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January is a window of opportunity - and dilemmas

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Jack Ross | 15:03 UK time, Monday, 27 December 2010

Speculation surrounding the future of players, especially those who are the most talented or in rich veins of form, is omnipresent in football, but there is no doubt that the rumours and whispers grow more audible as the opening of the January transfer window approaches.

Despite the numerous possible moves that will be touted in the coming weeks, it would be fair to assume that the current financial hardship felt by most of Scottish football will in effect mean that there may not be significant movement.

For those managers who are in a position to strengthen their playing squad, their desire to do so will most likely be driven by the position they currently occupy. For those challenging for titles and promotion, or those staring at a battle for survival, the signing of the right player may just make the difference as the season progresses.

Of course, losing players through injury can also affect a manager's chosen transfer targets and, with budgets tight, it could be that the clubs who avoid requiring a player through necessity are far better equipped to take a chance on a more creative player or proven goalscorer who could help them achieve their target.

As I mentioned, the level of spending money available to managers will be minimal and it is probably accurate to say that the inclement weather and subsequent lack of revenue through gate receipts will impact even more upon these figures. As some consider the case for extending the season, perhaps this window should be delayed or extended until most Scottish clubs can generate some income!

From a player's perspective, the transfer window will pass without any impact for most in terms of being the subject of a bid. More significantly, the move into the month of January brings freedom to talk to other clubs with respect to the following season.

This is an area that probably causes more debate than the window itself in that how does a manager deal with a player he knows has committed his future elsewhere? And do players remain as focused on the job at their current club in the event of such a situation arising?

I think that both questions can almost be answered together, in that, in my experience, players will be completely committed and continue to try to produce their best performances for their team as there is a significant level of pride in performance felt by players that should never be underestimated.

Therefore, managers who know their players well and are aware of their professionalism, will be completely confident that anyone leaving at the end of season will continue to give everything in matches.

There are difficult situations that can arise from this, especially if a player is moving between clubs who are at that time challenging for the same prize. However, the agreement of a pre-contract agreement is accepted by most players and managers as being an unavoidable consequence of the Bosman Ruling.

In my own career, I actually agreed to move down south while still playing for Clyde and still chasing the First Division title. I can, without any doubt, say that it had no effect on my desire to win promotion to the Scottish Premier League and, indeed, it possibly helped me as I aimed to end my time at Clyde on a significant high while knowing I had a new challenge ahead.

The recent trend for clubs to offer one-year contracts to players will mean that this could be the highest number of players finding themselves in the position of being able to secure their futures early. I would expect that most of those will aim to do just that as they recognise the summer scramble for a club is becoming ever more frantic.

Finally, what about the dilemma a club faces when one of its star performers is subject to a bid from another club? If the player in question is entering the final months of his contract, how do clubs put a value on his worth to the team when comparing it to the actual money being offered?

During my time at Falkirk, such a difficult decision was made by the club in the respect of Alan Gow, who was moving to Rangers at the end of that season. They chose not to accept a fee in the January window, thus preferring to retain Alan's services for the rest of that season. Undoubtedly, Alan (pictured above now playing for Motherwell) was an asset to Falkirk at that time, especially as they looked to finish in the top six of the SPL, but it was still a bold decision made by the club not to enhance their bank account at that time.

Therefore, as the window creaks open, clubs and players may just be about to make some difficult but very important decisions!


  • Comment number 1.

    As usual some very honest and frank remarks Jack, but whether or not your viewpoint and opinions are shared by most of your colleagues is still open to some debate. How many times have you seen players who's heads been turned by approaches from other clubs drop their heads and form for their current employers even with months to play out? Thierry Henry certainly wasn't the same at Arsenal the season before his Barca move went through and is Cesc Fabregas really giving his all to the Gunners this campaign knowing he could manufacture a move at a lesser price this year? Even Mr. Wenger is suggesting his ongoing hamstring problems are 'psychological'.

    The window is a time for deals to be rubber stamped but don't kid fans that players and agents aren't talking up better deals all year around..look at Rooney and Tevez.

  • Comment number 2.

