There was something of an emergency last week at the Sky Sports news centre. Medics were on standby as were a team of the finest tailors from Saville Row. No, it wasn’t a party celebrating the rejection of Rupert Murdoch’s proposed takeover of the broadcaster. Rather, the concern was over Jim White, the yellow tie demon who has risen to become the face of the all dominating transfer windows of the past decade. The Glaswegian wonder has become known more for the colour of his deadline day tie than any discernible presenting ability, and he is still recovering from the news that two or three weeks of salacious rumour mongering has been swiped from under his nose.
Mr. White isn’t the only one still trying to make sense of this swift and sudden development. Many fans had no idea that the idea of that proposed changes were being discussed within the corridors of the Premier League, let alone a vote being held to enforce the rule. But change it has, with 14 clubs voting in favour, five against and one abstention, coming into effect in the 2018/19 season.
It confirms the changes many managers in the Premier League have been in favour of for quite some time. Even as recently as last month, Jose Mourinho stated: “As a football manager, I would prefer the window to close as soon as possible, so everyone knows the players they will have, the business is done earlier, and nobody is waiting until the last week.”
His employers were clearly paying little attention, as Manchester United were one of the five rumoured to have voted against the proposal.
As we also know, the Premier League will become an outlier in this respect, with the Football League and the European leagues not yet following suit. Although there is growing pressure in the Bundesliga and Serie A, where Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta commented “The Premier League’s decision to end the transfer window early is wise. Now we have to extend the discussion to a European level.” Roma sporting director Monchi also voiced his approval.
The grey cloud hanging over this decision is the lack certainty it provides for Premier League sides, despite the decision being made to provide the opposite. Players cannot be sold to other teams in the league, nor can new players be brought in after the last Thursday before the season starts. However, players can still be sold to leagues anywhere else in the world, which leaves teams vulnerable to last minute sales without the opportunity to find a like-for-like replacement.
The positive side to the decision
Everyone from Klopp, to Guardiola, Mourinho and Wenger have come out in favour of closing the window early. Even UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, believes it is a good idea. The last minute brinkmanship and disruption that the window causes as the season starts can have a detrimental effect on the mangers control of his squad.
It can also prove to be a distraction for those players who are rumoured to be the target of a bid, or with one eye on the way out of the club. Which is far from ideal when you are trying to bring together a squad of 25 players, all committed and focused on working together. Liverpool would certainly have preferred to have had Coutinho in their squad from the first game, as would Arsenal with Alexis Sanchez. From the fans point of view, they will know who to expect to see for at least the next 6 months before the January window, and it removes the anxiety of a star player disappearing after only 2 games of the season. It also reduces the media rumour mill by a few weeks and allows social media to find some level of (relative) sanity once more.
The not so good side to the decision
With the front door closed on purchasing new players and from selling to other Premier League teams, fears will increase over their inability to firmly close the backdoor on prowling European teams. Clubs can refuse to sell, as in the case of Coutinho, but there is little they can do if a buy-out clause is triggered by the interested club. With no chance to return to the market, clubs could be left with tens of millions burning a hole in their pocket, while leaving a gaping hole in their team that was once filled by a key player.
The final two weeks of the current transfer system also allows managers the opportunity to see how their plans are working in real-time. Yes, they’ve had all summer (although not in the case of tournament years) but training ground matches and friendlies only give a small indication of how well the team is gelling together. Getting in those final one or two players can make a huge difference to how the team performs for the season and being unable to strengthen could decide the managers and the team’s fate.
Only time will tell
Whether this will prove to be a moment of regrettable insanity will only be known in the next two or three seasons. Will other European leagues supersede the Premiership, cherry picking the best talent at will? Or, will this help improve the stability and thus the quality of a league that has seen its standards dip over the past few years?
The only other alternative is to scrap the transfer windows completely and return to the old free-for-all style of transfers taking place at any point during the season.
That seems like an attractive proposition to some, and who knows, if it came into being, just think how lucky we would be to see Jim White’s beaming face on our TV with even more regularity.