Larger Than Life: Reflections on The Transfer Window
When John Moss blew the final whistle at the end of Saturday’s FA Cup final, it marked the passing of another English domestic season. Mercifully for fans, and worryingly for the players, it is scarcely more than eight weeks before the new one begins. The intervening time, and indeed the period until the end of August, will be filled by the very modern spectacle that is the transfer window. It has been noticeable in recent years that this ‘competition’ has taken on a rather larger than life quality, becoming in a sense a sport within a sport.
24 hour sports news channels and social media also allow fans to drive themselves to hysterics over who their club might buy or sell. A glance across your Twitter timeline over the next few months will show that some fans, particularly it seems younger fans, seem to show greater interest in their sides fate in the transfer market than their performances on the turf throughout the season. This seems a rather sad and pathetic development.
Player recruitment is an extremely important part of football management. If you listened, or do listen to, the first Boot Room podcast last week you will find that clubs’ performances in the transfer market was a dominant theme when discussing how they performed last season. From Chelsea’s shrewd, swift and efficient trading to QPR once again embarking on supermarket sweep of has beens and nearly but not quites. In 12 months’ time, we will no doubt look back upon the upcoming transfer window to look for explanations for the trajectory of the 2015/16 Premier League season. So the transfer window is indeed newsworthy, and its results will be important to how clubs perform.
However, it is the attempt to transform this circus into theatre, entertainment and even a sporting competition in itself that troubles me. Sky Sports News is particularly guilty of this. The spectacle of Sky’s ‘deadline day’ was once a rather cultish interest for the more committed football fan; providing a fruitful source of in jokes about Jim White barking at the camera or Harry Redknapp leaning out of the window in his 4×4. However, Sky have in the last few years cottoned on to the fact that this joke was being made at their expense and have sought to exploit it to their advantage by playing up to the stereotypes in their publicity.
The result is there for all to see; the screen is doused in gold, and reporters are sent to distant training grounds to report on any deals. The vast majority of these correspondents are rendered utterly redundant as there are usually only a handful of clubs involved in major deals on the final day of the window. Most are left standing around trying to avoid fame hungry fans wielding sex toys in their general direction or shouting expletives.
This could all be said to be a benign form of entertainment but for the pernicious idea that has emerged that the transfer window is a competition in itself; in some sense a sport. This notion has manifested itself for example, by the way Sky actually arrange transfers into a form of a league table. Two league tables in fact, one ranking clubs by money spent and another ranking clubs by number of players purchased. Therefore, narratives are established before a ball has even been kicked about ‘winners and losers’.
A cursory examination of your Twitter timeline will show that there are many credulous supporters ready to fall for this and work themselves into a frenzy about their club’s dealings. They gloat opposing fans about beating them to a signing and express indignation that their club has not followed their own recommendations on which players they ought to sign.
Football rivalries probably dictate that this type of response is inevitable; fans feel they are either stealing a march on opposing teams or losing ground. Moreover, in the defence of Twitter, it can be an excellent source of transfer news that often runs ahead of the major media institutions. There are however two main reasons why reacting to your clubs transfer dealings as if it were a victory or a defeat is a dangerous business.
Firstly, it doesn’t matter who you buy or who you sell, you will still start the season on zero points and will have all of your work still ahead of you to achieve your goals for the season. Secondly, it is extremely difficult to predict how successful your acquisitions will be. For instance, if 12 months ago you were to offer Arsenal fans to signings of Dejan Lovren and Radamel Falcao, there would have been a broad consensus that these would have been two positive additions. As we sit today, they are thankful Arsene Wenger was not tempted by either player. In the majority of cases, particularly when players are signed from abroad, supporters have only seen their new signing play on a handful of occasions if at all.
So by all means, feel a glow of optimism if your club signs that centre forward you have been craving. But one should not go counting any chickens nor fall into despair over the summer’s events. The real entertainment, spectacle and competition starts in August and it is that genuine theatre that supporters should reserve their energy and passion for.