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Transfer window not working in the Football League?

Paul Fletcher | 18:23 UK time, Wednesday, 27 August 2008

It is that time of year again as the days tick down until the transfer window, to use accepted parlance, slams shut.

Expect more rumour and wild speculation while football reporters in television studios wait anxiously for their shiny mobile phones lined up neatly in front of them to ring with top-grade information from sources very high up at various high-profile clubs.

It might be wrong, it might be a guilty pleasure, but I think there is something exciting and slightly intoxicating about those final few hours on transfer deadline day (even if very few big deals actually go through); the little clock ticking down in the corner of the screen, rumours of players checking into hotels in unfamiliar cities and the grainy images of so and so heading into such and such a training ground.

If football is entertainment then deadline day really does deliver. The race against the clock is almost cinematic, a football thriller, but instead of bombs going off the hero must bring in the star striker that will make the difference between silverware and an empty trophy cabinet. Whether he then gets the girl, I have no idea.

But in the Football League - and it is the 72 clubs that comprise the bottom three divisions that concern me here - the story is a bit more gritty, more Ken Loach than the polished vacuous blockbusters of Jerry Bruckheimer.

fry438.jpgAnd after speaking to several people directly involved in the transfer windows (the second runs through the month of January), it seems there are several strong arguments that it can do serious damage to clubs within the Football League.

Peterborough director of football Barry Fry, a veteran wheeler and dealer in the lower divisions, neatly summarises one when he told me: "To me the inability to sell one of your assets is a restraint of trade. I think it is a disgrace."

Once the window shuts on Monday night, clubs cannot sell one of their players until it opens again on 1 January. Fry points out that this could be a disaster for a lower league club. If a side is struggling financially then selling a player can make a huge difference. As an example, the experienced and outspoken Fry argues that a few postponed games in succession as a consequence of poor weather can really strain the coffers at a lower division club.

John Coleman, manager of League Two side Accrington, agrees - and adds that the numerous lower division clubs that can only afford to have a small squad are often left to rely on the emergency loan system.

Football League clubs can have a maximum of four players under 23 and a further four players over 23 during any season on a standard loan, though no more than two of the latter can be signed from a single club. These standard loans are all done and dusted before the transfer deadline and run from window to window.

However, Football League clubs can sign players on an emergency loan for a maximum of 93 days.

An emergency loan cannot happen until seven days until after each transfer window has closed and are not allowed after the fourth Thursday in November during the first half of the season until the window reopens and after the fourth Thursday in March until the end of the campaign.

Coleman argues that without this system "it would be very, very difficult. A lot of teams would struggle". Fry is even more succinct when he says that clubs would be "knackered" without it.

Yet Coleman adds that the seven-day wait can often cause problems, while clubs are often left short for a couple of weeks over the busy Christmas period once the 93 days has expired.

There is technically no limit on how many emergency loans a club can bring in but no Football League side may field more than five on-loan players in their 16-man matchday squad. Emergency loans are assessed on a case-by-case basis, though I met with a large degree of scepticism as to whether "emergency" is the most appropriate word to describe them.

Coleman reckons the system is open to abuse in that fees can be charged for emergency loans and so clubs can effectively sort out a transfer for a player, who then moves temporarily before the deal is made permanent when the next window opens. And the Stanley boss also wonders whether the loan system has become so important that it has resulted in the permanent transfer market becoming stagnated.

But there is no doubt that if smaller clubs use the loan market - both standard and emergency - shrewdly it can pay rich dividends.

Both Fry and Coleman pointed to the success of Hereford boss Graham Turner, who orchestrated his team's promotion from League Two last season with his adept use of the transfer market.

Turner brought in players from Premier League and Championship clubs - such as the influential Sherjill MacDonald from West Brom - and raised the ire of some of his opponents.

After the Bulls defeated Shrewsbury in February, then Shrews boss Gary Peters stormed "I'm not sure who we were playing. Was it Hereford or a combined team or Premier League and Championship players?"

Fry sees it differently.

"It is no good people saying he has done it with a load of players that aren't his, he has used his budget to best effect," said Fry.

The players Turner brought in were signed in August and left when the season ended so the club were not playing wages over the summer.

