Time to consider this transfer expansion?

The League Managers Association are just one of many disgruntled parties in the recent and ongoing debate about the nature of our transfer windows. The LMA have been lobbying UEFA for over two years now in the hope that they will extend the January transfer window. However UEFA argue that is an issue for FIFA and not themselves whilst there is opposition to the proposed reviews from organisations including the Premier League. LMA chief Richard Bevan told The Observer:

“Transfer windows for players do not work. Transfer windows were supposed to be reviewed by Platini in 2008 and, despite asking, we haven’t seen any review and probably it’s because the administrators around Europe don’t know how to improve what we already have. We are pushing UEFA to review. My point is: have you reviewed it? And what advice are you going to give to FIFA or to whoever it is you need to communicate?”

Platini said on the matter in 2008:

“We have to look at both the summer and winter transfer windows. The season starts in many countries in July or early in August, yet the transfer window does not close until the end of August. Then we have another window in the middle of the season.”

There are clearly issues with the current system that need to be addressed but whether the proposals on offer present the right solution is another matter. Bevan suggests that the transfer system should go back to being a ‘free-for-all’, however he does also admit that a debate is needed throughout football first. Clearly a free for all system would have its benefits: clubs would be able to address their problems as the season panned out, they could sell players if in financial trouble, and so on. However this is not the answer and there are a number of factors that need to be considered before any changes to the rules can be made.

Issues

Firstly: people like Bevan have been saying that we should go back to the way the system was before, before transfer windows. He and other supporters of this idea say that it will work because it has worked before; but football is not the same as it was before. The power of players has increased dramatically and rulings such as Bosman’s are demonstrative of the precarious position that the clubs are now in. The majority of clubs are finding it harder than ever to hold on to their players and if we were to combine the new EPPP with the idea that players could be bought and sold whenever then clubs who pride themselves on their academies are in particular trouble. Imagine Southampton producing another star of the future. Under the EPPP they would barely get any money from them and if we abolished or extended the transfer windows then said player would barely have played a few games before a larger club snapped him up.

It wouldn’t just be the small clubs who were at risk either. It would be every club that wasn’t one of the biggest in the world. Would Arsenal have held on to Fabregas as long as they did if the transfer windows were longer than they were? Would Tottenham still have Modric? The answer to both questions is probably not; clubs like Man City and Barcelona would be able to bully clubs all year round in the pursuit of their players. Even if the clubs were able to hang on to their players the disruption it would cause to the team would be hugely detrimental. In essence even if the larger clubs did not want their rivals players they would be able to unsettle them. Sure this goes on at the moment but to nowhere near the same degree as it does during the windows. The players are too powerful and the clubs are too rich for us to abandon a system of transfer windows.

Alternatives

Some managers, such as Arsene Wenger, have suggested the abolition of the January transfer window altogether. It allows for the lesser clubs to create a sense of continuity that the January transfer window would otherwise disrupt. Would Gary Cahill’s form have subsided as much as it has if there were not possibility of him leaving in January? Doubtful. However you do have to consider that the advantage January gives clubs is that they have the option, like Bolton do with Cahill, of hanging on to him for another few months before selling them (if their contract has one year to run).

The other problem with abolishing the January transfer window is that different leagues around the world begin and end their season at different times. So for example if English teams could only buy in the summer then English clubs could never buy players from America unless the MLS clubs were willing to sell their players half way through their season.

No the answer does not lie in removing the possibility for transfers mid season. But something about January does need to be changed. Namely: a winter break. The January transfer window makes sense for those with a winter break. The most logical time for transfers would be during the summer before the season starts and mid way through the season during a break. If FIFA or UEFA changed the summer transfer window from the end of August to the end of July and the Premier League installed a season break in January then we could avoid the problems of teams having their players poached whilst the season is running but retain the ability for managers to address the problems of their teams during the season.

Follow me on Twitter @H_Mackay

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