Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the transfer window
By Terry Baddoo
Some say it’s easy to be a critic. You don’t have to be proactive just reactive and contrary. It’s like a word association game. You say black, I say white. You say left, I say “It depends on what you mean by left.” Okay, that’s a bit Clintonesque, but you get my drift.
However, in the words of the great Michael Palin (and, while quoting the Monty Python “Argument” sketch dates me, the classics are never too old to recycle), “An argument isn’t just contradiction. An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”
Put another way, to be an effective critic there has to be some rhyme and reason to your whine and teasin’ (I’m not a poet and I know it). So that’s why I was pleased to hear Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, not just moan about the January transfer window but actually offer some rationale for his objection and suggest an alternative.
For those who didn’t read his latest rant (and, despite the merits of this particular diatribe, someone should tell him that you need to be selective in your ranting or you run the risk of becoming white noise), the Frenchman bemoaned what he feels is the “unfairness” of the January window.
According to Arsene, the only players on offer during the mid-season window are those at odds with their club for one reason or another or those put on the market for financial reasons. He claims the latter especially applies to clubs outside the Big Four or Five, as they often look to cash in on a player who’s impressed in the first-half of the season (Andy Carroll syndrome). And, if I’ve understood his logic, he’s saying that this “get him/sell him while he’s hot” mentality creates a panic so that transfer fees rise artificially, which represents an unnecessary gamble to the buyer.
He further argues that having an open season in January allows teams to radically change their line-ups, which means that opponents who’ve already played them twice now have an advantage over their future opponents because they’ll potentially be stronger in the second-half of the season than they were in the first due to their new signings.
Wenger, who seems to have spent way too much time thinking about this given the more pressing issues the Gunners face, cites the case of Newcastle United. The Magpies acquired a glut of players during the January window and may not field anything like the same team when they face Arsenal in the final game of the season as they did in December when the teams played out a ridiculous 10-goal thriller that Arsenal won 7-3!
In short, Wenger feels the integrity of the game is damaged by this mid-season shifting of the goalposts, and believes the window should be abolished or at least restricted to two transfers per club.
Soon after his comment he gained a pretty heavyweight ally when UEFA President, Michel Platini, said he believes the January transfer window is bad for coaches because they can’t rely on having the same players available to them all season. He also said that allowing a player to appear for two clubs in the same season is “unacceptable” in his eyes.
“This transfer window has been created to allow for a certain amount of business in a few other situations,” he said. “But I think overall it damages the competitions.”
Now, in Wenger’s case this objection could have come across as somewhat typical bleating, especially given Arsenal’s notorious unwillingness to spend the big bucks, which inevitably puts them behind the 8-ball when it comes to attracting the top names to the Emirates in any transfer window.
Put simply, the Gunners, for reasons best known to the board, is not the most free-spending club in the world, so of course the manager is wary of inflated fees, and of course he laments the fact that other managers, especially those at equally big clubs, have the wherewithal to give their team a mid-season boost. After all, his comment came on or around the day that coveted striker, Wilfried Zaha, signed for Manchester United. And though Wenger insists he wasn’t interested in the Crystal Palace star anyway, all the evidence prior to that day pointed to the fact that he was! He just didn’t meet the asking price.
But despite the fact that Wenger may have had agenda, and is undoubtedly viewed as a serial whiner, this time his criticism did come with a constructive suggestion. If you can’t abolish the January transfer window at least cap the number of players that clubs can recruit mid-season to mitigate against the damage and the madness it creates.
Now that’s worth thinking about, and I’ve been doing just that, so here’s my suggestion, which takes Wenger’s idea and runs with it.
Though all squads in the Premier League are limited to 25 players it’s fair enough that smaller or less successful clubs may want to make mid-season changes. Clearly they have less depth in their squads to help them kick-on and challenge for Europe; avoid getting into a relegation dogfight; or indeed beat the drop itself
Conversely, the window not so essential to big clubs as they already start the season with higher quality players overall, so being able to snap up emerging talent mid-season because of their financial clout just tilts the balance further in their favor.
Obviously, the rules have to apply equally to all clubs, and I think the idea of abolishing the window would hurt the smaller clubs and could create a lot of restriction of trade issues, especially among players.
To be fair to everyone then, how about capping the number players any one club can buy in January on a sliding scale. So that the top-5 in the table on Jan 1st can buy, say two players; 5-10 can buy three; 10-15 four; and 15-20 up to five.
That way you’d preserve the fluidity of the market for the players and clubs who need it; there’s equality of opportunity for movement between clubs in a similar league position after the first-half of the season, so no-one’s gaining an artificial advantage; and there’s an opportunity for clubs lower down the table to significantly strengthen their squads in order to improve their league position or escape relegation. So overall it promotes parity in the league which I would have thought might improve things. And, after all, isn’t that what good criticism is all about?