The current transfer window in the English Premier League ends on 9 August. Traditionally, the window ended on or about the last day of August in line with that of the major Western European leagues.
From this season, the Premier League has chosen to break from its peers so that Premier League summer transfers will end a day before the first match, between Manchester United and Leicester.
Bringing the deadline forward was meant to assuage managers and club officials who complained that transfer activity through the first month of the league created instability. Managers like Arsene Wenger – remember him? – expressed strong opinions on facing a player at the beginning of the season and then coming up against him a few weeks later in another club.
Never mind, of course, that it could also work to the advantage of the moaning gaffer for, as Mugabe tells us, football managers notoriously speaketh from both sides of the mouth. You heard the one about Liverpool’s Jurgen Klopp railing against world record transfers into other clubs and then promptly indulging in one himself? Story for the gods. And another day.
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By terminating transfers before the season began, the argument on early closing went, teams could be certain of their roster and avoid the disruptions of late transfers as well as the speculation, distraction for club and player, which trailed them.
Farcical situations emerged in the first few weeks of the 2017-18 season for instance regarding Philippe Coutinho, Virgil van Dijk, Alexis Sanchez and Diego Costa. All standout stars for their respective clubs at the time, on-off transfers saw them log time on the bench in anticipation of their outward movement.
It was not until January though that each of them eventually laced boots for a new club (and Costa was able to buy a new phone, having smashed the old one on defender Gabriel’s head after receiving the infamous text from Conte that his services were no longer required at Chelsea).
Apparently, incidents like those of the VVDs (the abbreviation not being intended to cause you any mirth) and the Coutinhos of this world convinced 14 Premier League clubs, a two-thirds majority, to vote for ending transfers before the season began. Of the remaining six clubs, five voted against and one abstained.
The clubs voting nay were concerned that closing transfers while the European windows remained open meant that clubs on the continent could pick off Premiership stars without the Premiership teams being able to bring in replacements.
The worry of the minority is real because the rules on the transfer window are much like Wenger’s apparently were on the training ground – here, these are the basics; now go express yourselves.
FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players says that apart from free agents, players may only be registered during one of two annual registration periods whose specific dates shall be as fixed by the relevant association. The first registration period shall begin at the end of a season and last up to twelve weeks while the other is to occur in the middle of the season and not exceed four weeks.
These rules are the basis of the summer and January transfer windows respectively in Europe.
Leagues in Germany, France and Spain will still close their transfers this year on 31 August, with Italy ending its window at least nine days after the Premiership. The mighty Scottish Premier League will also have its window open until 1 September so expect the predatory likes of Dunfermline and Heart of Midlothian to continue setting their sights on the stars of hog-tied Premiership clubs till the end of August.
Are Premiership clubs shooting themselves in the foot by closing their summer transfer window early? If the rationale was to end uncertainty in club rosters at the start of the season, the continuing ability of foreign clubs to poach Premiership players into the first few weeks of the season turns the rationale on its head. And now, it seems, things might be even worse because no replacements can be sought when for instance Real Madrid starts putting trophy ideas into Harry Kane’s head from 10 August. Who just said ‘phantom goals’ out there?
The Premiership’s self-absorbed reasoning in closing its summer window while Europe’s windows remain open might lead to the kind of hangover that currently trails Brexit. In the cold clear light of the long morning after, second thoughts about a hard Brexit seem to have emerged with stiff-upper-lipped talk about a ‘common rule book’ and ‘combined customs territory.’ Like Brexit, time will tell with transfer‑window Prexit – ouch, please just tolerate; it shall be well with our puns.
One thing that is clear however is that an early closing will not stop the deadline day drama that has been a feature of transfer windows since they were introduced in the 2002-03 season. If anything, there will be two summer deadline days now, in quick succession, to savour – one for transfers within and into the Premiership and another for outward European transfers.
Might we therefore see a Peter Odemwingie, after driving down from West Brom to London only to be barred from QPR because no transfer had actually been agreed, get back in his Range Rover and continue across the channel only to be locked out again at Lyon because .. err … no transfer had actually been agreed? Perhaps there might be a new Benjani who, having fallen asleep at Southampton airport and missing his deadline day flights to Manchester City, decides to fly Roma instead because he had marvelous dreams in the airport lounge about being a gladiator in the Eternal City.
Anyway, there you have it now – two for the price of one. Jim White, Sky Sports’ deadline day impresario, just can’t stop drooling at the thought.
- Ntephe is a lawyer and an English FA registered football intermediary.