Has the early transfer window close held the Premier League back?

Many of the Premier League’s biggest clubs have had quiet windows. Is the earlier transfer deadline to blame?

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Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs

The calls of Premier League clubs and fans for the summer transfer window to close before the first weekend of the season have existed for many years.

Many cases of teams not having their business done during the first games of the season, and the feeling of transfer business overshadowing actual matches have caused frustration and created a desire for things to be finished off before the actual football starts.

Extreme cases of players playing matches, only to end up joining the club they played a match against, such as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain last season, have made the whole charade feel even more ridiculous.

In theory, there’s nothing stopping clubs getting all their business done before the first match anyway, and having the window close a few matches into the season allows for some flexibility if a player gets injured or offers a chance to turnaround the mood at a club if results are poor to start the season.

In fact, this is a theory that has been very practical for most European football clubs. In leagues such as the Bundesliga, deals are often done well before the window even opens, and the last few weeks can often be the sleepiest period of transfer activity.

For Premier League clubs, however, the reality has always been different. For whatever reason, clubs can’t help but do their business late. Whether it’s the belief that market forces often open up the possibility of better value transfers later in the window or whether it’s pure procrastination in the weeks leading up to the deadline, Premier League clubs have been frantically trying to get deals over the line in the final week of August for many years.

For these reasons, 15 of the Premier League’s 20 clubs voted in favour of closing the transfer window earlier this summer. But with a window that has seen less activity from the biggest clubs than we’ve grown accustomed to in recent years, has the decision prevented clubs from getting more business done?

A disadvantage against European clubs

Given the aforementioned reasons, it’s only been those associated with the Premier League who have been in favour of closing the transfer before the season starts.

With that in mind the decision of Premier League club’s to vote in favour of closing the window earlier — when the rest of Europe had no desire to do likewise themselves — was always a strange decision. Seemingly a shot at their own feet.

There are many legitimate reasons to want the window closed before the opening match of the season, but if other leagues don’t similarly comply, any potential benefits are mitigated by the disadvantages Premier League clubs now have compared to their European counterparts.

Because European clubs aren’t pressed by the same time constraints, there’s less need for them to get deals done early. If a situation were to arise where a European club made a big purchase late in the window, and needed to make a sale as a result of their expenditure and addition to the squad, then English clubs would be out of the reckoning.

REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer
 
An obvious example would be Arsenal’s signing of Mesut Ozil in 2013. After Real Madrid had signed Gareth Bale in the final days of the transfer window, Ozil became somewhat surplus to requirements, and Arsenal pounced.

In a world where the English transfer window ended earlier, Madrid, who’d dragged out the Bale transfer, would’ve been able to buy from Tottenham, but wouldn’t have been able to sell Ozil to a Premier League club. 

World Cup year 

In a normal summer, maybe the earlier deadline wouldn’t have seemed so bad. But choosing to shorten their transfer window by three weeks always seemed an odd decision in a World Cup year. 

With many players representing their national team throughout June and into early July, the window where they’d be free to negotiate, have medicals and agree terms with clubs was almost comically short.

In previous World Cup years the second half of the summer would be the busiest period for transfers, and this time it has been cut in half. 

Long-term implications 

Premier League clubs were likely caught cold by the early closing of the window this season. Using this as an experience to learn from, however, they’ll probably be better prepared to start things earlier and run a quicker process in future windows.

The addition of the World Cup makes the difficulty of this summer more understandable in some respects, which means judgment on whether an early deadline is a benefit or hindrance can be better made after the next couple of years.

It might just be that 2018 was simply a quiet summer for transfers in the Premier League. After lavish spending in the 2016 and 2017 summers, the Manchester clubs have been quiet. Tottenham also are maybe feeling the effects of their stadium move, and the new contracts they handed out to Harry Kane and Mauricio Pochettino.

REUTERS/Chris Keane

The 2018 January transfer window was maybe the biggest mid-season transfer window in Premier League history, with Alexis Sanchez, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang and Virgil van Dijk all moving to name just a few, contributing to a quieter summer.

With no tournament next year, and clubs having had a year to experience a shorter window, they’ll probably cope with the change better. However, with other leagues still having their transfer windows run until the end of August, the Premier League will remain at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts in other leagues.

With that in mind, it’s hard to see this self-imposed restriction being anything but a hindrance for those impacted by it.

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