Transfer ‘Fever‘ Strikes as ‘Deadline Day‘ Approaches …. But Not Like Before

So that time of the football calendar is almost upon us yet again …… approximately one week away ………. Jim White’s yellow tie, Sky reporters cold, stood outside club training grounds being ambushed by fans with inflatable bananas (if not worse), players interrogated through car windows, the ‘ticking clock’ and countdown in the corner of the screen on Sky Sports News …….yes I am talking about the closing of the ‘transfer window’ and ‘transfer deadline day‘ in England.

It is a time of great excitement for football fans, not to mention great stress for many football club secretaries, managers, chairmen, agents and players up and down the country. However this year, the excitement and stress for many parties COULD be further accentuated by the fact that once the ‘window’ is closed, it is moreso ‘slammed shut‘ this year (for the first time in England), and it could catch a few people by surprise (much like the chap in the video).

Retiring the ‘Safety Net‘ that are ‘Emergency Loans‘ & the ‘Loan Window

In previous years when the ‘transfer window’ has closed in England (as recent as January 2016), several days later the loan window opened providing further opportunities for clubs to do business and ‘cover the bases’ that they have failed to ‘cover‘ in the main ‘transfer window’. Whether this either be due to unforeseen circumstances, bad planning or the actions of others …… but they wont have that safety net this time round.

From the information I have sourced, FIFA planned to close the loan window ‘loophole’ (as they saw it) last year, but the FA were able to secure a years dispensation to allow English clubs and participants time to adjust to the imminent changes. There were even reports this year that The FA would seek to find a way to allow clubs to still operate a system outside the ‘window’, although with more restrictive measures and with clubs having more forward planning. (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/12162020/Football-League-bypasses-Fifa-emergency-loan-ban.html).

So where do the changes leave us, and what can we expect from this ‘transfer window’ ….. and whilst I by no means have a ‘crystal ball’ as to what may happen in this ‘window’, or after it has closed; I do have an opinion as to how the various participants may be affected, from experience, observation and information gathered.

The Potential Impact on Clubs

Now the first thing to say is that, in all honesty you would expect most professional football clubs to have ‘plan(s) A, B, C, and even X, Y and Z‘ – should they unexpectedly receive a bid for one (or more) of their players whether they think they would be able to refuse a bid or not. But how many truly have such plans and are these adequate, realistic and how much planing and preparation has actually been undertaken.

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Yes, the big clubs and the very well organised ones lower down the ‘football pyramid‘ have such plans, however I am safe in the knowledge that many don’t have such adequate plans in place. In fact at some clubs, some of their personnel are unaware of the restrictions that will come into force once this window closes. They have become used to having the ‘loan window‘ and ‘emergency loans‘ as a ‘safety net’ to protect them from the unexpected, whether it be a transfer or injury, they still think the ‘loan window‘ will be there to help them.

In terms of the Premier League clubs I honestly don’t expect the loss of the ‘loan window‘ to have much impact on their season, as they have the resources to plan for the unexpected and also the ability to keep their squads together. If they do have to sell a player they have the means to replace them (e.g. similar to when Liverpool sold Torres at the ‘eleventh hour‘, but were able to try and ‘replace‘ him at the ‘very last minute‘ with Carroll).

The impact that may be felt by Premier League clubs may not have an immediate effect on their first team, but may well have a future impact through their fringe players and younger players in academy and development squads (and those staff who work with them) and will impact current and future opportunities for such players. After all, if these players are not able to go out on loan they will have to rely on development squad matches, reserve fixtures, u21s, academy matches and friendlies to maintain ‘match fitness‘ and gain experience (if the number of senior players allows).

Subsequently you end up with senior players who lose fitness, lose market value, lose belief, lose faith; whilst some of the youngsters will subsequently find their opportunities limited even at the parent club and be affected in a similar fashion to their senior counterparts. Some people would even use the old football adage that players are ultimately ‘left to rot‘ without competitive football (if much football of any nature).

For Football League clubs it is probably most difficult to predict how they will be affected by the loss of the ‘loan window‘, and in the ideal scenario a club will want all (or some) of the following so as to minimise the affects of there not being a ‘loan window‘:

  • A full squad
    (including sufficient goalkeepers to cover first team matches for 6 months even in the case of multiple injuries)
  • A manager not wanting to sell any players 
    (or has replacements lined up, and can progress these at very short notice)
  • Players not seeking to move
  • Young players and ‘fringe’ players who have loans arranged 
    (to enable them to get adequate match practice)
  • A chairman, chief executive and board who will not waiver 
    should the manager not want to sell, no matter what the offer is for a player – but I would again say every player has a price.

for example :

If a club in the Premier League buy a player from another Premier League club for £10m, that club may seek a replacement player from the Championship for £5m (difficult for some Championship clubs to turn down).