    In some cases i think that pre contracts MUST play a role in players performances. Take this example:

    Player A is playing with a Scottish Premier League team, lets call them Team A. They are in 12th place and going down. He signs a pre-contract with Team B, also in the Scottish Premier. Team B have a bad run of form and slip into a relegation battle with Team A. The last game of the season, the 2 teams meet. Player A has a penalty in the last seconds to keep Team A up and send Team B down. Now surely there's a conflict of interest. There's no way in this world Player A will want to score, thus meaning he will play in a lower league the following year.

    I hate these pre-contracts, it's a farce. There's no way in this world people give their all when they know they are leaving a team. The same goes in the 'real world'. If i know my contract is up, my productivity will drop if i have another job lined up.

  • Comment number 3.


    Transfer windows are something that usually don’t get me going but this time around I have to say I’m really curious as to how the present financial circumstances will affect decisions.

    Transfers either happen or they don’t and eventually new contracts will be signed, so I’m particularly interested in if or how circumstances will affect the lengths of the contracts that are signed.

    I suppose with the Bosman ruling ever present in players and agents minds there is a greater reluctance to enter into longer term contracts the further down the ratings a club finds itself, but I wonder if a sort of ‘security of tenure’ thinking comes into play at these times.

    I was wondering if you could shed some light on players/agents thinking on contract terms and any changes in term of contracts that we might expect to see in the coming window.

    What are the normal trends in terms of contract anyway, or is there even such a thing?

  • Comment number 4.


    "completely committed and continue to produce their best performances for their team as there is a significant level of pride in their performance felt by players for their team that should never be underestimated"
    in a perfect world that statement wouldn't raise an eyebrow but i nearly fell off the chair when i read that . you've surely played enough football at all levels to know thats not really the case.
    here's a question jack, you played at spl club hamilton fc, how do you feel your situation and your contract worked there, maybe you just needed the agent wayne rooney has or carlos teves has to help cement your place there at the beginning of the season.
    the financial side of scottish football in this country has created a new playing field and it's advantage to the clubs now, players now can either like it or lump it.
    the money on offer down in england is a pipe dream unless you really are a very good player but even the premiership will feel the pinch.

    football is in the hands of the fans now, it always has been, wheather it's the money they part with at the turnstiles or through the season book or the armchair fans who pay the direct debit to sky and espn to watch games on tv, most fans are feeling the pinch now, every job on a shakey nail out there in the big bad world, it won't be any different now if your a footballer, maybe now players will play for the jersey and not just the pay check.

    that will help improve football in this country.

    celtic, rangers in fact all spl clubs are now playing to lots of empty seats, how will that help shape players contracts and help with the dilema's players will have to deal with, the biggest dilema players will be faced with is how much can they hold out for before they price themselves right out of football.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Jack good article,

    Just a quick question...As a player have you ever experienced January transfers having a detrimental effect on the team? There is always talk of managers bringing in new players to 'strengthen' the side but can new additions cause the upset to the current squad? Just look at the likes of Ballotelli and Robinho at City.

  • Comment number 6.

    I think there is the possibility that this window (which is normally quiet) could be busier because there are the league table is so wide open. Have a look at this article I wrote which explores that theme. Got a similar title to yours coincidentally!

  • Comment number 7.

    Are you having a laugh, 'the league table is so wide open' ? Rangers and Celtic at the top, everybody else hanging on by their finger nails !

  • Comment number 8.

    Thank you for the comments.

    Iain Jack, in terms of contract trends, at present it is for short term deals be it only one year contracts or in some cases six month deals with a view to an extension if things go well. There are few contracts being signed for longer than two years (perhaps with the main exception of the Old Firm). The flip side of this is that clubs will seek to secure promising young players on longer term deals so as to try and ensure they will receive a transfer fee.

    PabloPiatti, the introduction of transfer windows has certainly brought with it a mentality that almost craves new additions to a squad. I have not experienced a new face unsettling a squad I was in but managers, especially those enjoying success, will face a tricky decision in assessing whether or not they should tinker with their squad.

  • Comment number 9.


    Thanks for that clarification. Depressing.

    So are these short terms a result of player/agents trying exploit Bosman to maintain the option of not having to wait for lengthy contract expiry or is it clubs trying to avoid long term contracts in case of a dip in their fortunes?

