Football Management

Commentary on the management of over 160 English football clubs by Dr John Beech, winner of the FSF Writer of the Year Award 2009/10 Twitter: @JohnBeech Curator of! Football Finance

Transfer torpor

Posted by John Beech on September 7, 2010

The transfer window just isn’t what it used to be.  I found myself habitually clicking to find the latest news from the BBC website and checking Twitter, but there just wasn’t much happening.  Even on the final day, there wasn’t much action to follow, unless you are a Stoke City, Spurs or Sunderland fan.

As luck would have it, I’m in the middle of moving my office across campus (hence the paucity of postings in the last week), and in the general turning out I happened across a printout from the BBC dated 22 Jan 2008 (the online version is here).  “January transfers set new record” it proclaimed.  £93m had been spent, with Chelsea the biggest spenders – £15m on Anelka and £9m on Ivanovic.  On the last day of that particular window Portsmouth signed Defoe from Spurs, and Middlesbrough splashed out £12m on Alves (1).  It all seems a long time ago.

Quite simply, this transfer window there were fewer transfers, with a propensity for not disclosing the value of the transfer fee, but many more loans.

USA Today declared that “Football’s transfer windows are a bore” (2), but was perhaps a little tongue in cheek as the report also advised “Rule No.1 of the transfer window: Believe little or nothing of what you read in the newspapers.”  As Bloomberg pointed out, England was not alone with its inactivity – in France, Germany and Spain gross spending during the transfer window was down by about 40 percent on last season (3).

I would suggest there are three causes for this downturn: the general economic downturn, an imposed discipline as we approach the Financial Fair Play protocol (although Manchester City don’t seem too worried by this) and the enforced reduction in squad size.  It is the latter that has triggered the growth in loans, with everyone a winner, unless the loanee is suddenly recalled.  The market for loan players is certainly becoming highly competitive, and there is at least a suggestion that competitive balance is being distorted by the influx of Premier League players into the Championship, the loan of Craig Bellamy to Cardiff City attracting particular comment – Burnley Chief Executive Paul Fletcher has called for a review by the Football League into loan movements between Premier League and Championship clubs (4).  The strange rule that which allows English clubs to borrow only two players from within the UK, but an unlimited number from abroad, has come under criticism from West Ham’s David Sullivan (5).

The basic argument for having transfer windows holds good – a way of ensuring some stability in a squad without the constant fear of players being lured away – so I can’t see a return to the bad old days.  For the immediate future though, it looks set to be much less exciting than it used to be.


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