Coleman argues that Turner should be applauded for what he achieved on a limited budget and a serious contender for manager of the season.

There is no doubt that the loan market is crucially important for smaller clubs - and no more so when a manager loses a key player close to the deadline.

Coleman spent months fending off bids for a key player several seasons ago only to eventually lose him just before the window shut. It left him high and dry. However, as Fry points out, if a late raid comes in some clubs will have their bank manager urging them to sell.

It is this situation that saw, for example, Brentford sell striker DJ Campbell to Birmingham on deadline day 2006. Speak to Bees fans and they will tell you their prospects of promotion went with it.

"It the end it is a mad rush and leaves you very vulnerable," Fry told me.

Bristol City manager Gary Johnson is gearing up for a busy few days before the window shuts.

Championship clubs have bigger budgets and larger squads than their lower division counterparts - City paid Crewe £2.25m for Nicky Maynard in the summer - but Johnson is adamant there are familiar problems.

"The transfer window is a hindrance to everybody," said the Robins boss. "I cannot for the life of me think of one positive thing about it."

He might have a larger squad but argues that a few injuries in one position could still force him into the emergency loan market.

Johnson is expecting a "super manic" few days and cannot wait for Tuesday, when the volume of calls will normalise and everyone can start to relax.

The Robins boss, who took his team to last season's Championship play-off final, reckons that "unsettling" is the most appropriate word to describe chairmen, managers and players in the weeks before the window shuts and adds that it is a "botch job".

With people panicking, mistakes will inevitably be made but Johnson acknowledges that, much as he wants to, he will not be turning his phone off between now and 1 September.

Likeable and knowledgeable, Johnson deadpans: "You can't do that in case Wayne Rooney becomes available."

The frenetic activity has become part of the game, part of a managers' life.

It was not like this before the end of August 2002, when the window closed for the first time in England.

The deadline had been compulsory introduced by world governing body Fifa following negotiations with European Union.

Whether the Football Association or the Football League would have voluntarily introduced the system is open to debate and it seems to me that the emergency loan system is a way of ensuring that what has been thrust upon English football does not inflict terminal damage on the small yet historic and cherished clubs in the lower divisions.

Johnson would like to see the introduction of a working party to explain to Fifa what is happening on the ground; perhaps a sprinkling of managers and club officials to bring to light issues that "need to be discussed".

What Fry thinks of certain officials cannot be committed into print, though it is fair to say he is also unhappy about the lack of consultation.

There seems to be no hint, though, that the transfer window will close on a permanent basis anytime soon and so in the remarkably unlikely event that you are a Football League manager reading this you might as well heed Fry's advice.

"You have got to be shrewd and you have got to be lucky."


  • Comment number 1.

    Well Johnson certainly can't turn his phone off yet, we're losing a defender a game down here. We managed to nab some guy from Rangers who's played 2 games in about as many years but the way it's looking at the moment there isn't enough defenders in the world, let alone the transfer market to get us through until January.

  • Comment number 2.

    Nice blog Fletch. What is apparent from the comments from the managers and Baz is that none of them consider the window to be beneficial. Their comments subsequently raise a crucial question. Who did the governing bodies consult before sanctioning this?

    It appears they did not consult with the powers that be in the lower division clubs. These are the people running our game and it concerns me. I echo Gary Johnson's sentiments when I consider how the window system can be beneficial for any football club? It's another classic example of the governing bodies fixing what ain't broken.

    Further to Barry Fry's comment about the window preventing smaller sides from turning players over frequently to balance the books, I would also argue that it also puts the cash strapped club at a comercial disadvantage when it opens. The buying club knows the selling club needs to sell and can offer a smaller fee as a consequence.

    The window also affects the richer clubs too. If they have an injury crisis, and need experienced players, emergency loans are'nt a viable option. They have the finances to buy a player but can't. Arguably, with Champions League, UEFA Cup and Premiership places at stake, this is almost as crucial as the plight the poorer clubs face. The sooner we remove it, the better.

  • Comment number 3.

    No fun for seeing player prices being inflated and your club end up with a poor player because they have to settle.

