt moved to defend his opposite number, Arsene Wenger, in the aftermath, while City boss Roberto Mancini showed genuine concern for the solitary goal his side conceded in Sunday's earlier drubbing.
Is it an overreaction to suggest that the victors will contest the title while the losers will struggle to remain in contention for Europe? Injuries meant Arsenal had to field youngsters such as Francis Coquelin and Carl Jenkinson, but it's not as if Wenger has had this squad thrust upon him; Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny made a combined 81 appearances in central defense for Arsenal last season -- plenty of time to discern their quality, or lack of it. What excuses can be made for Andrei Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky?
Let's hope that Mancini doesn't dwell for too long on the Younes Kaboul header that spoiled Joe Hart's sheet; though City's victory was eclipsed almost instantly by United's rampant win, it was a thoroughly impressive showing. That four of City's five goals were scored from inside the six-yard line tells you how emphatically they shrugged off Spurs' (admittedly faltering) attentions to get into dangerous areas with numerous options and the ball. It is so much easier to manage only one or the other.
You have to feel a bit for Liverpool, who produced an at times enthralling display against Bolton on Saturday afternoon, only to see their efforts completely overshadowed by the exploits of Manchester's representatives on Sunday. Of Kenny Dalglish's summer recruits, Jordan Henderson, a much-questioned $26.2 million signing from Sunderland, might have enjoyed a longer moment in the sun. No player was a passenger in Liverpool's sumptuous, free-flowing football, but Henderson deserves particular credit for a range of incisive first-time passes that created chances for Stewart Downing, Dirk Kuyt and Luis Suarez -- not to mention that lovely opening goal, scored with his supposedly weaker foot.
Picking the best goal of the weekend wasn't exactly easy. It seemed too contrary to nominate Grant Holt's goal at Stamford Bridge, though it required considerable technique to hook the ball back over his shoulder from the edge of the area after Henrique Hilario and Branislav Ivanovic prevented one another, not the Norwich forward, from reaching it. Edin Dzeko's second, a backward header from an unlikely angle, and his fourth, a perfect strike from the edge of the area, both seemed worthy. At Old Trafford, Wayne Rooney's set pieces were pretty special, and Nani's 67th-minute chip belly-laughed in Arsenal's face. But Ashley Young's first goal for Manchester United, created out of nothing more than a wee tease of the ball to the right and curled so sweetly into the top corner, gets the nod.
"All our players seem to go down, none of the other players go down" -- the Chelsea coach Andre Villas-Boas manages to out-Mourinho Jose Mourinho with his sarcastic response to suggestions from the Norwich bench that Ramires exaggerated his fall to earn Chelsea the chance to take the lead from the penalty spot. Mourinho probably would have delivered it with a wry half-smile though; Villas-Boas was a shade too grumpy.
The only sensible conclusion to be drawn from Everton's win over Blackburn is that Lee Mason, the referee, has a fantastically wicked sense of humor. Blackburn lost two players in the first half to hamstring injuries, hit the frame of the goal twice, drew a couple of exceptional saves from Tim Howard and missed two penalties: they would have struggled to feel satisfied with a point. Then in the 91st minute, Mason awards Everton a dubious penalty that Mikel Arteta decisively converts to grab all three for the visiting team.
Actually, we can also conclude one other thing: that Mauro Formica will take more tumbles than a particularly hard-working circus clown this season.
As rival fans debated the game's decisive moment from opposite platforms of the Hawthorns train station, nobody could quite agree on who was to blame for Stoke City's winner over West Bromwich Albion. Should Gabriel Tamas have taken charge of the situation and booted the ball clear? Or was he right to assume that his goalkeeper, Ben Foster, would deal with it rather more authoritatively than he did? While Foster protested that Stoke substitute Ryan Shotton kicked the ball out of his hands (he didn't), his manager, Roy Hodgson, said the referee should have given a free kick because Shotton's boot was too high (it wasn't). A fine mess that preserves Stoke's impressive record against West Brom -- it's now one defeat in 28 matches.
200 percent -- the increase in Franco di Santo's scoring record at Wigan after this weekend's 2-0 win over QPR. After one goal in his previous 31 appearances, he scored twice, with both shots taking deflections. QPR hit the woodwork three times.