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Why The January Transfer Window Is Utterly Pointless

Before the introduction into European football of ‘registration periods,’ more commonly known as ‘transfer windows,’ you may remember that players could pretty much come and go as they please, right up until the closing weeks of the season. However, times have changed and now, in England specifically, the summer window runs from the last day of the season right up until the 1st September. That’s all well and good; a long summer break to tamper with your squad and attempt, admittedly sometimes in vain, to improve upon the previous season. However, now is January. January in England and across Europe has it’s own mid-season transfer window. The question is why?

The debate has been had on frequent occasions since the inception of the transfer window, primarily instigated by the likes of Steve Coppell notorious for his dislike of the current system, instead preferring a ‘no restrictions’ approach to comings and goings of players. But surely the aim of the transfer window is to remove that constant, lingering feeling of doubt in the back of a manager’s mind as to whether his players will just jump ship at a crucial point in the season. In today’s market especially, it would be so easy for players to wake up one morning and decide enough is enough, á la Carlos Tevez you may recall, though he was disuaded from going anywhere most likely as a result of flashing dollar signs. Clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City with their gargantuan transfer budgets could just as easily spend the duration of the season raking in new talent as they spend the entirety of the summer on a mission to stockpile the world’s greatest players. It’s almost like the trading cards we all felt an ardor for at some point in our childhood, forever yearning for the final evasive glittering shiny card.

Let’s put all that into context, shall we? Imagine we are a fortnight away from arguably the biggest game on the planet: Manchester United vs Liverpool. Without transfer windows, a situation could so easily arise where a key player such as Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Steven Gerrard or Rio Ferdinand could be offered a small fortune every week by one or other of the aforementioned clubs, not to mention the omnipresent lure of European behemoths Barcelona and Real Madrid. Only in very special circumstances would a player, given the chance, turn it down. Maybe Steven Gerrard would be an exception to that but it’s beside the point. Big players could pack their bags and be gone before sunrise if they so chose. The club would be left stranded with no star man and precious little time to find a replacement and gel him into the side. It would be chaotic, and quite frankly, unfair.

So what exactly is the point of the January window? All it seemingly does is condense what was months worth of rumor and anticipation into a single, month long window of unease and uncertainty. It’s a hectic time and it is no wonder that in some circumstances over the past few years it has been a fateful turning point for so many teams going into the new year.

But is it right that the only windows of opportunity for strengthening are nine months apart? What if you get prolonged injuries mid-season? The impact, particularly on the weaker, less financially predominant sides such as West Ham, Wolves or Wigan could be forced into further despair at the bottom of the table. On the other hand, though, it is all too frequent that these clubs panic as they find themselves on the verge of relegation, albeit the best part of 5 months from judgement day, and spend money wildly on players who they don’t really need or indeed want, and players won’t turn out to be the savior they were after. The knock-on effect of this, of course, is a reduced budget in the summer where, should they survive, they could have spent it wisely, and calculated more expensive signings who would surely bolster their chances of ‘success’ the following year. You only need to look at previous January signings along the lines of Eric Djemba-Djemba’s move from Man United to Aston Villa in 2005, Newcastle’s big money move for Boumsong in the same year or City’s sweep for Samaras in 2006 to see where I’m coming from. No doubt there will be flops of a similar ilk in this window too, as there are every other January.

Sometimes, though, it is entirely necessary to strengthen. Indeed, you hear managers ramble on about the opportunity to add to their squad after Christmas, months in advance. Liverpool, for example, are in dire straits right now, and now they have the new, seemingly more competent and more well-off American owners, the time is right to splash the cash, perhaps. Though other teams, predominantly smaller teams, simply don’t have the money to waste that they think they do.

That’s why, after much deliberation, I have come to the conclusion that the January transfer window is nothing more than a traditionally ill-fated period of concern for managers and players alike. It gives clubs a false hope, an illusion that they can better themselves for the final rundown to the end of the season and more often than not, can be distracting and entirely favorable to the clubs with all the money, and in today’s market, we should be working towards a conclusion which, if anything, detriments the big spenders.

