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Madness upon madness

No sooner has the madness of the traditional Christmas football programme passed – four games in 11-12 days for the Premier League clubs at a time when all the other major European leagues are enjoying their mid-season winter break – than that other, more recent creation of the powers-that-be – the transfer window – opens.

In both instances, what a waste of effort.

The annual breakneck rush of matches – Saturday/Sunday, Boxing Day, Saturday/Sunday, New Year’s Day (or Jan 2nd in a few cases) – has historically benefitted clubs in the lower divisions, who usually experience bigger attendances than at other times of the season. But this is not an argument which holds water for many of the bigger clubs, who regularly play in front of full houses anyway, so there is no financial benefit. The quality of the matches, particularly by the third or fourth round of fixtures, tends to be a couple of notches lower than average. And add to that frequently dismal weather and driving conditions, and limited availability of public transport, and you have to wonder whether tradition and the excitement of lots of games close together outweighs the difficulties it can create for travelling fans, the generally poor quality of the fare on offer, and the fatigue and corresponding risk of injury for the players.

And then we wonder why, come the summer, our national team looks jaded when it comes to the major international tournaments. Still, at least that won’t be a problem for England, Scotland, Wales or the two Irelands this year …

As for the transfer window, isn’t the management of a football club difficult enough as it is without the farce of cramming all your mid-season transactions into 31 frantic days? It’s not as if this creates less work for managers, scouts and chairmen during the rest of the season. Anyone who thinks clubs spend the time from the end of August to the beginning of January twiddling their thumbs waiting for the strains of Auld Lang Syne to die down before commencing their transfer activity is being impossibly naive. Arsene Wenger, say, doesn’t wake up on January 1st, decide he’d quite like to sign Joe Bloggs, make a few phone calls, negotiate terms and then sign on the dotted line. Identifying potential targets is a full-time, year-round job for a manager and his team of scouts, and firm contact (or at least an initial sounding-out) between one club and another (or a player’s representative) can take place weeks or even months in advance of January.

Don’t believe me? Well, just look at the number of deals which go through in the first few days of the window – very few, if any, of these are anything other than the product of considerable behind-the-scenes negotiation over the preceding weeks. Football is a big money game these days, and transfers which can involve seven (or eight) figure sums are not resolved in a couple of phone calls one afternoon.

If this is the case (which it surely is) it does beg the question of why clubs are forced to complete their transfers in such a short window. Why not simply allow clubs to make transfers at any time up until an agreed deadline, and avoid the yearly melee? Sure, it would mean less speculation and excitement during the month of January, but it would also avoid the all-too-frequent disillusionment which happens a few months down the line when fans realise the striker their club signed in desperation for several million pounds at 11.30pm on January 31st is actually a complete donkey. (Ahem, Michael Ricketts.) Just a thought.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

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