Doing the Hokey Cokey

February 9, 2014

WEBWATCH:Ken Masters

In out, in out, shake it all about; the January transfer window never fails to disappoint.

Internet sites tracked the action minute by minute from the opening of the window on New Year’s Day until it was firmly shut again until the season is over. Mind you, it all depends what you mean by disappoint. Yet again football has shown that all or most of the money generated from lucrative television deals has to be spent on transfer fees, player’s wages, even higher transfer fees and even higher player’s wages. 

What gets me is that in one compact industry taking in just four levels of league football the differentials between the top and bottom are mind boggling. In fact the differentials between the top half dozen or so clubs and the rest are mind boggling. Take player’s wages not least. Reports of £250.000 a week at the top clubs in the Premiers League compared with something around £500 a week or less in League 2. Put it another way, a million quid a month compared with a couple of grand. Clubs at the top level are spending millions and probably owing millions. Clubs lower down are struggling to survive and if it was not for loyal and hard working supporter groups many would not.

The biggest domestic deal saw Chelsea midfielder Juan Mata joining out of sorts Manchester United for a mere £37.1 million. What the rest of football could do with that sort of money; grass roots coaching, training grounds, improved playing surfaces, resources for community football, better supporter facilities like ladies toilets to name just one! Surely I am not on my own, others must be thinking that football is blowing millions and achieving very little to advance the sport, widen participation and attract new supporters.

I found this quote by Ian Holloway, who managed Bristol Rovers, QPR, Plymouth, Leicester, Blackpool and, briefly, Crystal Palace in the Premier League. Ian  reckons transfer windows are “utter madness” and lead to “the headlong hurtling into deals to rescue dreams”
Ollie, as we know, is famous for his often humorous interviews with the media but this time we have a very sensible quote:
“They (transfer windows) encourage knee-jerk reactions, inflated transfer fees, inflated player wages and minimal planning and background checks.”

I see what Ian means. The busiest Premier League clubs on deadline day were Crystal Palace and Fulham who signed five players each. That made it seven signings for bottom club Fulham in the window, more than any other Premier League club. And it’s not just the clubs at the bottom of the Premier League who press the panic button to rescue dreams, the busiest domestic club in the window was League 2 Bury who signed no less than eight players. 

What worries me about Ian’s thinking is the bit about minimal planning and background checks. Now that really is pressing the panic button and could lead to a massive squandering of financial resources with only perhaps football agents coming out of it well in the longer term; clubs and their loyal band of supporters certainly don’t. Ian believes the old system, whereby clubs were allowed to buy and sell players up until and including the third week in March, was a more stable one, in that it allowed clubs to formulate long-term strategies away from the media and fan frenzy that constitutes a transfer window. Few if any sensible observers and followers of the beautiful game would argue with that.

Ben Dirs of BBC sport says in his on line column that critics of the January window point to Harry Redknapp’s maniacal spending spree last year, when the then recently appointed QPR boss paid more than £20m for Loic Remy and Chris Samba, as evidence that long-term strategies become secondary to short-term fantasies during football’s silly season. QPR were relegated a few months later. Meanwhile Ben reports League Managers’ Association chief executive Richard Bevan arguing that so many managers are being sacked during the January transfer window and the weeks leading up to it because twitchy owners are unwilling to hand their media cash over to someone who is perceived to be failing.

In addition Ben reports Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger says the system causes unrest in the dressing room,  in that an out-of-favour player might spend from November to the end of January agitating for a move, or going through the motions for fear of suffering an injury and scuppering a possible move, or worrying that they are about to be supplanted by a new signing and losing motivation as a result. Now that is an interesting account by the Premier League’s long standing manager. Ben reckons Wenger’s main complaint has always been with the January window in particular, which he believes distorts the competitive balance midway through a season. Why, asks Wenger, should a club be able to buy their way out of trouble at the expense of a poorer club which had their house in order before the season started?

That’s what money does Arsene and it’s money that makes the football world go round. Who’s to blame then? Players say some but I think not. If someone offered you mega bucks to play football I know what most would say; “Hokey Cokey!”

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