Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was noticeably cagey at Carrington on Friday, which offered an insight into what he’s been like behind the scenes. The Manchester United manager has become increasingly insistent with the club’s hierarchy on the need to bring in a striker to temporarily replace Marcus Rashford.
Their range of profiles – from the Champions League to the bottom of the league to China – reflects a singular mood. Some in the game describe it as “desperation”.
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Solskjaer, for his part, knows the difference the guarantee of even an extra five goals can make in the race for the top four.
He isn’t the only one, though. United have just been the most active in trying to solve this problem, and gone furthest – in other words, to Chinese clubs.
Chelsea similarly failed in moves for Cavani, Mertens, Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho and Red Bull Leipzig’s Teemu Pukki. That meant they wouldn’t sanction the sale of Olivier Giroud to Tottenham Hotspur, who cast quite the net themselves. They just didn’t go quite as far as United, and rightfully wouldn’t go as far as a permanent £30m fee for AC Milan’s Krzysztof Piatek, or the price for Real Sociedad’s Willian Jose.
Like Solskjaer, too, their managers weren’t all that happy either. Jose Mourinho again re-iterated he had asked for a striker, ramping up a bit more pressure on Spurs. Frank Lampard wasn’t exactly relaxed discussing it.
How must their bosses have felt? How clubs must hate press conferences around deadline day, because they add to the noise of the day.
The fact none of them have actually secured a striker is the other great commonality. It may also be the great leveller.
The goals from any one signing could make a huge difference in a very tight race for the top four.
That is what is most relevant about this specific January window.
It is why the clubs were still looking at targets going into the last few hours.
As interesting as their collective failure makes that Champions League chase, however, it may be much more of an insight into the other end of the table.
Gone are the days when such clubs could just go to the bottom clubs and pick someone off. There’s no modern equivalent of mid-season signings like United taking Louis Saha from Fulham or Chelsea buying Nicolas Anelka from Bolton Wanders.
That isn’t because of the balancing power of all that TV money, but instead because of the importance of that TV money.
It is not that clubs have the financial muscle to withstand the big boys coming in, but because staying in the Premier League is more important than to them than a one-off mid-season sale. And that’s especially the case in a Premier League that now usually sees all of the bottom half at some risk of going down.
Jack Grealish is the perfect current example. United made an inquiry about the midfielder too, but he is so central to Villa’s survival push – and the potential of another £100m next season, with all of the connected commercial benefits – that a one-off fee now just wouldn’t have made sense.
It makes even less sense given the disruption it would cause to a team mid-season, and the difficulty of replacing such players with anything like the same quality.
The summer at least offers the chance for a fresh plan, and to build.
It is ultimately why the best players rarely move in January. There has to be extenuating circumstances for it to happen. It is literally just not worth it for club. There just isn’t the logic in selling.
That isn’t to say the logic of the big clubs shouldn’t be questioned.
United’s briefings that they didn’t follow through on Erling Braut Haaland due to sell-on clauses now seem all the more wrong-headed. What a difference he might have made. There was then the fact they were willing to pay £30m for a stand-in striker at the end of January, even though most of the month had seen them balk at an extra £10m for a midfielder in Bruno Fernandes they badly needed.
Chelsea meanwhile spent millions on legal fees to reduce the ban so they could sign for this window, only to buy no one.
Tottenham never got their back-up striker, let alone the replacement for Harry Kane.
Much of that is down to the peculiarities of the January market.
It could yet cause ripples at both ends of the table.