The time has come to scrap the transfer window. What was introduced as an attempt to bring standardisation and clarity for clubs throughout the football pyramid has degenerated into a month-long showcase of bad planning and chaotic business that now only serves the social media rumour mill and drives managers, players and fans to distraction.
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Yes, it can be entertaining, but largely for the wrong reasons: fans celebrating a rival club’s failure to get a deal done before the deadline, or a player travelling to his proposed new team only to find that paperwork issues prevent the transfer getting done and forcing a return to a team they wanted to leave.
Chelsea‘s Hakim Ziyech is the latest player to experience that sinking feeling on deadline day following the collapse of his loan move to Paris Saint-Germain due to a clerical error on the documentation. But for a faulty fax machine that apparently malfunctioned just as the deadline approached in the 2015 summer window, David de Gea would have left Manchester United for Real Madrid and spent the majority of his peak years at the Santiago Bernabeu.
But there is a flipside, too. Without the short time-frame to sign players, would clubs allow themselves to make the kind of panic signings that are often designed to simply keep the supporters happy? Would Everton have signed Dele Alli from Tottenham Hotspur in January last year had they not been pressured by the ticking clock with time running out to get deals done? Alexis Sanchez and Henrikh Mkhitaryan swapped clubs late in the January 2018 transfer window, with Sanchez heading to Manchester United and Mkhitaryan moving to Arsenal, but both turned out to be among of the worst signings in recent memory.
There are, of course, some success stories. Luis Suarez was an outstanding January signing for Liverpool in 2011 — Andy Carroll joined on the same day for a then-British record £35 million fee and was so bad that he was shipped out to West Ham United 18 months later — while Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United), Branislav Ivanovic (Chelsea) and Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool) all made their teams better.
The transfer window system is a relatively recent imposition on top-level football. Although many leagues in Europe already operated their own windows, the system was not introduced in the Premier League until the 2002-03 season. Prior to that, clubs in English football were able to trade players without restriction until a March 31 transfer deadline, which was designed to avoid the integrity of the competition being compromised by clubs doing deals in the final weeks of the season. That system is why Manchester United were able to sign Eric Cantona from Leeds in November 1993, and how Newcastle United tried to boost their title challenge in 1995-96 by signing Faustino Asprilla from Parma in February 1996.
In that open-market system, smaller and less wealthy clubs were always vulnerable to their squads being raided by bigger teams right until the end of March, but it also ensured that clubs could do business and bring in much-needed finances if money was tight. And although the transfer window system means that clubs now know that players won’t be lured away for much of the season, the reality is that heads can be turned in September and February and players become distracted regardless.
Sorry folks, but transfer business doesn’t stop outside of the window and clubs and players can be, and are, destabilised by agents and rival teams 365 days a year.
When the idea of a Premier League transfer window was proposed in the 1990s, it was based on the premise that it would help clubs retain control over their players and their finances. “It would keep some control over the agents just hawking players around constantly,” Peter Leaver, then-Premier League chief executive, said in 1998. “And I think clubs would also have to start planning ahead properly. I think it would make a lot of sense.” This week, as with the final week of many other past transfer windows, has shown Leaver’s perspective to be rather naïve.
The transfer window has now become a playground for agents, an opportunity to inflate fees and wages — and commission — because so many clubs are desperate to make signings while the market is open for business. And in terms of clubs planning ahead properly, it is only those teams who sign players when the window opens at the beginning of the month that can be praised for forward planning, such as Liverpool wrapping up a deal for PSV Eindhoven‘s Cody Gakpo at the end of December, so he could play throughout January.
Nicol: Everton destined for relegation after disastrous transfer window
Steve Nicol feels Everton will be relegated from the Premier League after a nightmare January transfer window saw no new arrivals.
If a club is on speed-dial to clubs and agents throughout Europe on the final day of the transfer window, it suggests desperation rather than smart planning. Without the Aug. 31/Jan. 31 deadline, clubs could take a longer view, make more measured judgements on signings. Yes, March 31 would still be a deadline, but with an open market the frenzy of the present would surely be diminished.
Manchester United did well to thrash out a loan deal on deadline day this week for Bayern Munich midfielder Marcel Sabitzer following confirmation that Christian Eriksen would be out for 3-4 months with an ankle injury, but had they had more time, different options could have been identified and considered. And if English football was still operating to the old March 31 deadline, Everton manager Sean Dyche would have time to assess his squad at Goodison Park and make firm judgements on what he needs to keep the team in the Premier League.
But as it is, having only been confirmed as manager on Monday, Dyche had just 36 hours to make a move in the market and, with Everton not adding any players on deadline day, he must now work with what a succession of managers have left behind at Goodison Park. That barely seems to be an ideal way to run a multi-million pound business, but perhaps missing out on new signings might just have done Dyche and Everton a favour.
Few clubs have built a recruitment record as unimpressive as Everton over recent windows, so no signings means less chance of an expensive mistake. But football doesn’t need to operate such a flawed system that is more suited to a Las Vegas casino. It is time to scrap the transfer window and bring sense back to the market.