Football’s annual swap-shop must be closed once and for all

It’s been a debate that has rumbled on ever since its inception in 2003, but perhaps the calls for it to be scrapped are more vocal than ever before. The January transfer window has proven to be a very divisive talking point with many believing it does not have a place in modern football any longer, not least given the fact most of the business that clubs conduct is done during the more lucrative, and let’s face it, better transfer window throughout the summer months before the season starts.

Proponents of its retention point to the benefits it brings in enabling clubs to strengthen their squads for the final run-in in the second half of the campaign. This is technically true given it provides the opportunity for teams to scour for ‘that’ player who could prove to be the catalyst of an assault up the table, or someone who may engineer an escape from the dreaded relegation trap door. Either way, it could strongly be argued that it is in fact detrimental in that it often pressures clubs into making a panic signing, or splashing the cash unnecessarily in the hope of an improvement in their fortunes. Not only does this encourage financial mismanagement in an age in football where money appears to be no object, it can needlessly burn a hole in a club’s finances, and perhaps even jeopardise one’s financial security. The January and (perhaps to an even greater extent) the summer transfer windows send out the wrong message: spend, spend, spend.

In many respects the January transfer window no longer has any relevance. Proportionately clubs are more willing to strengthen in June, July and August, than risk bringing a player in who may or may not, as has often been the case in the past, prove their worth. As a result, clubs have tended in the last three or four years to tone down their spending. It could be argued that this has in fact rendered this window largely pointless, with the “excitement” emanating from Jim White shrieking on Sky Sports News on Transfer Deadline Day perhaps the lone highlight.

While it could be wrong to completely dismiss the window altogether, the previous system employed prior to the 2002-03 season worked well enough, and the cynics out there may view it as another scheme of the footballing hierarchy to draw in viewers and make as much money as possible. The lucrative and sponsorship-laden nature of football in this day and age perhaps constitutes one of the main reasons why this window has been persevered with for over a decade.

There are arguments for and against sticking with the January window that centre around smaller clubs relinquishing their grip on prized assets, to larger and wealthier counterparts. Some would point to the fact that before its introduction in 2003, there was not a window as we see it today, and teams were free to make transfers outside of this time. Whereas the prospect of losing key players was as prevalent as it is now, other clubs did have the time to consider their options before deciding whether to purchase a replacement immediately, or to pocket the cash and make do and mend. As alluded to above, losing a key player today may provide the selling club with a tidy, handsome profit, but it also leaves them in two minds as to whether to cash in or not.

This debate has unsurprisingly, throughout the years, drawn criticism from managers within the game – not least Arsene Wenger and Alan Pardew. Wenger drew attention to the fact that it unfairly favours the bigger clubs with sizeable transfer kitties to make deals at other teams’ expense, while Pardew, in referencing Arsenal’s pursuit of then Newcastle United midfielder Yohan Cabaye in 2013, pointed to its detrimental influence in distracting players caught up in speculation.

One proposition is replacing the current format with the old system, where clubs are free to make transfers up until the closing weeks of the season. Without question there are critics who would label it as outdated, and others who would still point to it unfairly penalising smaller clubs. This is perhaps most notable for clubs in the lower reaches of the Premier League who have to balance the books, stave off the threat of relegation and remain competitive in a league where it is becoming ever harder to stay afloat.

One might point to the extension of the loan window which would enable clubs short of numbers, or those looking to strengthen, with a short term fix without the long term risk. It is something clubs in the Football League in particular already utilise to good effect.

While it might be wishful thinking to even contemplate an end to the January merry-go-round, its limitations are glaringly visible for all to see. A future with it, however, remains more likely.

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