Is it time for a unified African transfer window?

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Is it time for a unified African transfer window?

In 2017, world governing body Fifa says that African clubs spent a total of $16m on international transfers - a sum that represents around 6% of the amount Paris Saint-Germain spent on Neymar that year.

The figure is dwarfed by other continents - with South America's spend totalling $180m, Asia's $452m while Europe outdid all the other continents put together with purchases of some $5.6 billion.

While Africa earned nearly four times as much through its sales, which amounted to $58m two years ago, the paucity of its spending is not just linked to the financial challenges affecting its largely cash-strapped clubs.

Instead, many have told Sport Africa that the continent's irregular transfer window system is a major hindrance - despite 74% of all African club's international sales taking place on the continent itself.

So what are the issues and can they be fixed?

OUT OF SYNCH

Fifa allows two transfer windows per country per year - one in the break between seasons that can last up to 12 weeks and one in the middle of a season that can last four weeks.

Of the 52 African countries whose transfer windows are listed with Fifa, some are similar but no two use exactly the same dates.

"The issue for Africa is that our leagues run over different times," says South African sports journalist Nick Said.

"So in some countries they run from March to November/December and in some countries like South Africa - a great many countries actually - they run along the European calendar of August to May."

The best time of year for African clubs to do business is January when transfer windows are open in 39 countries, which represents 72% of the continent.

The graph shows how many countries have open transfer windows per month (Source: Fifa)
The graph shows how many African countries have open transfer windows per month (Source: Fifa)

Yet January is an outlier because the next best month is August when 27 are open - which, with 54 countries in Africa, means half the continent is closed for business.

No other month can even match half, which leaves clubs facing very limited opportunities when they can engage in essential regeneration of their squads.

THE ISSUES

When to sell is the big dilemma clubs face because although they cannot buy players when their windows are shut, they can offload players all year round.

Karim Abdulkarim, the CEO of 2014 Tanzanian champions Azam FC, outlined in December how Africa's uneven transfer windows affect his side.

"We have an offer with one club in Egypt who want to sign one of our players but we can't sell now because we can't get a replacement because the transfer window here in Tanzania is already closed," Abdulkarim told Sport Africa.

Another factor that is seen to limit the intercontinental movement of African players is the varying dates of the league schedules, which means a player's fitness can be rusty when he moves to another league.

Former Real Madrid star Geremi cites the example of an out-of-season player from his country - whose last championship ended in July - trying to impress a club in North Africa, where many seasons are midway through.

"If he goes there, what qualities and fitness will he have? Because he's been over three months without playing," Geremi, who now heads up Cameroon's players union, told Sport Africa.

"He won't be in competitive shape and even if he goes there to be evaluated, it won't be a realistic evaluation because he's not fully fit.

Former Cameroon international Geremi
Former Chelsea star Geremi is in favour of a unified African transfer window

"So it's up to the Confederation of African Football (Caf) to try to organise all the championships at the same date - so that the period of the transfer windows will be the same dates."

Abu Azeez, a Nigeria-based league player, backs up the views of two-time African champion Geremi.

"The transfer windows should be working together so that when a player is moving, he is fit and ready."

"When you are not playing because your league hasn't started, it's very, very hard for you to adapt when you go there. So one way or another it affects movement of players to other countries."

TIME TO UNIFY?

"This is exactly what we need in Africa," says Azeez.

"100%," agrees Azam FC's Abdulkarim. "I would like it all to be the same."

Yet achieving a unified window is far easier said than done.

For if the leagues across the continent don't start at the same time, a transfer window that cuts across all league on the continent is very unlikely to be achievable.

To get leagues running simultaneously would mean finding a way to overcome one of the main factors that affects a continent that straddles two hemispheres - namely, the weather.

Senegal FA president Augustin Senghor (left) and Nigeria FA boss Amaju Pinnick
Caf vice-president Amaju Pinnick says African football's ruling body may look into the issue

Southern Africa's summer months of June and July are when North Africa has its hottest temperatures, so prompting a near-impossibility that leagues - which tend to be played across winter - will synchronise.

"I don't think you can have a uniform transfer window on the African continent because it's just such a big place," South African journalist Mark Gleeson told Sport Africa.

"Let's celebrate its diversity, as it's a massive continent with so many disparate things about it. Any attempt to create any sort of uniformity in African has failed miserably in the past and I think it will do so in the future."

While many in African football may back a change to the transfer window system, will Caf consider changing it?

"If a uniform transfer window will enhance this game, why not?" Amaju Pinnick, Caf's 1st vice president, told BBC Sport Africa.

"If I have a very good case, I will bring it up in our executive committee meeting, present it to the president and let's see if it will enhance. Whatever we have to do to enhance the fortune of the game, we will."

Additional reporting by Ian Williams.

Neymar
Africa's total 2017 spend on international transfers was around 6% of PSG's outlay on Neymar