The Transfer Window: Good for the Game?

Heitinga and Banega might be in Everton's window when curtains are drawn, but is the system good for the game?

Heitinga and Banega might be in Everton's window when curtains are drawn, but is the system good for the game?

The end of a transfer window sure can be exciting. At present, I’ve got the BBC Sport Live Deadline Day update page open in a tab in my browser, while Run Fatboy, Run is on the TV. I like this film, it’s genuinely entertaining, but I’m spending most of my time watching the web page, waiting anxiously for the news that Everton have captures the sensational signing of Rafael Van Der Vaart. It’s unlikely, but even so, there are plenty of other stories to keep me interested.

The thing is though, is the transfer window actually a good thing for football? Since it was brought in a few years back the end of a transfer window has become something of a cult event for the true football fan, and in many ways is a day that can make or break a team’s season. Some key last minute imports can be the difference between relegation and survival, Europe or mid-table, the title or champions league. But should clubs be restricted as to when they can sign and sell players?

As an Everton fan, I have to say I’m not a huge fan of the window system. We don’t have much money and so being forced to conduct all of our transfer business in a confined space of time can be severely restricting to our ability to get value for money, and therefore to successfully add players of the necessary calibre to our squad. All selling clubs want the best possible deal for their players, that’s only natural, but restricting the time-frame for deals to be completed puts all the eggs in their basket.

This can be good news for the lower league clubs who traditionally find themselves being forced to sell their prized assets to those higher up the league ladder and with a big budget, because it means they can demand a price and stick to their guns. If the interested club is serious in their desire to secure the players transfer they know the price and they know that they only have a limited time to make the offer. When push comes to shove, they’ll break their budget to secure the player if necessary.

But for clubs like Everton who can’t compete financially with most of the other teams in the Premier League, it is severely disabling. When we want to buy a player we get held to ransom by a club expecting us to wade in with our Premiership millions. Moyes refuses to be ripped off because he has a tight enough budget to add depth without blowing it all on one player and so the transfer drags out and becomes a bit of a saga.

From this point, one of three things can happen. Either the selling club eventually takes a reality check and we sign the player at the last minute, meaning our pre-season preparations are hampered. Or both clubs stick to their guns and the player goes nowhere with Moyes switching targets. More often than not though, the ongoing stalemate becomes public knowledge and a manager with more financial power gets wind of the deal and muscles in – here’s lookin’ at you, kid Harry Redknapp.

Whichever of the three scenarios occurs, it’s not good news for Everton. And this seems to happen every time. With football transfer fees rising consistently, clubs know that they can continue to demand inflated fees for their players, which means that bargains simply don’t happen in football – unless of course a player’s contract is up soon, when finally the selling club doesn’t have all the cards at the negotiation table.

It seems quite obvious then, that the transfer window system favours the rich and restricts the poor, no surprises there. Having money in football is like having money in life, it makes things much easier without guaranteeing success/happiness, and once you have money, it becomes easier to get more. It seems like a flawed system to me then, especially when you consider that the transfer window was originally conceived (as far as I’m aware) so as to level the playing field a bit.

Under the old transfer system clubs could buy and sell players right throughout the season, with spending only curtailed in the closing weeks. This allowed clubs to make continuous adaptations to their squad as and when they were required. This system too though, seemed to favour the rich clubs, allowing them to make changes if things were not going well in the league, whereas the poorer clubs were, to an extent, stuck with what they had.

The introduction of a transfer window system was intended to mean that the competitions as a whole would become tighter, more even affairs, given that once squads were confirmed, it was down entirely to the registered players and the skills of the manager to get the best out of them to determine who was the best side over the course of a season. When teams could chop and change at will, it didn’t really give the impression that a team, as a singular entity, had proved anything, because it might have been largely changed when the competition began.

So the old system favoured the rich clubs, and now the current system does too. While it doesn’t allow such dynamic updates of weaknesses, it could be said to have exacerbated the problem in that the richer clubs spend the entire transfer window buying up an excess of players as a contingency strategy – if some don’t work out then others can be tried.

