There will never be another summer transfer window quite like this one. The rest of the continent is expected to follow suit in the coming years, but for 2018 the Premier League is the only major European top flight setting its deadline before the start of the new season. Throw in the inevitable delay in deals created by the World Cup in Russia, and the unique dynamics of this off-season are especially challenging.
The intentions behind the decision to close the transfer window three weeks early are earnest enough, an attempt to eradicate the bizarre mini-game of standoffs that takes place during the opening month of the season when players, managers and fans are never quite sure who they can really count on to still be there at the end of August. The doubt affects team selections, distracts managers and reduces performances when really, every Premier League club should be concentrating on starting the new campaign as strongly as possible.
But because the Premier League currently stands alone, English football hasn’t exactly exterminated the late window game of the last few years. Rather, they’ve created a new one with its own set of quirks, rules and consequences – and while summer business isn’t officially finished just yet, not every member of the Premier League’s big six has managed to successfully adapt.
Indeed, for both players and clubs there are new advantages to be gained and disadvantages to be suffered. Perhaps the key example in the case of both formers is Thibaut Courtois. Refusing to return to training when your contract has just a year left to go would force a move in practically every summer, but the Belgium international has timed his ploy well knowing Chelsea would need to sign a replacement before the Thursday deadline, even though there would still be nearly a month left for the club and himself to thrash out terms with Real Madrid. It’s created a new stick for Courtois to beat the Blues with, into letting him leave.
In contrast, Chelsea have found themselves the victims of the same changes in scenario. They’ve now set a new world-record fee for a goalkeeper who, although impressive in reputation, is someway short of Courtois’ level and has never played European or Premier League football before. Chelsea’s hand has been forced into a panic buy, because while they could still spend the next three weeks haggling with Real Madrid for the best deal possible, going into the season with Willy Caballero as first-choice would be practically unthinkable.
Tottenham too, have failed to move with the times and Daniel Levy’s usual late-window game of chicken, waiting until as late as possible to secure best value for sales and signings, just hasn’t paid off this year. It’s no secret that contract situations have put Danny Rose, Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld in the shop window, but his seeming assumption that the new deadline would eventually oblige Premier League rivals to put some big money on the table to beat European clubs to their signatures just hasn’t manifested into reality.
While there’s three weeks left for Tottenham to negotiate their departures, they won’t be able to replace any of those three players if they’re sold after the Premier League deadline, and foreign clubs won’t pay anywhere near the kind of money that would be offered by those in the English top flight.
In fact, Danny Rose is now being tipped to join Schalke on loan, rather than add to Tottenham’s transfer kitty, and Levy’s naive belief that the same tactics would work in such a unique summer have affected the club’s capacity to recruit as well. After all, how can you really expect to pressure clubs, European or English, into selling for cheap when they still have three weeks of the window left to go? Even their pursuit of Jack Grealish, theoretically an easily obtainable player, now appears to be off.
Other clubs though, have clearly been alert to the dangers of 2018. Arsenal made all their major signings before the first fortnight of July to give Unai Emery the best chance possible at the start of a new era for the north Londoners. They enter Deadline Day knowing departures are the only sphere of business to be taken care of – Lucas Perez has already completed a move to West Ham while Danny Welbeck and David Ospina could go today – although the Gunners would still have nearly a month left to find alternative suitors should no Premier League club match their valuations.
It’s a similar case at Liverpool, who have probably been the transfer market’s shrewdest operators this summer. Last year, they couldn’t secure their second-biggest signing of the summer, £35million man Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, until the 31st of August, but there won’t be such tardiness this time around. Deals for Fabinho, Xherdan Shaqiri and Alisson were all wrapped up within a few weeks of the rumours first emerging while Naby Keita’s services were secured over a year ago.
In the instance of Alisson they’ve ended up paying a big fee, but Chelsea’s £71million swoop for Kepa shows how much more expensive the former Roma man could have been had the deal taken place this week instead of midway through July. Instead, Liverpool are now in the driving seat – pushing clubs to fork out £20million for Danny Ings, an injury-stricken forward who has scored four goals in three seasons at Anfield.
Manchester United, meanwhile, have simply left themselves with too much to do. Whereas Liverpool have targeted specific players to suit Jurgen Klopp’s system and the dressing room, United’s summer has delved into the realms of scatter gun. With a bizarre late swoop for Diego Godin emerging as the latest rumour, the Red Devils have resorted to trying to sign practically any high-quality centre-half that could be available. Before the Atletico man was linked, there was talk of a world-record deal for Harry Maguire – a player who cost Leicester an initial £12million just one year ago.
And that’s because Ed Woodward has appeared determined this summer to offload before he brings in. But once again, it’s the same problem that has plagued Tottenham; unless you’re selling to a Premier League club, how can you really push through a sale when foreign teams have an extra three weeks to get deals done? Some will be interested in early business, but the majority will be content with delaying to assess all available options and source the best value.
There’s now just an afternoon of the transfer window left to go, which in itself will be another mini-game of its own unusual dynamics. If one thing’s clear though, it’s that the winners of the summer have all got their business done early – and that should translate over to Premier League success throughout the course of the campaign. Those who haven’t, particularly Chelsea, United and Tottenham, feel like they’re entering the new season under a dark cloud of frustration.