Window of opportunism

New shirts for old. Photo: Francisco Schmidt CC BY-NC 2.0

AT LEAST some progress was made when the Premier League clubs agreed to call a halt to the transfer window before the season gets underway. But will we ever see an end to the farce that is the transfer deadline?

What does the window effectively do? It forces clubs into a spending frenzy, often buying players they don’t really need or want. Makeweights are bought to bolster already bloated squads, clubs play cat and mouse over the disposal of star players, the players themselves manipulate moves, making themselves difficult with their employers to finesse a transfer, agents agitate and managers play games with the press.

It has become an industry within an industry. SKYTV devotes hours to deadline day coverage, giving us countless shots of players arriving at a club, often with their agents – all shades, bouncer attire and heavyweight watches – ready for the terms, the medical, the signing and the obligatory photo of the club shirt being held up. Meanwhile, other players leave their current employer having pushed for a move and head straight for social media to tell their old fans how wonderful they were and how it was a privilege to play for the club. Kiss the badge? More like kiss my arse goodbye!

Furthermore, a club’s performance during the transfer window is a benchmarking exercise in itself. The fans expect the club to spend millions, regardless of the relative strength of their current squad. True, a club’s activity in the market is a reflection of ambition, but the signing of new players is as much a marketing exercise as it is a sign of team-building. What’s the first thing a club does when it acquires a marque player? It cranks up the printing press and gets those shirts emblazoned with “Neymar Jnr” on the back.

Effectively, the transfer windows have become part of the game’s money-making machinery. In other words, they will not disappear as they are as publicised, as anticipated and choreographed as other less-than-satisfactory aspects of the modern game. And they are largely predictable, however excitable the TV presenters might get about the latest £50m being paid for an average player.

If there was no such thing as deadline day, we might find that transfer fees become a little more restrained. The fact that there is a clock ticking and you could be in danger of not spending the money that’s burning a hole in your pocket, there is the tendency to panic buy and pay over the odds to make sure you don’t resemble Mr. Scrooge during the window.

The fans, by and large, almost encourage this behaviour. Reading the comments made by supporters regarding the transfer window in the Observer made you wonder if they have not been caught up in this fantasy world. Chelsea, despite spending £ 188m apparently had a “poor window”. It is hard to be sympathetic as Chelsea continue to loan-out players like cups of sugar and £188m, under normal circumstances, would represent a significant outlay. The Neymar transfer has changed all that, though, and it suddenly looks like small beer. Manchester United, who spent £ 146m, had a “great window”, City heavily invested in full backs and Tottenham paid a record fee for an Ajax centre back. Arsenal – well, the comment, “our club are a day late and a dollar short in everything we do” was just about right.

Once again, the Premier flexed its muscles during the summer window, with 475 transactions compared to 445 from Serie A, 369 Ligue 1, 328 La Liga and 275 from the Bundesliga. The Premier’s aggregate amounted to £ 1.62bn, or in new money, seven Neymars.

Despite the traffic, there is an underlying feeling there is a shortage of genuine talent, witness the big sums paid for Mo Salah, Danny Drinkwater, Gyfli Sigurdsson, Benjamin Mendy and Davinson Sanchez. We’ve just entered a new phase of virtual unreality thanks to Paris St. Germain. In all probability, next year’s windows will break all known records.




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