The frantic transfer window has slammed shut and records have been broken. There is a new British transfer record of £50 million after Fernando Torres’ move to Chelsea and a new record high of £225 million being spent in the January transfer window. However, after a deadline day which involved massive amounts of money being transferred from club to club there is a definite debate emerging from clubs and managers. Some believe the January window is ideal and gives a manager a chance to turn the fortunes of a club around; others feel it is making the job of climbing the league impossible. The feeling is that whoever has the most funds can break any performance barrier put in front of them effectively meaning the same clubs will dominate the same leagues across the world. This is best illustrated by the spending of Chelsea for Fernando Torres and David Luiz and Liverpool for Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll.
This difference in wealth from the top to the bottom of a league is not restricted to the Premier League as there is a similar story which has unfolded in the Championship. The teams that have been in the Premier League and have been relegated (receiving parachute payments to ensure their survival) can spend a great deal more than clubs that have just been promoted to the division. The best examples are Hull City who have spent over £2 million on the duo of Matty Fryatt and Aaron McLean and Burnley who spent £1.8 on Charlie Austin. The two teams have been stuck in mid-table mediocrity for the majority of the season but after splashing out in January will demand to reach the play off positions and have a chance of returning to the Barclays Premiership. This disproportionate spending is a major disadvantage for teams like Norwich and Leeds who are spending their first season back in the Championship after being in League One last season and have reached the half-way mark in play off contention.
The difference in finances between the top and bottom teams of each league will always mean that the same clubs will dominate the top areas and the same teams will be trying to fend off relegation. If the window were to be scrapped then there would be a chance teams on the cusp of the top European places in the Premiership could break the mould. Teams such as Everton, Bolton Wanderers, Sunderland and Aston Villa come to mind. Instead year in, year out they have to settle for low top half finishes and are constantly found fighting to keep their valuable players in the month of January, an unneeded distraction when focus needs to be on preparation for every fixture during the month. The transfer of Andy Carroll from Newcastle United to Liverpool for an estimated £35 million underlines the financial power certain clubs have and proves that is an exception to the rule if a club manages to punch above its financial weight in the top tier of English football.
As well as the financials of football clubs, the January transfer window poses a problem for the chairman of clubs as they are forced to make decisions surrounding managerial staff ahead of the period. The League Managers Association’s Richard Bevan stated that ‘you’ll find chairman who will say the transfer window was a final nail in the coffin of some decisions that they had to make in terms of sacking managers or coaches.’ This was the case with Roy Hodgson at Liverpool and Roy Keane at Ipswich. If there was no transfer window they would most likely have remained in their posts and been given a full season to see if they could guide their clubs to higher positions in their respective leagues. The transfer window means managerial change has to be decisive and in many cases managers are given less and less time to gain results which are expected because of this. Even if they marginally underperform chairman can be uneasy with providing funds to them and will seek a new manager to provide different transfer options.
Furthermore the transfer window is ludicrous in a world which finds itself in an economic recession and with many people becoming unemployed the fact that football clubs are paying millions and millions of pounds for players is an outrage. With several transfers costing above £20 million during the transfer window it seems that even if clubs are losing money they think the best way out of this is to spend more. Out of the 663 clubs across Europe around half are losing money. Surely then purely from a business sense of view the removal of the January transfer window would make sense in order for these clubs to become financially stable ensuring their long term futures. The problem is the final decision is with FIFA and not the nation’s national football associations which mean that a change is unlikely. This is the debate between politics and football and how separate or intertwined they should be.
Despite opinions on the January transfer window there is a legal obligation to meet in that the European Union argued that the transfer system before the introduction of the window was illegal. The idea behind this is that a player doesn’t have freedom of labour as they are restricted to certain periods of the year they can change their employers. This is true but the football world is so far away from the employment world which an ordinary member of the public is involved in that sometimes special restriction and laws should surely be considered. However, there is no doubt that the transfer window causes unrest and Steve Coppell’s observation was that the window ‘means clubs buy too many players.’ This is due to the fact that they are forced with six months of the year with no opportunity to replace players were they to get injured so they buy extra players in case of extraordinary injury crises and stretch their financial boundaries in doing so.
So what could be the solution to the January transfer window problem? Well one option is to remove any sort of window and allow clubs to buy and sell players all year around. This has many disadvantages though as it means financially strong clubs could spend lavishly all year round and effectively ensure a top position finish. It also means that clubs would be constantly distracted regarding players leaving, requesting transfers and potential replacements. The other alternative is to have one window in between seasons meaning managers know they have a squad of players settled at the club for the foreseeable future. This would also solve the huge problem of manager sackings as they would in the most part have a season to prove their worth. In my opinion, the January window should be scrapped but whether FIFA would allow this to happen is a serious doubt so for the approaching seasons we can expect the January transfer window to remain.