Wilfried Gnonto was the gem Leeds found in their own transfer rubble. Man Utd landed on a phenomenal Plan B and even snatched a priority target from Arsenal.
Leeds set the bar for hilarious ineptitude awfully high during summer 2014’s transfer deadline day. ‘Don’t go to bed just yet,’ came the teasing tweet from their official account at 9.49pm. With confirmation of Matt Smith and Dominic Poleon’s departures subsequently trickling through, supporters were given the green light to hit the hay by 11pm.
Eight years later, and with Leeds almost unrecognisable from that peak Massimo Cellino mess, owner Andrea Radrizzani seemed to make a similar mistake. Quoting and agreeing with a fan’s attempt to allay increasing concerns over an inability to secure a forward, the Italian said the club needed to ‘welcome Bamba Dieng’ and ‘continue to work on Gapko’.
The £10m move Leeds had put in place for Dieng soon collapsed, while Cody Gakpo remained at PSV. The former failed a medical at Nice, stayed at Marseille to score one Ligue Un goal in 10 appearances and then joined FC Lorient on loan in January. The latter has been consumed by the goalless shambles at Liverpool. But Leeds produced a rabbit from a hat which had been trampled all over when signing Wilfried Gnonto in a rushed £5m deal from FC Zurich.
Jesse Marsch then publicly suggested teenage forward Gnonto was not ready for Premier League football but only one of those individuals remains in Leeds’ employ. As Man Utd discovered at Old Trafford, the Whites discovered a gem in the rubble of their own transfer turmoil.
It seems bizarre to think Oleksandr Zinchenko might not have been a first-choice target for Arsenal in the summer, considering the Ukrainian’s dramatic impact on a callow but brilliant squad. But then the Gunners have switched attention from David Raya to Aaron Ramsdale and Jules Kounde to Benjamin White in the past, then Leandro Trossard to Mykhaylo Mudryk and Moises Caicedo to Jorginho in the present; they are pretty adept at sourcing viable alternatives.
Zinchenko and Lisandro Martinez might not sound particularly interchangeable but circumstances alone have made that a curious comparison. While Man Utd have extracted the absolute best out of the Argentina international at centre-half, Arsenal had a different plan in mind. They viewed versatility as his primary asset as a sort of hybrid left-back and central midfielder.
That role was bestowed upon Zinchenko once Martinez became unattainable and none of the parties involved will be displeased with how things have panned out.
Man Utd themselves have taken recent rejection on the chin and emerged the better for it. Erik ten Hag’s side occupy third place with a cup final and European knockout tie against Barcelona on the horizon but their first steps through the summer transfer window pointed to a rather less prosperous season.
The Marko Arnautovic links were bad enough, yet the midfield situation arguably trumped it for apparent incompetence. Man Utd fluttered their eyelashes at an uninterested Frenkie De Jong for months, then even flicked through their discarded transfer playbooks and landed on the name of Sergej Milinkovic-Savic for a time. But their Adrien Rabiot mid-market crisis was a damning indictment on a club without direction.
Two defeats to start the Premier League season seemed to put off Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Rabiot, while only drawing Casemiro closer to Old Trafford in his quest to “fix” a fallen giant. Ten Hag preferred Real Madrid’s trophy hoarder all along but Man Utd were fortunate that Rabiot’s mother and agent was uncharacteristically obstinate during negotiations.
Even with injury restricting Alexander Isak to a frustrating 393 minutes in Newcastle colours, the Magpies’ club-record signing has had an indelible impact on a potentially historic season. Three goals in the Premier League have included the equaliser in a 1-1 draw with Bournemouth and a late header to beat Fulham 1-0, while his assist for the only goal in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final set Eddie Howe’s side on their route to Wembley.
Yet Isak was arguably as far back as a Plan F or G for Newcastle, who soon discovered their bottomless reserves could not guarantee the smooth delivery of every transfer target. Hugo Ekitike opted for the Paris Saint-Germain bench instead, while Joao Pedro, Armando Broja, Benjamin Sesko, Rasmus Hojlund and Goncalo Ramos all fell by the increasingly littered wayside.
Newcastle got their striker eventually, just not the one they had envisaged.
It would be quite the achievement to write a transfer feature without including Nottingham Forest, whose 30 signings this season were inevitably not all the first names on a shortlist which challenged the very concept of the term.
Some priority targets were secured, from Taiwo Awoniyi to Dean Henderson, Neco Williams and Morgan Gibbs-White. But in other instances the transfer plate-spinners at Nottingham Forest had to sweep up some smashed ceramic while scouring the top shelf of the cupboard for any spares to dust off.
Amadou Onana and Cheick Doucoure were known to have been courted by Forest before ending up at rival Premier League teams, while PSV held onto Ibrahim Sangara with all their might. Steve Cooper’s extensive midfielder search was eventually successful when Remo Freuler traded Champions League football with Atalanta for a post on City Ground patrol. The Switzerland international has been a pivotal part of their pull away from relegation.