There will be drama, hype and theatrics aplenty but, when the transfer window shuts tonight, Nigel Clough hopes football’s governing body bolt it closed, writes James Shield.
The Sheffield United manager has added his voice to calls, led by the world players’ union FIFPro, for the game’s system of buying and selling talent to be overhauled after labelling it “unnecessary” ahead of tomorrow’s League One fixture at Crewe Alexandra.
“I’ve never been a fan,” Clough said. “And I can’t see the point of it either because there was nothing wrong with the old way of doing things.
“Clubs are encouraged to be financially responsible but then many are panicked into paying over the odds in January whereas, in the summer, plenty stockpile expensive players that they don’t really need.”
FIFPro’s opposition, according to its communication director Andrew Orsatti, stems from the theory that limiting a player’s right to change clubs within prescribed periods of the calendar violates its members “human rights.”
“We believe the current transfer system is against the law and fails football as a sport and an industry,” Orsatti told The Star. “A free market will more effectively see players find places of employment where they are valued by clubs than the current system, which is distorted and favours only the rich and powerful.
“The transfer system makes it much harder for many clubs to attract players to compete on and off the field. This is why competition law is so relevant.
“Any restriction of the free market can only be justified if it serves a public good. In the case of sport, this means greater competitive balance and economic viability as well as the protection of the players. The transfer system falls short on all of these points.
“We would also like to see the football industry embrace much greater levels of financial solidarity and revenue sharing. This has worked in US sports, can work in football and will be more effective than the continued attack on the rights of players.”
Orsatti, whose organisation believes its members should be allowed to move after serving a stipulated period of notice, added: “The end game is a system that is based on an equal respect for contracts by clubs and players. Where the consequences of an early termination of contract by a club or a player are the same.
“Today, a club can terminate a player’s contract for minimal compensation and without sanction. This is over 90 per cent of the cases that go to FIFA. But a player who does that faces a mandatory ban of at least four months and often a multi-million dollar compensation claim.
“He may not be able to play until that claim is paid, which is impossible for him. The system must be reciprocal for clubs and players.”
Robert Wilson, of Sheffield Hallam University, queries FIFPro’s claim that there are sound financial reasons for abolishing windows but does concede their existence can inflate the transfer fees commanded by players.
“In any sport we need regulation and the window brings about ‘relative’ stability to clubs,” he said. “They can plan for windows by identifying targets, scouting them and ultimately allocate budgets to them.
“If there was a free for all during the season we might see much more instability with squads which would have an impact on the quality of play and, as an extreme, the games may be less attractive for TV companies.
“Many clubs will have medium and long-term targets which means that they can work on revenue generation and cost reduction to save-up for their target. So, in many ways the transfer window structure helps with financial stability in my opinion.”
Nevertheless, Wilson does concede that the existence of a ‘January window’ can inflate the prices that teams pay for players.
“I do question why there is a January window,” he continued. “As the ‘window’ reaches its natural closure we certainly see prices go up as clubs get desperate.
“An abolition might see an easing of transfer fees but were this to happen, and the amount of money flowing into the game stayed the same, agents and players would inevitably request a bigger slice of the cake.”
Orsatti, though, dismisses the notion that FIFPro’s opposition is motivated by self-interest. Arguing that windows “fail football in sporting and economic terms,” he said: “Despite record revenue levels, football as an industry lurches from one crisis to another. Most leagues are increasingly distorted and uneven. The status quo is failing footballers and failing players.”
FIFPro’s campaign to end transfer windows also includes a call to outlaw third party ownership of players which, following the ‘Carlos Tevez Affair’ of 2007, will resonate behind the scenes at Bramall Lane.
Subsequently banned by the Premier League, this controversial practice is still prevalent elsewhere.
“The biggest financial problem in football today is that thousands of players do not have their contracts honoured or respected by clubs,” Orsatti insisted. “Over 3,000 file claims every year at FIFA but this is only a fraction of the overall problem.”
Clough, whose team are 21st in the table, has used the window to reshape his squad with the likes of Stefan Scougall, Bob Harris and John Brayford arriving at Bramall Lane as United attempt to haul themselves clear of the relegation zone.
“We’re pleased with the players we’ve been able to bring in,” Clough said. “They provide us with some different options and qualities.
“As a wider issue, however, I think we could all do without the window system for a number of different reasons.
“A lot of smaller clubs, towards the end of a season, had the option of being able to sell someone if there was a pressing need for them to do so but that’s been taken away from them now.
“I’ve also heard talk of the powers-that-be looking to end loans but, if they do that, well I don’t know. They can serve a crucial purpose in terms of the development of young players.”