That Championship club may seek a replacement from league 1 for £2m (difficult for many League 1 clubs to turn down)

The League 1 club may then seek a replacement from League 2 for £1m (definitely difficult for a League 2 club to turn down).

A Potential ‘Chain Reaction’ and ‘Domino Effect’

 

What I would say is that a ‘chain reaction‘ is very likely to occur as with any ‘transfer window’, whether or not the clubs involved have their plans A, B, C, D etc in place to contend with the ‘domino effect‘. for example :

  • Club ‘A’ (a top Premier League club which has qualified for Europe), purchase player ‘1’ from club ‘B’ (a lower ranked Premier League club), The possible effect being :
    • Club ‘A’ now have an extra player in their squad reducing opportunities for one or more players already at the club, hence in the ideal world they will have to sell or loan a player out ( but if close to the deadline this will be difficult).
    • Club ‘B’ may want to sign a replacement from another club (i.e. Club ‘C’ in the championship), but again if this is close to the deadline this may prove difficult.
    • If club ‘C’ had a fringe/young player ready to replace the player they have sold to club ‘B’ then the problem is somewhat solved. However, what if :
      • that player has already been sold or loaned to Club ‘D’ in League 1 then they may have to sign a replacement from Club ‘E’ also in League 1.Granted the problem could be solved if club ‘B’ had a young player they could loan to club ‘C’, but the chances of all parties agreeing are unlikely
      • the player (and Club ‘D’) has been promised to go on loan to Club ‘D’ on transfer deadline day but now that is cancelled, it leaves Club ‘D’ with problems, and possibly a confused and unsettled player.

Subsequently the problem goes on and on, with a ‘domino effect‘, that is until the pressure is arguably ‘relieved’ if the chain of events reaches National League level, where loans are reportedly permitted outside of the English transfer window.

This is just a short example of what may happen, but with the massively unpredictable nature of the ‘transfer window’ as ‘deadline day‘ approaches, I do not envy those in the positions of club secretary, head of recruitment/scouting or chief executive at clubs in the Championship, League 1 and League 2 ………. however once the ‘window closes’ this year at least they know it is closed and there is no more they can do until January, and they can plan for the next period of unpredictability.

For National League clubs (conference clubs, for those like myself, who still refer to the old name) the loss of the ‘loan window’ may well be an advantage to those in the National League as they will still be able to take players on loan once the transfer window has closed. The National League clubs may well be able to benefit from the access they will have to players who may well have previously gone on loan to clubs higher up the ‘pyramid’ in previous ‘loan windows’.

The Potential Impact on Managers (Head Coaches)

So what about the managers, how will the loss of the loan window affect them ? – and I am going to make a brave prediction here (that may be totally wrong), but it may happen that we wont see as many managerial ‘sackings’ until January (or no replacements and no immediate ‘managerial merry-go-round‘ as such) and then a set of wholesale changes by numerous clubs.

One of my reasons for this suggestion is that some managers MAY be reluctant to risk damaging their own reputation if they adjudge they can do little or nothing with someone else’s squad, that is until they can strengthen in January. Likewise how many chairman are going to pay off an unwanted managers contract when they cannot get their preferred replacement manager until January when the replacement would be able to recruit their own players (some granted yes they will, and some will make an offer too good to refuse to their chosen replacement).

But in terms of how managers will cope with the loss of the loan window I think it will definitely add to the stress as the transfer window approaches the deadline …… what if :

  • someone bids for a player in the first team squad and the offer is too good to refuse
    • have they got a replacement in mind ?
    • can they get them ?
    • can they afford them ?
  • even more interesting – what happens if the chairman or chief executive decides to sell a player without the managers knowledge/consent (it happens) and the manager is left without a replacement due to lack of time to get one, and to compound matters they have loaned out the young player that may have ultimately stepped into the void that has been left.Living on the Volcano - by Michael Calvin

I certainly don’t envy a manager at a club in the Championship, League One or League Two. That is unless they are confident that their chairman, board and chief executive aren’t going to accept any bids for one of their first team (and every player arguably, has a price).

The next week (or so) will be a very stressful time, especially as the deadline draws closer at 11pm on August 31st (in England).

And for those who cannot confidently say ‘no bids will be accepted for ANY of my players’, hopefully they have used their loans wisely (both incoming and outgoing), otherwise they could be caught short ultimately at their own peril ‘Living On The Volcano‘ (re Michael Calvin’s book).

