When mentioning the January transfer window, it’s impossible not to cast the mind back to the 2011 vintage still, nine years on, the high watermark of its existence.
There are two deals everyone remembers. Fernando Torres‘ £50million switch from Liverpool to Chelsea, setting a new Premier League record in the process, followed swiftly by Andy Carroll‘s British record £35million move to Anfield from Newcastle United.
Luis Suárez is the less-heralded third big deal of that particular deadline day, moving to Liverpool from Ajax as a little-known 24-year-old costing £23million. Ironically, he was the only one of those forwards who went on to make a success of his move.
But there had been plenty of big deals completed prior to that trio. Manchester City signed Edin Džeko for £27million to pep up their attack, Aston Villa parted with a princely £18million in the hope Sunderland‘s Darren Bent would fire them to safety while David Luiz was introduced to Premier League fans as Chelsea’s new £21.3million ‘PlayStation defender’.
As transfer windows go, it was a vintage one. In fact, we’re still waiting for another like it. More than halfway through the 2020 January transfer window and we’ve seen a handful of deals completed, only a small percentage of which have been permanent.
By far the biggest is Gedson Fernandes‘ arrival at Tottenham Hotspur. The Portuguese midfielder arrives in North London on an initial 18-month loan with a £56million option. In other words, a lengthy test drive before having to commit a significant fee for the 21-year-old.
Elsewhere, Watford and West Ham United have completed the only other significant cash additions with Udinese winger Ignacio Pussetto signing for the Hornets in a £7million deal and Republic of Ireland keeper Darren Randolph rejoining the Hammers for £4million.
As has increasingly become the trend in the January transfer window, the majority of completed deals have been loan moves. Low-risk, low-cost and without the commitment of a permanent switch, they afford all parties flexibility. Cenk Tosun‘s temporary arrangement with Crystal Palace will only cost the Eagles a loan fee if they avoid relegation, for example.
So, why is this?
Perhaps, for all the talk of desperation and badly-run clubs, recruitment departments at Premier League sides are wising up to the fact January is not a good time to do business if you have a choice.
Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have seen their names linked with plenty of players in this transfer window. United because their need is evident, Chelsea simply because they can sign players again and Spurs because, well, José Mourinho is in town.
Aston Villa are back-page regulars thanks to the season-ending injuries suffered by goalkeeper Tom Heaton and centre-forward Wesley. Their current predicament as they bid to avoid relegation is another factor and it tends to be desperate clubs who do the most business in the January transfer window.
Yet even that isn’t a hard-and-fast rule anymore. Take Norwich City. Rock bottom and in the relegation zone since the start of October, the Canaries expect to go down. They have made two signings – only one of them permanent – at a cost of £450,000. Much like the summer when Sam Byram was their only cash addition at £750,000, they won’t risk their long-term future by gambling on survival.
So if even the desperate clubs aren’t doing business this month, what’s the point?
Perhaps the penny has finally dropped; the January transfer window is a dangerous time to do business. Players cost more, there’s next to no bedding in time for players, leading to an increased risk of signing someone who turns out to be a dud – particularly if you’re swept along by the excitement of the festivities and sign a player without doing your due diligence.
Is it time to end the January transfer window, then?
In a word, no. But maybe it’s time for a radical rethink. Why not reduce the period for player trading to a week? The evidence suggests clubs are using this facility less and less, while the summer window now ends before the season kicks off to protect the integrity of the Premier League. Having an opportunity to sign players mid-season flies in the face of that.
Better still, it would prevent clubs from doing deals they regret. How often have we heard a manager – usually Harry Redknapp – admit a new signing was not planned and only happened ‘Once we heard the lad became available’? It would simply be a case of protecting clubs from themselves.
Best of all, it could be worked into the calendar with some benefits. If the January transfer window took place in the first week of the month with no games by way of distraction after the testing festive period, clubs would have a week off.
The following weekend could see the return of the FA Cup with the full focus on that competition and then the third week of the month would mark the Premier League’s return. With so many top-flight clubs naming entirely changed XIs for the cup, it would effectively mean a three-week break between the Christmas fixtures and return of league action.
FIFA rules state each individual nation’s governing body decides the length of the window but the second must not exceed four weeks. So no rules would be broken here.
A truncated transfer window might re-inject some of the excitement back into the occasion, stop clubs wasting money and solve some scheduling issues too. It’s a win-win for all – except the agents.