    Short term contracts are the bane of any industry and I don’t see how player development, relationships and loyalty can flourish and that has to be bad for the game, long term, don’t you think?

    Surely it is not beyond the clubs to produce attractive long term contracts for players!

    Forgive my ignorance of these matters but what would be the downside from a players perspective?

    Also, maybe some of the other readers can enlighten me on this but, why exactly do we need these transfer windows in any case?

  • Comment number 10.

    Hello Jack

    I think it's a great topic you've chosen, because contracts have become a very big issue in modern football, with so called "player power" now playing more of a role, as you say, partly due to the Bosman ruling.

    Obviously you're in Scottish football, where money is a lot tighter, simply because the population is lower, only around 5 million says Wikipedia, so compared to about 55 million in the rest of the UK, there's not an awful lot of fans to spread around what is quite a large number of Scottish professional teams, not so?

    As far as I can see (from a quick check of BBC Scottish match reports) apart from Celtic and Rangers who can both touch the 45,000 to 50,000 attendances, most of the other attendances even in the Premier League are pretty low maybe in the 5,000 to 10,000 range at best.

    What concerns me is that we don't seem to be seeing a lot of players coming from Scotland nowadays into the English Premier League, whereas back in the 60s and 70s and beyond it was absolutely stuffed full of them - great names like Dennis Law, Kenny Dalglish, Alan Gilzean for Tottenham, Billy Bremner for the title winning Leeds side, Graeme Sounness for Liverpool, Martin Buchan and Gordon McQueen for Man U, and many others spring to mind.

    And of course both Celtic and Rangers were themselves much more powerful names in British football in those eras, Celtic being the first ever British European Cup winning team (which I bet a lot of younger English fans don't know) and Rangers of course wining the European Cup Winners Cup in 1971 and Aberdeen doing it in 1983 (and the European Supercup) under Alex Ferguson.

    And of course, we've had great Scottish managers in England, usually former players such as the aformentioned Alex Ferguson of course, and in earlier times Bill Shankly at Liverpool, as well as Kenny Dalglish's later successes with both Liverpool and Blackburn, not to mention the other Scottish knight at the heart of English football for over a generation, Sir Matt Busby.

    So I wonder why we aren't seeing so many up and coming Scottish players and managers now coming into the English Premier League, but I suppose the obvious answer is the free flow of footballers and managers around the world now, though there is at least one outstanding Scottish forward (ex-Celtic?) whose name escapes me right now who has gone abroad recently, who I'd bet in former days would have gone straight to a 1st Division/Premier League club.

    So as I can't believe Scotland isn't still producing great footballers, unless they feel the financial incentive to go professional simply isn't there any more - with Hampden Park once holding crowds of almost 150,000 for example, but clearly no more.

    So I'm not going to mince my words Jack, I think that as there's never really been a great financial future for footballers in Scotland unless at one of the top few teams like Celtic and Rangers, I feel that the UK as a whole is letting down Scottish talent, and frankly I think it's time to close the drawbridge, and start limiting the number of foreign players we allow in the English Premier League and professional divisions, for the sake of all our British players including Irish and Scottish ones who have traditional played such a major part in our top English teams.

    It's no insult to Scotland, any more than it is to Ireland, that with such small populations they simply can't afford to finance big professional leagues like the English Premier League and Championship, and in the interests of goodwill and sport in the UK, the sporting authorities should act to protect and properly support our British rising footballers and young talent like yourself.

    Though I suppose some Scots might feel a degree of treachery to defect to the English leagues, I really don't think they should, because the upshot of that is that Scotland would once again have a very strong national team, as it used to do, with 5 consecutive appearance in the World Cup finals from 1978-1990, and the last one in 1998, and I for one miss the richness from the spectator point of view that came from having two or three British teams in the World Cup final stages, instead of just having to pin all our hopes on England every time.

    I think however this idea of player power since the Bosman ruling, which apparently only applies to the tail end of contracts is largely a myth.

    Club owners have almost all the power still as long as they have enough money, as we see on this very page (at present) Man City moving for yet another striker, Dzeko, as if Tevez, Balotelli and Adebayor wasn't enough for them, which it clearly isn't.

