Manchester United and Chelsea… proof we should change the rules?

Following news of Juan Mata’s £37million move to Manchester United, the deal surprisingly found critics in Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini. Their condemnation wasn’t necessarily due to the transaction itself, although both appeared rather miffed that Jose Mourinho had the audacity to strengthen the Premier League champions after Chelsea had already played them this month, but rather with the concept of the January window.

The Arsenal boss told reporters in a press conference; “Chelsea have already played twice against Man United, they could have sold him last week. I think if you want to respect the fairness for everybody, this should not happen. I can understand completely what Chelsea are doing, and they do not make the rules, but maybe the rules should be a bit more adapted for fairness.”

His Manchester City counterpart soon followed suit; “United are getting a very good player, but personally I do not agree that a transfer like this can happen in the middle of the season. I do not think a player should be allowed to go from one club to another in the same league in January. The rules are the rules, so you play by them, but I just think they should change. I am not saying scrap the January window, just change it.”

Mourinho has responded by accusing his title-rivals of simply moaning, especially Wenger. And to be frank, the Gunners boss doesn’t have a leg to stand on with that accusation – rather than using this month to bolster his Arsenal side for the campaign’s final run-in, he’s spent it telling anyone who will listen that the January window should be abolished, labelling it an ‘unwelcome distraction’. He then followed up by insisting it’s been scientifically proven that Arsenal have received the least rest time between matches of any Premier League club over the last few years, in what must be the subtlest anti-Gunners conspiracy of all time.

But whingeing Wenger aside, you can certainly see his point, and that of Pellegrini’s. With that in mind, is it time to reconsider the rules of the January window?

Mata’s recent Premier League switch isn’t the only criticism one could make regarding the winter market. Although it’s relatively amusing for the neutrals to watch Liverpool splash out £35million on Andy Carroll and Chelsea snap up Fernando Torres for £50million, two deals which took place in January 2011, both transfers have been a complete disaster in footballing and financial terms.

The entertainment factor of a mid-season deadline day is duly noted, but there’s no doubt the pressure of the January window contributed to two of the Premier League’s flagship clubs making horrendous transfer decisions with legacies prevailing through to the present day.  Added excitement for the sake of excitement is the kind of thing you’d expect in the NFL, not in English football.

But abolishing the January window would clearly be a step too far; over £100million has been spent by the Premier League this month, and it will probably reach the £200million mark by Friday night. That may not be a patch on the £650million splashed in the off-season, but none the less, the January window’s utility remains obvious through this statistic alone.

It remains particularly pivotal for the clubs at the less glamorous end of the table. Of all ten clubs in the Premier League’s bottom half, only Crystal Palace and West Brom are yet to strengthen this month.

At the same time, you can’t imagine too many players being happy about committing a full year of their career to a club without the freedom to opt out in January, whilst chairmen can change their managers at a moment’s notice, which can have a drastic effect on playing time.

Take Mata for example – he had no idea Mourinho would prioritise so many attacking midfielders above him in the Stamford Bridge roster this term, and if the Spaniard wasn’t allowed the opportunity to leave this month, it would have seriously affected is World Cup plans for the summer.  There are countless more Premier League players facing the same conundrum.

So Wenger’s recommendation is too drastic, but what about Pellegrini’s? Should we refine the rules of the window? By the City gaffer’s recommendations that would include blocking Machiavellian practices like Mourinho’s sale of Mata to a Premier League rival a by disallowing players to ply their trade with two clubs within the same season (providing they’ve made a noteworthy amount of appearances).

But by my reckoning at least, that would be a rather futile enterprise. Of all the inward Premier League transfers this month, only Shane Long, from West Brom to Hull, has moved up the table via transfer, and even that is a rather sideways move. The rest of the interior switches, such as Nikica Jelavic to Hull and Kenwyne Jones to Cardiff, are players the selling clubs don’t particularly want, and would rather get off the wage bill to make room for new recruits.

The same can be said for January 2013, with the exception of Demba Ba’s move from Newcastle to Chelsea.

So it seems Mata’s move is a rare exception rather than the norm – not that his £37million fee and the fact he’s the first player to move between both clubs since Juan Sebastian Veron in 2003 wasn’t a big enough clue. The Premier League convention of top clubs customarily refusing to do business with each other is a competent enough safe-guard against deals of the Mata variety ever becoming a common occurrence.

Rather, is this a case of sour grapes? We all know Arsene Wenger would love to sign Juan Mata – in fact he attempted to whilst the attacking midfielder was at Valencia. Is it inconceivable that the Arsenal boss is feeling rather miffed about the Spaniard’s services not being offered his way, in addition to his loan deal for Demba Ba being blocked in the summer, whilst Chelsea are more than prepared to serve their two-time Player of the Year on a plate to the reigning Premier League champions?

At the same time, Pellegrini is probably wondering why Chelsea willingly strengthened his local rivals and a club that have continuously dominated the Premier League since its incarnation.  He’s been in England just a matter of months and he’s already witnessed the second most expensive transfer in the history of the January window.

But does that justify a rehash of the January rulebook? Certainly not. The January window may be a theatre for the ridiculous and extreme, but to suggest it causes more problems than it solves is simply ridiculous. Wenger and Pellegrini may moan about one of their Premier League rivals being strengthened mid-season, but that’s just football.

Seeing as they’re two of the seven Premier League managers who are yet to add to their squads this January, I’d suggest it’s time for them to start competing in the winter market, rather than shun it for the sake of the moral high-ground.

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