So what d’ya reckon, footy fans? January transfer window: fruitful, or just entirely pointless?

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  1. Rob Nichols

    January 25, 2011 at 3:22 pm

    I hear you, but in my opinion it would definitely preferable to only have transfer windows outside of the playing season. Once games start, transfers end. The rumours, the anticipation and uncertainty can be a killer for certain teams seasons. Of course, this would definitely be less so through November, but then you could argue what would be the point? The january window is there to offer a second opportunity to add to, or improve, a squad or rectify mistakes made in the summer.

  2. Patrico

    January 25, 2011 at 2:35 pm

    Instead of a January window, has there ever been talk of, say, extending the summer window through November?

    Not sure why transfers are prohibited for three-plus months, and then the window is open again for a month. That seems to foster lots of gossip and speculation, especially in December.

    If the summer window was extended, teams would still have time to use the transfer market to deal with early injuries and uncertainty. But then at some point, maybe December 1, everyone could say, “Here’s our squad for the rest of the season. Let’s get down to business.”

  3. Gaz Hunt

    January 25, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    “Big players could pack their bags and be gone before sunrise if they so chose. The club would be left stranded with no star man and precious little time to find a replacement and gel him into the side. It would be chaotic, and quite frankly, unfair.”

    I think a no restrictions transfer window is not a good idea but I don’t agree with this fear you bring up. If you have a star player, then you surely have him on contract and he can’t leave until you are willing to sell him.

    It reminds me of the silliness of Steve Bruce saying that Darren Bent had let Sunderland fans down. Bruce had Bent on contact and did not have to sell him. If forced to stay, Bent is a professional and would have continued to play well (or risk no transfer in the summer due to poor form). He saw the dollar signs and decided to cash in.

    The January transfer window is a band-aid for clubs. If a team feels that they need a striker, they can get one. But they’ll probably pay too much for a player that, due to his being available in January, could have some baggage coming for the ride too. Or you could get lucky.

    • Rob Nichols

      January 25, 2011 at 3:43 pm

      Of course, contracts do play a part with some players, but in the modern game they are almost worthless with a lot of top players. As soon as a player hands in a transfer request they become virtually worthless to a club, as we saw with Mascherano in the summer. Once a club hears that the player wants to leave, their offer is instantly lowered as inevitably the player won’t be the same. Darren Bent hasn’t hit top form this season. He clearly wanted out, and it showed in his goal tally. It’s obvious when a player wants to leave, so if the temptation to move mid-season is removed, the players may be more settled and consistent.

      • Gaz Hunt

        January 25, 2011 at 10:02 pm

        Still don’t agree here but I know what you’re saying.

        My point is that clubs concede too much power to the players in these situations.

        Ian Holloway has the right idea at Blackpool – Charlie Adam is his player and will go for an amount he is happy with. Until then, Adam will, obviously, continue to play to the best of his ability or risk losing a transfer to a bigger club at all.

        If a club doesn’t want to cash-in on a player during the January transfer window, I think that 9 out of 10 players will continue to play to the best of their ability if told it’ll be worked out in the summer. That 1 out of 10 that would sulk around and lose form during this time may find that new transfer isn’t interested anymore.

        Bent scored almost one goal every other game for Sunderland this season – may not be top form but I’m sure he would continue at that level if asked to until the summer. Bruce decided that 25ish million quid was more important – I don’t blame him for that but that was his decision.

  4. DZ

    January 25, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Don’t see how an unlimited window would do anything but allow the rich to get richer. I like the January window primarily for the reason that it allows the teams nearest the bottom (if done skillfully) to shore up for survival and for teams aspriring to a higher league to attempt to improve their squads. You rarely see the very elite teams do much because they are already in good shape with talent and focused on squad play.

    Having said that, I would support restricting the winter window to about 2 weeks to expedite the process.

  5. Robert Hay

    January 25, 2011 at 7:58 am

    The clubs that the January transfer window benefits the most are the title contending clubs. In the EPL for example Arsenal can (hypothetically) grab another center back because of the Squillaci injury and Vermaelen’s long-term problem. If there were no January transfer window, clubs with injuries OR players playing in long-term national cups (Cahill in Australia for example) couldn’t make that last move to bolster their club.

