Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday February 4 2009
With the dust having settled on yet another excruciating transfer window, agonisingly extended on two occasions and with Arsenal having bagged a creative midfielder that they so desperately need, the Premier League say they are considering bringing to an end the January transfer window. I`m not sure I have heard a single manager in favour of the window idea, whilst your own estimations of the transfer window are probably informed by club bias. (If you support Arsenal, you probably don`t want the window to open even in the summer!) Wigan fans will rue and regret the asset stripping of a side that Steve Bruce has brilliantly constructed on a shoestring with a fire sale, whilst fans of Citeh and Spurs will welcome the chance to perfidiously spray cash around. But how fair is the idea of a mid season window? How desirable is it? How legal is it?
The argument of our own manager is that the window is disruptive to managers as focus for the whole month inevitably removes focus away from a team`s efforts and its existing players and onto possible exterior targets. (He might be thankful that the dross served up against West Ham on Saturday was largely forgotten amongst the Arshavin saga). However, football is as much about fans as it is the players and if it generates excitement for them is that not a trade off worth making? I`m not privy to the actual statistics, but I`m willing to bet Vital Arsenal has had more hits and more new members this week than during any other week since August. I largely doubt that was due to a flurry of people desperate to know of the rearranged date for the Cardiff cup replay. The window undoubtedly creates excitement and generates opinion and discussion amongst fans, it also seems to encourage insanity and despair in some of us. But these are the very things that make following football such an addictive and strangely compelling lifestyle. However, it could reasonably be argued that simply keeping the window open all season will safeguard this sacred sense of innuendo and gossip, but merely serve it in more digestible proportions and restore some kind of sanity to the game. The window as it stands is a quick fire sale which is detrimental for a number of reasons.
Firstly, it encourages players- through a mixture of agent manipulation and sheer avarice- to behave like mercenaries when they know they only have 30 days to agitate for a move to their dream (i.e. stupidly wealthy) club. If Charles Insomnia had six months to find an excuse to leave, he probably wouldn`t spend 30 days crying and crying and crying until he gets he wants and we would be spared the indignity of a grown man behaving like a litigious little child. This is apparently the source of the Premier League`s ire, that and morally bankrupt, bonky eyed, baggy faced twat merchants like Harry Redknapp deliberately unsettling players. With such a short space of time to do business, it is argued that clubs are more likely to behave capriciously in order to push through transfers. With a more staggered timescale, the chances of Harry telling everyone on Sky Sports, "so and so is a good player and I`d love to have him here, but he belongs to club x so it would be amiss of me to talk about their player. I mean, can you imagine? Publicly unsettling a player to force through a transfer? Not me guv, it`s not my style. Just because I`d double his wages, that doesn`t mean he`s gonna come and you certainly won`t hear me talking about another club`s player. Me? Harry Redknapp? The Third Earl of Winchester? Never."
Keeping the window open all season also appears to make sense from a player point of view. Firstly, the richer, bigger clubs tend to have big squads to cover all positions. That dictates that a lot of good footballers aren`t playing a lot of football. Instead of wasting away in the stands at Chelsea last season, Steve Sidwell might well have put his obvious ability to use elsewhere. Similarly, Robbie Keane might have got a few more chances to shine at Liverpool had the Reds not been in a "now or never" position with regards to his disposal back to the Marshlands. But then again, perhaps we write this off as one of the interesting variables in football management and with management of transfers. It`s correctly opined that the window creates a false economy as the panic created by the limited window drives prices up as clubs` desperation increases. It is said that this favours the richer clubs who can afford to spunk £14m on the gene pool vandals such as Craig Bellamy and decent but not worth that sort of money journeymen like Wilson Palacios. However, less affluent clubs are just as complicit in this phoney market, Wigan may well have been asset stripped in the window, but they were recompensed well with a £13m profit on a player they bought twelve months ago and £4m for a 30 year old whose contract is up in the summer. What is clear is that a one month window creates an unstable market and a surreal and unsettling situation for a great many clubs.
At this point, I am with Mr. Wenger, either shut the window for the whole season, or keep it open for the whole season. There seems little sense in a half way house. Either tell a club that what you have in September you hold and if it`s not good enough then that`s down to your poor management. Or keep it open and legitimise clubs being able to buy their way out of any pickles they might get themselves into in the hope that the market will be more realistic and that players, agents and clubs might behave in a less polemic manner. There is also the issue of clubs enduring fiduciary troubles. Taking Southampton or Portsmouth as an example of quarrelling brothers in parsimonious arms. It would be easier for them to manage any money troubles with slow steady sales. For instance, they can hold onto their best players a little way into the season to ensure the threat of relegation is not so great and then steadily auction players throughout the season to balance the books, enabling the managers and the money men to co operate to better manage their clubs. At the moment, clubs in compromising financial situations have to endure a month long fire sale with inadequate time to purchase reasonably priced replacements. Keeping the window open all season encourages greater financial responsibility and tests how well a club is run by manager and board in a more realistic and sustainable fashion. The upshot might well be clubs stave off administration without being forced to jeopardise their league status.
There is also an argument that the window creates the potential for unequal competition in conjunction with the fixture list. For instance, we played both of our league fixtures with Aston Villa before January 1st. Had Villa been more solicitous in the window, they might have added six or seven players of £10m+ during the window, meaning that the rest of our league opponents would be facing a much improved Villa side. However, this is an argument that I don`t think has a great deal of gravity. Injuries, form and other such variables could equally be claimed to create unequal competition, for instance if Ashley Young and Gabby Agbonlahor were to be injured at the same time. The loan system does however create an avenue for mischief, Manchester United have loaned Hull City their striker Manucho, under Premier League rules, Manucho is contraband from playing against United, but would be fully able to play against their title rivals Liverpool. Similarly, Jay Simpson was able to line up against Villa very recently and nearly scored an equaliser, but he won`t be able to line up against us on March 3rd. This is a situation that desperately needs to be reviewed and it`s farcical that a regulatory body could allow it without properly assessing the loopholes.
Personally, I am in favour of keeping the window open all season. One might argue that this might enable richer clubs to merely buy their way to glory, but I don`t think with a January transfer window there they are overly deterred from doing so anyway. Tighter rules and regulations regarding club ownership, player eligibility and club/ player misconduct would circumnavigate most potential problems. The argument about richer clubs being able to buy their way into a more favourable league position (though spending lots of money doesn`t guarantee anything- ask Tottenham) is balanced out by the potential for financially troubled clubs being able to sell their way out of trouble. I think we should accept transfers and "financial doping" as one of the variables that makes football so exciting and unpredictable. It`s not as if the transfer window has broken any of the cartels at football`s top table. The sense in creating a compressed and frankly fabricated market by cramming it all into a month escapes me; I don`t recall anybody complaining about the old system anyhow. The risk of upsetting the rest of Europe by stepping out of sync with their system seems negligible as Bladder and Pratini make no attempt to disguise their thinly veiled distaste for the Premier League in any case. In any case, nobody has offered me a convincing argument as to how the transfer window does not contravene EU Law on Restriction of Trade. Keeping the window open makes sense for players, fans, managers and money men in a way that a January window frankly doesn`t. After all, we chose a free market economy did we not? Why renege in the case of football? No other industry seeks to abolish the free market, just ask the banks.LD.
Date:Wednesday February 4 2009
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