The only thing worse than having transfer windows—as Oscar Wilde might have said had he been alive today and a football fan, madly tweeting—would be not having transfer windows.
I wouldn’t even call them a necessary evil. They are necessary—otherwise, clubs with money to spare would be threatening to plunder their rivals, disrupting the competition constantly instead of just twice a year—but not bad in themselves.
They are just made to appear so by the insistence of the Premier League—and others—on keeping the summer market open until the first three fixtures have been completed. It’s like opening a play before you’ve finalised the cast—except that in the West End, unlike football, the audience are not accustomed to being insulted.
Football fans put up with the annual shambles, including the farce of some deadlines being extended beyond even the dying hours of September 1, so there’s not much incentive for clubs to put their house in order and have all trading done before the pre-season begins in earnest.
If that were the rule, fully integrated teams could trot out for the big kick-off. The league would be run to a standard of integrity worthy of its accompanying hype. And pigs would fly like the private jets that now carry the players and their agents from club to club.
Because this is a time when the game loses contact with the likes of you and me. It is a time for the agents and money men, a time of unnecessary and contrived haste in which fortunes change hands while we try somehow to work out where Radamel Falcao is going to fit into Louis van Gaal’s plans for Manchester United.
Plans? Manchester United? It is easy to make fun of a club who let David Moyes spend £65 million on Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini and then changed manager, leaving Fellaini marginalised and now Mata threatened with a similarly uncomfortable status.
But Van Gaal will surely be given longer. What is harder to guess is how, when his self-proclaimed three-month probationary period is nearing its end (the Dutchman said he took three months to impose his methods at Barcelona and Bayern Munich) and the big games kick in with first Chelsea and then Manchester City, the shape of the team will look.
Van Gaal will have it on his clipboard, each player and his direct opponent denoted by coloured stickers; the television cameras gave us a tantalising glimpse of that at Burnley last weekend. I expect Wayne Rooney to find himself in midfield by then, more or less, his main responsibility being to supply the prolific Falcao.
But we shall see, when the international break is over and the stench of money has dispersed.
It doesn’t half float through the summer window, that pong, reminding us of how our tickets and television subscriptions keep rising in order to pay for the private jets and helicopters and salaries such as the supposed £280,000 a week for Falcao that was reported by Chris Waugh of the Daily Mail. (The figure might have been carefully chosen to reassure Rooney he remains top earner at Old Trafford.)
It’s stuff like this that turns me off football, makes me reluctant to follow deadline day with the avidity television seems to demand. But I did tune into the rolling sports news just once, mainly out of bizarre fascination with the urchins who lurk behind sharp-suited reporters endeavouring to bring us the latest news from training grounds up and down the country, and can confirm that the tradition survives.
One camera crew was at Crystal Palace, and after it had given us a glimpse of James McArthur in civvies, attention switched to a sleek Bentley with blacked-out windows, suggesting a coup so audacious that all football would gasp.
The imagination raced. Had Falcao been diverted from Stretford to Selhurst? Did a mere medical separate him from a season of partnership with Dwight Gayle? Or might the smoked glass conceal Mata and Fellaini?
Until the voiceover informed us that the luxurious vehicle contained Zeki Fryers.
That’s the Zeki Fryers who, after showing a bit of left-sided promise at Manchester United, found himself behind Alex Buttner in the queue to replace Patrice Evra. The Zeki Fryers who was then wanted by Tottenham, only to find the clubs unable to fix a compensation fee. The Zeki Fryers who had a spell at Standard Liege before finally arriving at White Hart Lane and failing to become a regular first-teamer there, too.
Good luck to him at Palace. He’s only 21, and there’s nothing wrong with a change of club. But the Bentley? Even if it was his agent’s, does that cast the money being hurled around football in a better light? And the blacked-out glass? Did it not suggest a terrible inflation in self-importance as well as money?
All in all, I’ve had enough of windows for a while.
Patrick Barclay is an award-winning football journalist and best-selling author, whose portfolio includes biographies on Jose Mourinho, Sir Alex Ferguson and Herbert Chapman.
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