Why the transfer window is a necessary evil
With the life of its own that the January transfer window seems to have developed over recent times, it sometimes feels all too easy to sweep its shortcomings under the carpet.
What was once a mere alteration of the rules by Fifa and Uefa at the turn of the century, now resembles something along the lines of a national institution.
It’s become an all-singing, all-dancing mass-media event, spawning masses of forums and websites in its dedication, as well as generating its own commercial shtick, to boot. Indeed, it now feels somewhat difficult to imagine how Sky Sports News once survived without its cheap, deadline day chutzpah.
Yet for all the speculation and excitement that January’s uncertainty spins amongst supporters, the start-of-year transfer window isn’t without it’s faults and the problems tend to cut a lot deeper than Sir Alex Ferguson’s simple musings about their being ‘little value’ to be had.
Ironically, one of the main benefits of the January window’s introduction was that it was supposed to force clubs into long-term planning. Where as before, a club could pull the managerial guillotine and buy their way out of trouble mid way through March (players could previously be traded up until March 31st), the new window system was supposed to put a stop to that.
That was the opinion heralded by the then-League Managers Association chairman John Barnwell back in 2006, anyway. Fast forward seven years, and opinions within the managerial community appear to have changed considerably. Barnwell’s successor, current incumbent Richard Bevan, has gone on record in recent times asking for the window to be done away with all together.
In 2011, Bevan said: “It doesn’t create stability, it doesn’t create a level playing field, and certainly in the Football League they are very keen the domestic window is removed.”
The school of thought within the LMA, one that they still abide by two years on, is that the January window increases instability; with a small window to chop and change as they please, club chairmen – especially those with vast resources at hand – can simply tear it up and start again mid-season.
Then you have the managers themselves who carry a persistent disdain for the January window. You can take your pick from who possesses the biggest dislike for the window, with everyone from Arsene Wenger to Sir Alex Ferguson going on record stating their wish to see the back of it. For the men in charge of our clubs, the window generates a period of mass uncertainty, putting power into the hands of both players and agents.
Wenger in particular has consistently clamoured for change, slamming the damage the window can do to a club. Speaking last January, he said:
“You have players coming to you saying, ‘If I don’t play maybe I will leave in January,’”
“So, they are already less committed to the cause. It gives them an opening. We have gone from a period where you knew, if you didn’t play, you had to be committed.
Furthermore, while the forums of footballing debate so often tend to ignore the needs of clubs plying their trade outside of the top tier, there is a case that the January window also does more harm than good to lower league sides’ financial prospects. For many clubs in the Football League, the nurturing of their young players with a view to selling is a crucial part of financial survival.
Offering the bigger clubs a deadline by which they can bully lower-league teams into a sale, can drive prices lower and the incentive to develop younger talent consequently recedes.
Yet although both managers and their respective authorities harness very relevant points indeed, the realities of the current political boundaries make instigating potential change an extremely difficult task.
The odds of being able to scrap the January window in favour of having a sole, summer window in which to trade would be extremely difficult to implement.
While some have made a case that the current window offers a technical restraint of the free movement of workers – which would contravene EU Law – the European Commission has stated that there could be good sporting reasons to introduce some form of economic restriction in regards to the benefit of stability. Yet bare in mind the current transfer window is a hazy compromise between both the right of a player to move clubs post-Bosman and the need for contractual stability in football, it’s unlikely Fifa and Uefa will get away with just on window.
And if the only alternative is a year-long open market, is that particularly going to have much of a positive impact? While Wenger is right in his concerns over conniving agents and fidgety players, but where as the January window offers them one, sensibly placed mid-season chance to plot an escape, dumping the window will give them all season.
Similarly with managerial stability, would returning to the old set-up really encourage long-term managerial planning? It’s hard to imagine how the sackings of Roberto Di Matteo, Sean O’Driscoll and Nigel Adkins would have been avoided without a January transfer window.
Furthermore, while there is a case that lower-league clubs may prosper from being able to move on youth products more quickly, it can also damage them, too. Without the January window, who’s to say Wilfried Zaha wouldn’t have been taken away from Crystal Palace’s promotion push back in October? Again, the money the likes of Zaha, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey have generated for their clubs in recent years has hardly seen them ‘bullied’ by the window’s constraints as some have suggested. Clubs are also now paid training compensation for loosing players under the age of 24, which they weren’t before the January-window era.
Ultimately, the January transfer window isn’t without its faults. But it may well be a necessary evil in today’s ever changing footballing landscape.