    So it looks to me as clearly City won't be playing more than 2 strikers, and maybe at times only 1, that any team that has such enormous funds now has the option of effectively grabbing all the top players for itself, and if necessary keeping them sitting on the bench or even in the reserves, simply so that other teams cannot have them.

    That's certainly the situation it appears to me with up and coming England international Adam Johnson at Man City, who in any other era would be a first team regular in any British club.

    But he for example is currently on something like a 4 year contract, and Tevez is on a similar one, and neither player may be allowed to leave even if they want to as far as I can see.

    But on the other hand, club owners and managers can simply ditch players when they feel like it, simply by benching them regularly or putting them into the reserves until the frustrated player asks for a voluntary transfer simply so he can get back into 1st team football, which then of course absolves the club of having to pay the rest of the contract.

    And the owners and managers of rich clubs seem to have little respect for the contracts of little ones, by effectively bribing clubs who may be struggling for funds into parting with their star players for a large enough transfer fee.

    No doubt that's how it's always been in Scotland, with only the few top teams being able to keep their stars, but you can't really blame young men for wanting to carve out their financial future in what is always only a very time limited career.

    I think that these long contracts are not in the best interest of players, who up until as recently as 1961 weren't even allowed to earn over £20 pw, and I'd like to see more of the one year contracts like you mention, in fact maybe even shorter ones.

    After all, most workers in the everyday world are on contracts that routinely have only 1 or a few months notice terminable on either side, and sometimes even less, or work on short self-employed contracts with no long term commitment either side, so these 3 or 4 year contacts in football seem very over-possessive and onerous to me, though no doubt justified by the often huge transfer fees.

    Personally, I debate whether there should be any such thing as a transfer fee, and think that a player should have the right to go wherever he pleases and is wanted, which right is routinely available to most other categories of British worker.

    I feel it's intolerable that a player at a rich club like Man City can be held prisoner for large sections of his career, simply at the whims of the owners, even if he's being denied regular first team football as Adam Johnson, Shay Given and Adebayor for example are at Man City.

    Or just how ridiculous are these transfer fees going to get, how long will it be before we see the £100m transfer barrier broken, by these super rich people (mostly foreign investors with no real loyalty to the clubs) who think that our British football teams are just toys for them to play with and puff up their already typically massive egos with?

    And of course, the other consequence is that, because footballers are being traded like any other commercial commodity, like gold or corn, increasingly only the super-rich can own or be chairman of a football club, which is once again to displace the local smaller business people who formerly would have been owners, chairmen and directors of clubs, with the result that even very successful British people like Elton John or whoever are unable to do more than part-fund clubs as minor share holders, because the price is too high even for them.

    So in a nutshell that's my take on this contract/transfer issue: I say abolish transfer fees altogether, make contracts short and terminable by either side at relatively short notice, to give freedom to the players, and football back to the fans, which policy of getting rid of transfer fees incidentally should also bring down dramatically the extortionate ticket and gate prices the fans are charged, for what is not always a very exciting or satisfying 90 minutes of sport, especially when compared to other forms of more guaranteed entertainment like watching a movie at the cinema, or a night out at a pub or in a restaurant.

    Out of control commercial interests are killing our British game, making it into a circus of money grubbing international football all stars and billionaire playboys, against the interests of the fans and all our British players.

    It's got to stop, and for that to happen, the fans need to wake up more to how they and their native players are being taken for a ride and start protesting, as for example has culminated in the at least partly successful experiment like the "alternative" Manchester United club, FC United which is run and owned by local people, and the players are inevitably local also as they are only part-timers.

    PS - And good luck Jack with getting in the Scottish Premier league next season, which looks well on the cards for you with Dunfermline currently sitting at the top of the Scottish League in the promotion spot.

  • Comment number 11.

    just a small correction - the above should read 5 consecutive appearances by Scotland in the World Cup finals from 1974-1990, not 1978 to 1990 as I wrongly stated.

  • Comment number 12.

