The summer transfer merry-go-round is in full swing, with fans of all clubs eager to see who their club will sign (and fans of Monaco wondering whether any of their Championship-winning side will be left at the club come September). And yet for all the interest that it generates, especially in the close season when there is little actual football to watch, the transfer system desperately needs to be reformed to promote more competitive football.
It’s Time to Reform the Transfer System
Transfer Window Close
The first change that needs to be made is to shut the transfer window before the season starts. This is such an obvious change, which would allow clubs to assemble their squads fully before the season starts and prepare them properly in pre-season, that it is a wonder it has not happened already.
Officially, the reason for the window being open long past the start of the season is that the increasingly international nature of European club football in general and English club football in particular means that it must stay open to enable the transfers of players between clubs in different countries. Even if that is the case, however, there is absolutely no reason why clubs in the same country should be allowed to wait for so long before concluding their transfer business.
The Alexis Sanchez situation perfectly demonstrates the current difficulties in the transfer system. Arsenal fans still fear that the club will lose their best player, as Alexis only has a season left on his existing contract. They will have to wait until 11 pm on August 31 to know for sure whether he is staying or going. This will be three weeks – and more importantly, three games – into the current season. While it might just be possible to argue that the transfer window should stay open for long enough to enable a move to a foreign club, there is no need to give a team in the same league as Arsenal all that time.
An additional bonus that would be gained from closing the transfer window on August 10th, the day before the Premier League starts, is that it would allow the season to start definitively. At the moment, the season seems to start in stages. The official start of the year is in early August, yet clubs have finalise summer transfer dealings nearly a month later.
The Loan System
The loan system badly needs changing. It is ridiculous that clubs are able to loan players to other clubs in the same league. The current system, whereby clubs can and do loan young or fringe players out to clubs in the same league, not only creates potential issues about the integrity of that league; it possibly also harms the development of those players who are loaned out.
Precisely because clubs can loan players out to other clubs in the same league, there is an obvious danger that the biggest and richest clubs will stockpile players that they have no intention of playing themselves. Sometimes this is done to prevent them from being bought by rival clubs.
That was certainly the case with Milan in the early 1990s, when they were the best club side in Europe. Then, they would often buy young players who showed great potential, such as Gianlugi Lentini. They would either loan them out or simply stick them on the bench. Similarly, Chelsea now have a plethora of players out on loan, many of whom have no realistic, long-term future at the club.
Reasons for the Current System
Ostensibly, the reason why clubs are allowed to loan players to other clubs in the same league is so that the players can get valuable experience at a club roughly of the same standard. It is hard not to suspect, however, that the real reason is that only clubs in the same league can afford to pay the loaned player’s wages, unlike clubs at a lower level.
For instance, Chelsea have just loaned Kurt Zouma to Stoke for the season, where he will be able to play against all of Chelsea’s rivals but not against the Blues themselves. Zouma is obviously recovering from a dreadful long-term injury, but he should be doing so at a lower level, such as the Championship, or even abroad, where he will not have the potential to influence the results of his parent club’s competitors for the league title.
Central Clearing House
The third and final change to the transfer system that is required is for the Premier League, the FA or even UEFA to have a central clearing house for transfers. Such a system would not only enable an official body such as the Premier League to act as an honest, impartial broker between two clubs. It would also allow for some transparency in the transfer system. At the moment, there is no such transparency, with clubs still able, if they so choose, to declare that a transfer fee is “undisclosed”. Why on earth should a transfer fee be “undisclosed”, unless there is some problem with that transfer fee?
In addition, having such a centralised clearing body would enable the proper registration of agents. Currently, a single agent is able to represent all three parties involved in a transfer: the selling club, the player himself and the buying club. This appears to have been the case with Paul Pogba’s transfer from Juventus to Manchester United last summer. It has became the subject of a FIFA investigation.
Such a system, with a regulatory body overseeing all moves between clubs and approving or blocking them, already exists in the major US sports. Although the movement of players between teams in the US is achieved by drafting and trading players, rather than transferring them for particular fees, the principle is the same.
A central independent body should be in charge of giving the final say on whether a transfer can happen. They would establish exactly where the money involved in that transfer—all the money involved in that transfer—is going. The current system, which is largely unregulated centrally, positively incentivises the hiding or concealment of money by clubs, agents and even players. Any money that goes missing, or at least unaccounted for, is ultimately being made up for by fans.
The transfer system is outdated, deleterious to the interests of fans and – worst of all – open to financial abuse. Sadly, there is almost no chance whatsoever of it being changed for the better.