Meanwhile the poorer clubs are struggling to secure players of the required ability because they’re either being snapped up by the aforementioned richer clubs or they’re priced out of signings because the selling clubs, as I described before, are waiting for a richer club to come in and pay a higher fee. This means that when the window closes and the squads finalised, much the same will likely occur – the rich sides will dominate, while the poor sides will struggle.

There are exceptions of course. David Moyes has never had much money to spend (speaking in terms relative to Premier League rivals) and yet he has consistently achieved highly, securing successive 5th place finishes. However, that 5th position can be regarded as a ‘success’ only highlights the gulf that the transfer window has established – the big four are almost untouchable because they are the clubs who routinely spend and strengthen most in the transfer windows.

Another exception would be Tottenham Hotspur’s start to last season. They spent lavishly in the summer transfer window as usual, but completely failed to perform despite the obvious quality and depth of their squad, and thus were stuck fast at the bottom of the table. However, they were eventually saved, and the saviour once more was their wealth – Daniel Levy paying a large amount of compensation to Pompey for the services of Harry Redknapp, and giving him a big fat contract too I suspect.

Don’t get me wrong, I can see the thinking behind a transfer window, and attempts to level the playing field in football a bit are always worth a try I think. But the exceptions mentioned above are ultimately very rare. Man City have all the money in the world, and made use of it in this transfer window. As such they will succeed, while Burnley who have almost no money at all by comparison, will struggle. That is simply the way that football is, that’s how things will go under the current system, and that predictability is depressing.

Pretty soon, if the rich continue to get richer and the poor get poorer we could conceivably reach a point where Notts County are in the Premier League and the season will be played out in one day, with the relative wealth of each club worked out and the final League positions allocated according to the wealth of each club, from highest to lowest. Of course that won’t happen, but it’s not impossible that the football could eventually just be an exercise to prove that particular point in the future.

This is the point, having outlined the flaws that I see in the current system, that I should outline my vision for how things could be improved. Unfortunately, it is at this point that I stumble. While I am unsure that the transfer window is a feasible long term practice in English football, I can’t really put my mind to any better options. Some managers have called for a return to the previous system, but I’m not sure that would work.

Just imagine Manchester City if they could buy players all year round. Eventually they’d have signed every professional player in the world just because they could, and because it would guarantee them success. Of course, Mark Hughes would face selection posers, but if he was worried about that he wouldn’t have signed so many strikers this time around. There is already too much discrepancy between the rich and the poor clubs and so to return to the previous system would achieve nothing.

The only possible solution I see is some sort of salary or transfer cap. Spending needs to be limited at a level that allows all clubs to have a chance of realistically competing, week in and week out, against each other. Of course, such a limit would take a lot of settling upon, to ensure that it was neither too high or too low, and it would surely have to be imposed world, or at least Europe-wide if we wanted our clubs to continue to be able to buy players from foreign clubs, and to beat off competition from them.

The other option is a salary cap, but that brings similar problems, and given that players are now used to demanding – and getting – ludicrous amounts of money from their clubs, there would doubtless be serious opposition to its introduction, and as long as one club owner was prepared to break the bank to get the best players, all would continue to make them obscenely rich. Even with a cap, Gold Coast United have shown in the Australian A-League, perks like houses and cars etc. can go a long way, so it’s by no means a guaranteed solution.

So ultimately, is the transfer window a good system for football? No, I don’t think that it is, and I think that most people would probably agree with that. But is there a better, realistic option that could be implemented instead? I’m not sure. None that I can think of seem feasible, and anyway, those who are in charge of football are benefiting from this current situation, so it’s unlikely to change.

So while this is certainly an exciting day in football, it’s tinged with a bit of annoyance for me. I’m hoping with all my being that Moyes can pull off the couple of transfers we need to add some essential depth to our squad, but I know that every move he makes is hampered by the very system that’s supposed to ensure football is played on an even playing field. Doubtless City fans, and those of other wealthy clubs, won’t feel the same way, but in terms of the game as a whole – not just individual clubs – is the transfer window actually good for football? Not in my book.

Have your say:

What do you think about the transfer window? Do you agree that it is flawed, in favour of the rich clubs? Is it the best system available or do you have any ideas that you think would be better for football as a whole? Please leave a comment below and let me know.

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