The January transfer window represents an opportunity for plenty of clubs to tinker with their squads and look to the future by bringing in fresh faces, but with a number of successful, older players currently operating within the MLS and casting admiring glances back towards the top flight, including David Beckham and Thierry Henry, many sides seem to be looking to the past for their answers.
Even though these moves may only be short-term switches for the most part, do they still have anything to offer the hugely competitive Premier League?
Arsenal have been linked with a move that would see New York Red Bulls forward and Gunners legend Henry return for a third spell at the club, with boss Arsene Wenger telling reporters this month: “Will I sign him in January? I don’t rule it out. I don’t know if he would be interested. He is sharp. He has practised with us three times.”
The 35-year-old clearly isn’t the same force he once was, shorn of that devastating, game-changing pace, but he still boasts fabulous technique and an eye for a pass. It was universally agreed that his legacy wasn’t affected by his second spell at the club last season, and with two goals in seven appearances, plus a magnificent beard, it was like a breath of fresh air to see him again and he clearly had an impact on revitalising the squad, but should they consider the same again? Would it even work again this time around?
That Henry is already training with the club in a bid to keep up his fitness before the next MLS season should mean that the move is all but assured, but in the team’s slick 4-3-3 formation, one which has already found it difficult to break down teams given that they’ve failed to score in four of their 14 league games so far, with six of their tally of 24 coming in one game against Southampton, they are far from at their best at the moment.
It’s an obvious point to make, but they are still struggling to get over van Persie’s departure, and while Cazorla, Podolski and Giroud have all done well to varying degrees, they are missing the Netherlands international hugely, not only in terms of his weight of goals, but his contribution to their overall play.
In recent weeks, Aaron Ramsey has been used in an unfamiliar left wing spot and the switch hasn’t reaped dividends, and that they’ve won just two of the last 11 games that he has started for them points to a player enduring a crisis of form and confidence. With Gervinho ridiculously inconsistent and Cazorla used in a deeper-lying role, there would appear to be a spot open on the left for Henry to slot into, if Podolski was comfortable switching to the right on his return from illness, which is easier said than done.
Wenger does have a whole host of attacking options in wide areas and in Theo Walcott, despite his contractual wrangle, they have one of the most in-form wingers in the league, who he has scored or assisted eight of the team’s 24 league goals this season even though he’s started only four of 14 Premier League games. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hasn’t quite got going yet and Andrey Arshavin has been underused, but there would appear to be a case to made that a return for Henry could have an impact once again, if not only to raise the spirits of a flagging squad.
The very same argument could be made with concerns to David Beckham returning to the Premier League, with both QPR and Harry Redknapp known to be admirers. The man himself stated earlier today, telling Sky: “‘I’m lucky because at 37-years-old, I’ve been offered some exciting options. I’ve got quite a few offers on the table. I’ve always said I think I would struggle to come back and play in England because I’ve played for the biggest club in the world, the biggest club in England, Manchester United, and I couldn’t see myself playing for any other Premiership team.”
That would seem to rule out a top flight return, something most neutral fans may say they are against but secretly wouldn’t mind seeing; Beckham is box office, he adds a bit of glitz and excitement to proceedings and even though the ‘options on the table’ line surely points to the Hoops’, he’ll likely end up at PSG, a challenge which at this stage in his career looks a lot more simple and less stressful.
The slower pace of Ligue 1 will suit Beckham’s game now and I’m not entirely sure whether he’d be able to have the impact he’d want if he came back to the Premier League. The range of passing remains undiminished, as does his superb ability from set-pieces and with crosses from wide areas, but the position he utilises these from has completely changed over time and had a knock-on effect on his influence; it’s a notable aspect of his play that he’s had to move deeper and deeper as he’s got older, understandably, to compensate for a lack of pace.
Beckham’s game was never built around pace, but he always had half a yard and his brain was always quicker than his feet, but he’d need to be supported if he were to play in the middle of the park in England now, and a return to the wing seems almost unthinkable. The areas from which he delivers the ball are so far back now, sometimes even inside his own half, that the whip and pace on the ball is cancelled out by the distance it has to travel, thus reducing its threat.
Newly-appointed QPR boss Redknapp told the BBC last week: “He’s a top fantastic player. We had him training at Tottenham and it was amazing [to have him] round the place. He is absolute class.
“David could still be a great asset to anyone. Just having him round the place, showing people how to train and look after yourself. His professionalism is second to none.”
While I wouldn’t dispute that he’s a model professional capable of having an influence off the park and around the training ground, I just question whether he’d have the same impact out on the pitch. He hasn’t played in the Premier League for nearly a decade, which compared to Henry’s six seasons on a full-time basis, not even factoring in the loan spell last term, is significantly more. His last England appearance was three years ago. He hasn’t played in Europe for what will be two and a half seasons since a somewhat lacklustre loan spell at AC Milan which was curtailed by injury, and by the time he can be registered by any club in January he may have declined past ‘useful’.
Where would he even realistically go? QPR would fit because it’s in London, but they are in such big trouble that he has to be viewed as a risky signing for both sides. West Ham? His ability from set plays makes him an attractive proposition to Sam Allardyce and he’s known to have an affection for the East End, the area where he grew up, but he’s hardly tailor-made to their style of play. Plus, you suspect that Beckham likes the way he’s left it in the Premier League and doesn’t want to ruin the way people regard him or his legacy.
The likes of Tim Cahill, Landon Donovan and to a lesser extent Robbie Keane could all still get away with the step up in class between the MLS and Premier League simply because they haven’t been away from its demands that long, whereas it’s trickier for Henry and Beckham at this stage in their respective careers and at their age.
You can’t doubt that they’d both have an influence in and around the training ground, and while the former Arsenal man may still be able to cut it out on the pitch to an extent, and that’s a big if, with Beckham, attributes such as ‘professionalism’ simply don’t win you games, as Ryan Giggs’ struggles this term will attest to.
They have to be managed in terms of training and what games they can feasibly be selected for and make a telling contribution, and what it gets to that stage, you can only have reservations about how wise a move for either of them would be.
Protecting legacies aside, both Arsenal and QPR may be better off looking elsewhere for their much-needed shot in the arm as they chase a transfer buzz in January.