    In my opinion if a player chooses to agree terms with another club in january but join them only at the end of the year then the club which they are going 2 leave should not play him for the remainder of the season, if we all abide by this motto that "no player is bigger than the club", then why wud u choose to play a player who is joining another team because they see that team as better or bigger than yourselfs, he has made it clear that he wud like 2 move on so let him or make him train by himself or with the team which he is joining, now this is not my personal opinion and i thinj there ar times when exceptions should be made but we all go by this way of thinking that no player is bigger than the club which is true and fair enuf, well then can we please act like it, how inferior does a club and especially your club look when u decide 2 join another club but maybe their services arnt required 4 another six months, so they use ur club for their own personal gain, although this may not be the case but u ar accepting defeat in many ways wen u allow a player 2 saty the extra six months u giv them the high ground, but this is british football and we ar so contriditory so il just put it down 2 another misjudjement.

  • Comment number 13.

    Poor choice of picture for this blog Jack, this is a player who is being linked with a club & pushes for the story to come out so that "bigger" clubs are alerted to his availability then he can snub the "smaller club". He's a little mercenary.

  • Comment number 14.

    Iain Jack, the rise in the number of shorter term contracts is a consequence of the uncertain financial future many clubs face. This is particularly relevant for teams who may drop out of the SPL-hence the reason why the proposed restructuring of our leagues would be more appealing to some clubs as it would reduce the loss of revenue which is caused at present by relegation.

  • Comment number 15.

    jack ross

    jack, there isn't an uncertain financial future for clubs, accountants don't deal in uncertaintees, they deal with cold hard sums and the sums don't add up to much. there is a certain financial future for scottish football and it is bleak, very bleak.

    glasgow rangers can be bought for 30 million and a nod by sir david, thats the price of one world class player down in the e p l, yet no one will buy. how long has rangers been on the market. a scottish football market leader, it has an astonishing history in football, a history nearly all clubs can only dream of and yet it can't be sold, that must mean something.

    the spl teams are now killing football in this country by trying to preserve their revenues, surely they must all know they are flogging a dead horse by now.
    what chance has teams like dundee, partick thistle, dumfermline, falkirk and raith rovers got if it goes to ten team spl.
    football clubs can only cut their cloth accordinly and thats only done when accountants show owners the figures. most clubs will be thinking that this years figures will be the line thats drawn in the sand and next year will improve.
    spl teams will vote not to change the leagues because they'll think they can ride out this storm, nothing changes without a landslide vote and that won't happen so that just leaves players contracts and i'm sure the knives are already being sharpened .
    nearly every spl team has gone or is going through financial pain just now and you would have thought that glasgow rangers, the current scottish champions could afford to sort their big screens inside their stadium. poor show.
    everythings about spl football now looks tacky.

  • Comment number 16.

    and i nearly forgot jack

    happy new year

  • Comment number 17.

    Scottish football has the most fractured 'organisation' in Europe, possibly the world. SFA, SPL, SFL, Junior and Welfare (5 committees, 1 sport). Stale at the top, dying at the bottom. We need a pyramid system as soon as possible. No point in tweaking the top teir; change is needed from the bottom up.

  • Comment number 18.

    Sorry, got distracted, nearly burnt the stew for the steak pie!

    Anyway, pyramid system: Competition, competition, competition! Too much dead wood in the 3rd division. Right now there is no such thing as ambition for non-league clubs - goin' nowhere, nowhere to go.

    PYRAMID SYSTEM FOR THE BLAZERATI: aka 'singing from the same hymn sheet'. Toiling there, of course, too many fingers in too many pies. Time for these particular turkeys to vote for Christmas though, I wish. Somehow the World Champions scape by with single govering body. They spend a fortune on coahing though...

    However, the youth coaching system the SFA put in place, following the 1980's teacher's strike, is working; working well. The fallout, from the strike, meant we lost almost a whole generation of players, at the start of the Bosman era. Lots of clubs shipped in journeymen from Europe, young Scottish players didn't get a chance.

    These days the grounds are getting better, training facilities are getting better, in some places even the pies are getting better. Most of our clubs even managed to get used to being skint before the global economy crashed. Some teams even manage to fill their squads with young Scottish players.

    The whole world is skint, footballers will figure this out, eventually; as in when their agent tells them.

    RANT SUSPENDED, TO BE CONTINUED IN 2011. Sorry if my love of the game gets in the the way of good writing. Got to go, happy New Year; whoever you support!


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