  • Comment number 4.

    firstly i know the window has its downs but at the same time football is an exciting sport and the transfer window just increses it immenssley for the majority of clubs as they try to sign that needed player in time. also it means we dont have to put up with some of the most ridiculous rumours all throughout the year ....aalthough the media do try!

    Also something im not sure of but would be interested to see is if the amount of clubs entering administration has chnged since the introduction of the trasfer window...both nationally and internationally??

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm not sure if I'm right here, but I think the reason the window was introduced was because of those 'nice' people in the EU.
    I believe there was talk of abolishing the transfer system totally and to counteract that the transfer window was introduced.

  • Comment number 6.

    I can tell you one good thing about transfer windows, it prevents what Ferguson did Newcastle.

    Before the transfer window, Newcastle were threatening Man Utd for the title.

    Transfer windows stop big clubs poaching players that hit form during crucial parts of the season, it stops big clubs from removing a threat to their European aspirations or Champion's League position.

    It doesn't do this perfectly or in every case, Fulham still lost Sahar to Utd during a January transfer window, and their challenge for a place in Europe went with him. It also secured 3 pts for Man Utd at their next meeting because Fulham had lost their goal threat.

    That's a top 3 side neutered with money, and a serious threat to 3 pts put down.

    You might even say that a permanent threat to a Champion's League place has been removed because of this.

    Success breeds success. If Fulham had kept Sahar and finished in the top 3, what would their story be now, with the money from Europe and and higher league position propelling them to bigger and better things?

    I'm a Liverpool supporter, and I know that if Rafa could prise a player hitting top form at a crucial time in the season he'd do it too. No disparagement on Ferguson was intended, he did what was best for Man Utd, and I'd expect my team's manager to do the same.

  • Comment number 7.

    Oh Ferguson bought Andy Cole and neutered Newcastle with the purchase. They were a serious threat to the title, and Keegan was a fool to sell.

    That kind of thing is difficult to do, although not impossible due to the January transfer window.

    Whether Cole was worth the money based on his football is questionable. He didn't hit good form for Utd for at least 1 1/2 seasons. But the purchase was worth it because it handed Utd the Premiership on a plate.

  • Comment number 8.

    Great Article Paul. Maybe could have been improved had you included a few comments from the FA and FIFA on the subject ( I hear that Blatter is usually good for a quote ;)

  • Comment number 9.

    I Belive, As a fan of Arsenal that for us its a waste of time, but as a proud Bluebird that no big deals go through anyway!

  • Comment number 10.

    "Guilty pleasures"

    "Exciting and slightly intoxicating"

    No, not anymore. Many years ago when the format was new then yes I suppose in a way it was exciting but now that football fans and managers alike have had ample time to absorb the notion, it is seen for what it is.

    A restrictive and somewhat unlawful measure put in place by the footballing body. Managers now openly agree that the January window is the worst time to buy a player.

    The window(s) have never served any meaningful purpose other than to create a media circus twice a year.

  • Comment number 11.

    In the current climate where media surrounds all of us and we are openly bated to interact by posting our thoughts on blogs or buying the tabloids with their sometimes insane rumours... the transfer windows only add fuel to this fire.

    Its important to remember that only since the birth of the premiership and the introduction of money from the TV rights etc has football in england gone from being a game to being a real enterprising business that must compete on a global scale and sell this 'product' to continue to attract the multi-million pound investments from abroad etc.

    Correct me if i'm wrong but all the Other leagues in europe have had to undergo similar changes... with this in hindsight you must look at the strides forward the Englidh leagues and game has made in comparison to their european counterparts...

    as much as we all may hate or beleve the transfer windows serve no real purpose, it is also important for us to remember that it is this and all the other investment and enterprising that has progressed in the past 10 years that makes the english premier league the best in the world and therefore the teams in the lower divisions an extra incentive to try and get to these heights.

  • Comment number 12.

    The transfer window is there to PROTECT clubs.

    If an owner cannot run a club without the need to sell a player unexpectedly during the next 4 months then they don't deserve to be running a club.

    Very, very rarely will anything ever happen to make the need to sell a player at that time a necessity to survive.

    The only REAL reason that chiefs want the window gone is so that they can have the safety net of knowign that they can go out and get a player whenever they want. They should learn to plan properly.