The Potential Impact on Players

From my own interpretation I can actually see players being the most disadvantaged by the loss of the ‘loan window’, after all it is their careers and welfare that is directly affected. For example :

  • Academy and youth players, potentially :
    • lose opportunities to develop on loan at lower league club
    • are restricted to open-age matches, due to possibility of more senior players needing match time
    • are released due to restricted budget, and larger senior squads (i.e. players not being able to be loaned out)
    • endure harm to well-being (mental and physical), e.g. confidence, fitness
    • stunted development and thus decreased market value and future opportunities
  • Senior players, potentially :
    • loss of opportunities to go out on loan to play ‘competitive’ fixtures
    • loss of value (and possible future opportunities) by not playing in competitive matches
    • damage to well-being (mental and physical), e.g. confidence, fitness
    • damaged market value (player and club) and future prospects

The Potential Impact on Intermediaries (agents)

It is difficult to say accurately how Agents/Intermediaries will be affected by the loss of the ‘loan window‘, as each agent and agency arguably operate differently in how they handle the ‘interests’ of their clients. Aside from a possible increase in stress and increased workload as the transfer deadline draws to a close due to having to this time juggle both permanent transfers and loan moves at the same time, as the solitary and imminent deadline approaches …….. what actually happens after the window has closed, again very much depends on the individual agent/intermediary involved.

For me personally (having never been a fan of unnecessary brinkmanship and leaving things until the last minute), it will be the matter of the unexpected happening close to the deadline that affects one of my clients either in terms of them being wanted by a club or being affected by a new player coming into their club and arguably being surplus to requirements (e.g. will their opportunities be restricted and do we need to work with the club to get them a loan or even permanent move).

However once the ‘window closes’ is where the differences between agents/intermediaries come to light in how much they care for the well being of their clients. Or whether they are the sort of agent who is solely focussed on the ‘window’ and how much money they can generate, or whether they operate in a manner that makes their role a ‘365x24x7‘ commitment to their client(s).

Focussing just on player-clients (rather than clubs), if the agents/intermediary’s client finds themselves a victim of the loss of the loan window, the workload of the intermediary, up to (and including) the next transfer will be almost as busy as the window itself. They will often find them handling a disgruntled, frustrated if not depressed client who is in need of re-assurance for both the present and the future (even with those who have been able to go out on loan, and may not be 100% happy about it).

With many players, and despite their best efforts, and outer ‘bravado‘, they are affected by not playing in competitive matches (MOST do not like sitting on the bench or in the stands no matter what they are paid). It affects their confidence, fitness, mental well being, self-worth and arguably their market value. I appreciate a lot of clubs (not all) do what they can to make fringe players and young players feel valued, but often this is not enough and it is easy for a player to diminish as a player, as a club asset and ultimately as a person.

So for those agents/intermediaries who show a true duty of care for their clients, the loss of the ‘loan window‘ will arguably result in a period of harder work and greater stress (whilst the window is open) and then a period of continual hard work and stress thereafter in observing and managing potentially unhappy clients.

The Potential Impact on The FA

I may be missing a few things in my perception of how the loss of the ‘loan window‘ will affect the FA, but in essence I can see the FA actually being a beneficiary of the change. That is with the exception of contending with the whining, complaining and pleas of participants who do not benefit from the loss of the ‘loan window‘.

In essence they know exactly when the ‘window closes‘, they don’t have loans and appeals of exceptional circumstances to handle, and in essence can focus on other things apart from transfers until the next ‘transfer window opens‘ (with the only exception to this being monitoring players on loan playing in eligible matches for parent and/or loan clubs).

That said it will interesting to see where and how the newly available resources and manpower available through not having the complication of the ‘loan window‘ will be applied. As I think all participants affected will expect to see improved performance and activity from the FA in other areas that will benefit all those affected detrimentally (arguably) by the changes.

Transfer Deadline DayIn Summary

So in summary, whilst I was not a great fan of the ‘emergency loans‘ system and subsequently the ‘loan window‘, this was more in relation to how it was manipulated by some, either due to bad planning or operating badly. I definitely can see FIFAs point in closing an apparent ‘loophole‘.

However, as before FIFA seemed to have ‘thrown the baby out with the bath water‘ in banning something outright rather than allowing for balance and consideration in addressing the problems and finding a solution. Maybe allowing for the loan window to be open for 7 days after permanent transfers have ceased would have shown more common sense, but hey this is FIFA we are talking about, do we expect common sense ??????