The new Premier League season is approaching fast, with the traditional curtain raiser of the Community Shield less than a week away. Yet even though it’s so close, there is still so much to resolve. Almost all of the 20 teams have work to do – some of it highly significant.
The most substantial, and most tedious, of the unfinished business is in North London. Both Arsenal and Tottenham have want-away stars struggling to find the path out of their respective clubs. Robin Van Persie’s options seem to be dwindling as each day passes with Juventus pulling out, Manchester City having an internal tug of war over transfer policy and Manchester United unlikely to have the necessary finances for his transfer fee and wages. Meanwhile Luka Modrić, having thrown his toys out of the pram for the second successive year, still remains at White Hart Lane. With Daniel Levy sticking to his guns over the transfer fee and Real Madrid unwilling to give in, it’s quite feasible that both he and Van Persie will remain where they are for another year. Even more likely is that at least one of these sagas will continue until the end of the transfer window once the season is already several games old.
Therein lies the problem with the transfer window in its current form. Unless these matters are resolved, the clubs will spend the first weeks of the season in a state of uncertainty. The stature of both players means they heavily influence the teams they’re involved in, which is typical of those involved in these situations (think Berbatov, Lescott and Nasri as examples). It is not a matter of simply preparing without them and then slipping them back into the team if they are unable to secure a transfer. If they are to be part of the squad, the team will set up in one way. If not, then preparation needs to be completely different. And it must have an impact on their teammates, both in the period of uncertainty and when the player is brought back into the squad. Unity is such an important factor in team sports and this is bound to be affected.
From a wider perspective, the system is flawed due to its effect on the overall league. The whole concept of a round robin system is that it creates a level playing field where every team plays each other over the same number of matches. But how can the playing field be equal when some teams are substantially weaker for the first three weeks of competition. Just look back to last season when Modrić refused to play as he was being denied a move to Chelsea. Spurs were in a minor state of turmoil and got turned over by both Manchester clubs. As the window shut, the Croatian joined the squad again and their form instantly improved. Level playing field? Not at all.
The system does not need to be scrapped, just to be fixed. To correct the problems it’s created, the end of the window needs to be brought into line with the beginning of the season. If an arbitrary point was chosen, say one or two weeks before the first fixtures, then these issues would cease to exist. There are obvious logistical problems, since the window is not solely a domestic ruling, but these can be overcome and would benefit European football as a whole. It would require a slight change in the scheduling patterns of domestic football across Europe, but in an era where the Champions League has arguably become football’s most cherished prize, it is not unreasonable to consider this idea. Obviously this is not something that could be adjusted instantly. It would take some planning and alterations, but could very feasibly be implemented in the near future.
The transfer window is not going to go anywhere – and besides it has its advantages – so we should accept its existence for now. It prevents players and clubs being unsettled outside of the window, generates excitement amongst fans and for two days a year allows Sky Sports to really let Jim White off the leash. But as with all concepts, it needs to evolve and now is the time to implement this.