    The idiocy of the idea that fees get inflated because of the window startles me. Clubs are just as desperate to sell as the window closes as they are to buy.

  • Comment number 13.

    Unfortunately, lower league clubs cannot have things both ways. Before the transfer windows came in, clubs used to moan that their best players were being lured away by higher division clubs offering them more money. Now they're moaning that they can't sell when they want!

    I suspect that most of the managers complaining now were the ones that backed it in the first place.

  • Comment number 14.

    "To me the inability to sell one of your assets is a restraint of trade. I think it is a disgrace."

    Barry Fry has just summed up in one phrase why players are turning more and more towards greed and the lure of money. Referring to a person as an 'asset' is the discgrace Barry, especially at a lower level club where the players have mortgages to pay. Can you really blame a man that is referred to simply as an object to make money from to play the system the same way and make money themselves? It's a two way street.

    The window does encourage the promotion of youth players towards the first team. if injuries occur they simply have to be trusted, a situation that would probably please most youngsters in the Peterborough area considering Fry's abysmal record of promoting youngsters.

    The window promotes good financial planning and young players getting a chance. How can that be bad? Especially at a time when clubs are going to wall due to poor examples of both.

  • Comment number 15.

    I think the transfer window is a good idea in that it does force coaches to work with the players they have but the January window should be abolished and the August 31st deadline should be extended by two months until October 31st.
    In this way coaches would have a better chance of making more measured decisions and Chairman would be under less pressure to sack a manager who had a bad start to season one month prior to the January transfer window.

  • Comment number 16.

    I can't see the logic in some comments above. Surely it is logical rather than idiocy to say that the window puts the selling club in a more dominant position over the buyer because it means they have limited time to get the business done if they want a player, meaning the longer negotiations go on the more critical it is they get them, rather than negotiations leading to getting gradually closer to a fairer price.

    Equally then a club who has say just lost their star striker a week before the window shuts, while they would be in a difficult position anyway with clubs knowing they had just gained a certain amount of money and that they will have to buy a striker, the window means they will be in a position of desperation and will have to basically pay whatever any club asks for a player or risk going 4 months without a striker.

    This situation not only leads to transfer fees being inflated, but also causes clubs to have to grab players from cheaper markets overseas in more risky deals because of the competitive nature of our league system. Who benefits most? As always people who seek to take money out of the game, players, agents, owners etc

  • Comment number 17.

    The much earlier comments about Andy Coles transfer to man utd from newcastle are also historically totally inaccurate. Ignore.

  • Comment number 18.

    Good article and good to here the points raised particuarly for the lower league clubs.

    The transfer window is a far bigger problem for smaller club than it is for the premiership clubs as it restricts their ability to generate money. Unlike those clubs, lower league teams don't get masses of tv, sponsorship and merchandise money. Maybe if the premiership clubs spread some of the billions they generate around a little more this would be less of a problem.

    It's also completely ironic that a transfer window exists at all given that Blatter claimed that Ronaldo was a slave for Man U not letting him go to Real earlier in the season - the transfer window is a far bigger restraint of freedom for these players than anything else. If a player completely falls out with his manager or his personal circumstances drastically change in say September, he has to stay at a club until January.

  • Comment number 19.

    I think there should be a rule that any player who asks for a transfer after the season has started should be shot!! I can't believe the deliberate attempts by certain players to sabotage an entire season at some clubs.

    Also, why does the EU wield so much power in football, when the vast majority of FIFA nations are not part of it? Are there transfer windows in South America? If not, they would still be indirectly affected by our window. Why doesn't Old Septic tell the EU where to go? It's not as if they're going to lock him in a dungeon in Strasbourg if he disobeys them.

  • Comment number 20.

    Arctic andy, the season that Man Utd bought Andy Cole, Newcastle were not challenging Man Utd for the title. Blackburn were, and Blackburn actually finished up as champions.

    Also, you say that Ferguson wanted to buy Saha to 'weaken a rival' but at the time Ferguson bought Saha because Van Nistelrooy and Solskjaer got injured and he was selling Forlan. Also Fulham were never threatening to break into the top 3 of the Premiership.

  • Comment number 21.