    Maybe it’s because I am an American baseball fan as well, but I like the idea of teams making that final move to grab that final piece of the puzzle. To me it adds excitement to the title race.

    • Rob Nichols

      January 25, 2011 at 8:14 am

      This is exactly what I was getting at in the article with regards to it being unfair. As you say, the big clubs can bring in a number of faces and freshen things up, and not only does this potentially distance them further in terms of quality to the rest of the premiership, it also puts pressure on the lower clubs to do the same. This is where you get a situation arising where clubs such as West Ham (as Trickybrkn pointed out) bring in hopeless players in a desperate bid to keep up.

      • Robert Hay

        January 25, 2011 at 11:04 am

        Very true. I guess it depends on the type of club you root for. One other angle to consider are the Championship clubs. This window helps the QPR/Cardiff clubs who are looking to secure promotion to get that final piece.

        But, like I said, it probably depends on where your club is on the table and financially.

    • Aitken Drum

      January 26, 2011 at 2:20 pm

      However, American baseball doesn’t have relegation so all the significant movement is upwards. In football, the current flows up and down with some teams trying to make promotion or post-season tourneys while others are fighting to avoid relegation. With regard to the EPL, the shortness of the January transfer window brings with it both excitement and an air of desperation that isn’t entirely wholesome. I would like a transfer season from the end of the prior season’s competition to the end of January. I can’t see where that would give any additional advantage to the “Big Clubs” but would allow managers to work on improving their squads and obtaining injury replacements without the current rummage sale atmosphere.

  6. Trickybrkn

    January 25, 2011 at 7:28 am

    One of the worst winter window from West Ham was under Alan Curbishley.
    Lucas Neil, Matthew Upson, Calum Davenport and the winner. Nigel Quashie.

    Neil was given the captain’s armband and 70,000 a week. Upson was a decent long term signing, but played 8 minutes before getting hurt. Davenport never cracked the side and Quashie was hell bent on living up to his status of relegation legend and tried best he could to send WHU down, but got hurt and Curbs was forced to play Mark Noble.

    And that list could also include Luis Boa Morte… I have intellectually separated myself from him as a Hammer that its hard to remember just when we brought him in to be useless, not score goals, and make rash challenges.

    I’d prefer a transfer cut off. The window is open till mid season. Would give urgency for the last run at whatever it is a team is making a run for or from, and gives managers a half season to deal with injuries, flops, and in the new world of the PL, management changes.

  7. Joe

    January 25, 2011 at 7:21 am

    I think the real problem with unlimited transfers would be that quality of play would diminish. It takes time for a team to gel into a cohesive unit, and if big clubs just constantly bought more and more new players, they would be sort of painful to watch while they figured out how to play together. At root this is an entertainment industry. Teams would get by on sheer talent, but at what cost to the game?

    • Rob Nichols

      January 25, 2011 at 8:10 am

      I couldn’t agree more, and it’s further testament to how the January window is indeed pointless. If you’re going to restrict transfers due to the reasons in the article and the one you pointed out, you have to cut them off altogether whilst the season is going on. Or it just brings all of these problems into a single month and, for the richer clubs especially who bring in a lot of faces, causes a good 8-12 weeks of uncertainty.

      • Dave C

        January 25, 2011 at 10:29 am

        I agree that transfers should be limited to JUST the summer. Scrap mid-season transfers altogether. The league season should be viewed as what it is – one continual competition. You should have your squad together at the start of the season, and then do the best you can with the same players for the next 9 months.

        Guys like Coppell might complain that they want to be able to wheel and deal throughout the season to meet unforseen needs arising from injuries etc. But I think this would actually favour the bigger clubs rather than the likes of Coppell. eg if Tevez broke his leg in March, Man City could easily go out and splash the cash on a replacement the next day – maybe even poaching him from one of the smaller clubs. A smaller club on the other hand, doesn’t have this financial clout. I think making things a little tougher for everyone actually favours the weaker teams in that sense.

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