Nigel Clough has intensified his opposition to the transfer windows, arguing they not only disadvantage the vast majority of the world’s clubs but also threaten to put some out of existence, writes James Shield.
The Sheffield United manager made the claims as calls to abolish the controversial system, which limits the buying and selling of players to set periods on the footballing calendar, reach a crescendo ahead of Monday’s deadline for new signings.
Although Clough dismissed the biannual event as a “circus” and “pure theatre,” he warned that FIFA’s decision to harden its stance - proposals to outlaw emergency loans will be reconsidered later this year - could have far more sinister implications for some of United’s domestic rivals.
“Nobody I’ve ever spoken to wants them,” Clough told The Star. “And yet the powers-that-be seem intent on continuing down the same path. Why, I just don’t know.
“These days, all we hear about is the need to be sensible with your finances. There are so many measures being introduced designed to encourage good fiscal planning and that’s right and proper. Everyone understands the importance of that.
“And yet windows are one of the biggest barriers. They tempt teams into stockpiling players, recruiting more than they actually need, and the situation is only going to get worse if they mess about with loans.
“Then, and this is when it gets really serious, what happens if a club which is living hand to mouth finds itself in a situation whereby, through no fault of their own, they need to sell to raise some money?
“Even postponements due to bad weather can really hit a few of them really, really hard as we’ve seen on several occasions in the past.
“Okay, it’s not exactly perfect but they used to be able to off-load someone to raise those funds whereas now, they don’t have that option. Then what?”
Although dissenting voices within the game itself are becoming increasingly rare, Rob Wilson, a football finance expert from Sheffield Hallam University, believes transfer windows are a necessary evil.
Acknowledging that, “from a personal perspective” at least, their existence is far from ideal, he argued: “I don’t like them but they do serve a purpose because, otherwise, there would be a free for all.
“Without a shadow of a doubt, however, they do serve to inflate fees, especially towards the end of the window, as there is so much pressure on people to buy.
“What can’t be disputed is that they usually tip the balance in favour of the selling club as the deadline approaches.
“Yes, there are losers because of them. There is always a loser unfortunately, be it clubs from League One and the Championship seeing players go to the top-flight or, further down the scale, those in the Conference and below seeing players leave when they’ve done well.”
Clough, who has overhauled United’s squad this summer with 11 new faces, including Jay McEveley, Marc McNulty and Michael Higdon, also explained how players as well as managers are hampered by a system first introduced as part of a compromise agreement with the European Commission in 2002.
“Let’s say, for example, someone isn’t getting a game and they want to go out on loan or leave a club. In the old days they used to be able to move whenever.
“That option isn’t open to them now and so it can also hinder a professional’s development if they find themselves out of the picture at the wrong time of year.
“Also, before windows were introduced, a lot of clubs always had a policy of signing a player in March or April which ensured there was a flow of money throughout the game.
“You got them cheap when the end of the season was approaching but a lot of them went on to move again for big fees, part of which also filtered down.
“Windows probably suit the biggest clubs in the game but football is about so much more than just the top one or two per cent. And guess who make or influence the rules?”
In an exclusive interview with this newspaper seven months ago, Andrew Orsatti, spokesperson for the world players’ union FIFPro, confirmed his employers also want to return to the days when their members enjoyed greater freedom of movement.
United, who visit Preston North End tomorrow hoping to record a fourth straight win following the Capital One Cup victory over West Ham in midweek, have placed a defender and possibly a new centre-forward on their shopping list with Clough acknowledging that “lots of phone calls and enquiries” are being made.
“If players could move all the time, and after serving a period of notice rather than commanding a fee, then wages would rise sharply,” Wilson said. “That’s where all the spare money would almost certainly go rather than being reinvested in the game.”
Despite refusing to rule-out the possibility of re-entering the market before Monday’s deadline, Clough said: “We prefer to do our business in May, June or July because you can properly consider players then. You watch what happens on just before the cut-off point and know that a lot of the business going on is just panic buys.
“Obviously there are always exceptions but, by and large, we’d rather get the majority of it done as soon as possible. If not, then we’d only really want to go for people we either know or have already done our homework on.
“Really, all the hype which goes on, the countdown clocks and such, is more about entertainment for the television stations. It’s got nothing to do with football at all.”