    I agree with comment 18, the lower league teams suffer more due to the window. I know that Southend will suffer if we can't get more numbers in before Monday.

    However, I can't help thinking that ol' Fry wants the window to go, so that he can go back to the old days of moving clubs mid-season and taking a load of players with him...

  • Comment number 22.

    If wages hadn't become ridiculous in English football it wouldn't be such an issue. The fact that player wages account for such a high percentage of a clubs turnover is why so many are always on the brink of going bankrupt.
    Transfer window is a pointless invention though.

  • Comment number 23.

    Who cares?

    Barry Fry commends Graham Turner for operating within a budget to transfer rules. What changes when the window comes in? What changes when it goes out? Club's have to operate within the rules. The advent of season long loans, has re-invigorated teams recently. Teams such as Stoke and Hull have either survived or been promoted through it.

    From what I remember clubs used to only be allowed 4-5 loans a season, with when the transfer window closed around april only real emergencies being allowed; nearly always keepers. It's slightly fanciful to say that a club near bankruptcy can sell a player, as all too often the vultures will pick him up for virtually nothing with a club close to receivership.

    Again as far as I remember didn't Italy operate a transfer window similar to this pre 2002?

    Do I like the transfer window? No. But it's the rules now work with it. Instead of regurgitating dreadful rent-a-quote's from Barry Fry why not present a piece as to how or if UEFA would be willing to change it? A quote from a UEFA or EU department might be interesting. Instead it's another easy but tiresome piece of journalism.

    As for Andy Cole hamstringing Newcastle please. What fanciful history is that? By Christmas they were nowhere near contending Blackburn or Man U. By the next season with a re-modelled team with Les Ferdinand they almost won it. Maybe Ferguson should be applauded for helping build his next seasons rival. Whatever transfer window there is the best clubs pickoff the better players of the smaller clubs.

  • Comment number 24.

    Very good points by Gary Johnson

  • Comment number 25.

    I like the article but it would be useful for it to have stated the reasons the transfer window was introduced. I think this would allow more balanced consideration and, therefore, responses.

  • Comment number 26.

    Supporting what has historically been a 'selling' club (QPR), I welcomed the introduction of the transfer window as it pretty much guaranteed that if your players hadn't been sold by midnight on the 31st August you'd be watching them for half a season at least.

    Now, as the media keep telling us, 'moneybags' QPR has money to spend, I'd rather it was open all season long so that we could strengthen for a promotion push as and when required.

    Provided teams don't go out of business because they can't cash in on their assets, it's nice to see a law that helps the less wealthy clubs to retain their best players.

    Now if only the FA would encourage that by introducing realistic tribunal valuations to stop clubs like Spurs 'stealing' the English talent from clubs who have spent a lot of money and effort developing them.

  • Comment number 27.

    The transfer window hasen't been that good this transfer windiw, but if Berbativ comes to United, that shall be a good signing.

  • Comment number 28.

    kudos to comment 26. nice to see an honest fan admit that it depends who you support and the position they're in as to what you think of this system. both the window and no window systems have pros and cons. personally i prefer the current system because it's a little easier to follow.

    regardless of when tranfers are permitted the big clubs are always going to poach top talent from the lower clubs because they have the spare cash to do so. the problems of high wages, talent drain and dominant superclubs are not going to be solved by tweaking the transfer system.

  • Comment number 29.

    I'm too young to remember the man-utd newcastle saga, but what I do know is all the power lies with big clubs.

    For instance Jermaine Easter started to make a name for himself and Plymouth bought him. Lionel Ainsworth scored a few hat-tricks for Hereford and became Watfords property. And as a fellow blogger mentioned DJ Campbell.

    The problem is that small clubs lose players of this calibur and have little option (talent-wise) to fill the gap. And resort to getting short term loans. No players want to move down divisions and budget restraints mean they cant buy replacements.

    And teams like Manchester United and Arsenel sign young talent from all over the world.

    And the window leads to the inflated prices. Steve Coppell said that Reading would charge more the closer to the end of the window because he'd have less time to buy replacements.

    So in my opinion the system doesn't work. I feel that they would be better to have an open window all year and the governing bodies limit the number of transfers per month.


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