Scrap the window – and transfer fees

So today is the bi annual farce that is Transfer Deadline Day – the last day this side of 2016 that clubs in the UK can buy or sell players (the deadline was yesterday in Europe but is today in the UK  – presumably because yesterday was a bank holiday in England). Personally I hate this day – and not only because you have to suffer the annoying Jim White on the useless Sky Sports News (as I wrote in an earlier post the name of that channel is an oxymoron) but because the day shouldn’t exist at all.

In fact in the UK we didn’t have one for years. It wasn’t brought in until 2002 when FIFA insisted on it. Until then clubs in the UK could buy/sell players right up until March. FIFA probably insisted on it because European countries had a window for years but so what? Shouldn’t each country be allowed to run its own affairs the way they want to. FIFA should only control transfers between countries not within them. Transfers between UK clubs should not be affected unless we in the UK decide it for ourselves.

I’m amazed the system has survived for thirteen years but I suspect it won’t survive for ever. The system goes against the principles of free trade that most countries believe in. Football of course thinks it is above the law but as Grahame Wright wrote in Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack 1988 (page 50) “it is common practice for an employee to move on to a new employer once he has gained training and experience”. In any other industry there would be no restrictions on free movement so why should football get away with it?

Of course arrogant football wants freedom reduced not increased. Everton manager Roberto Martinez wants the window shut when the season starts because he fears losing star player John Stones (and yet he said on TV he wanted to sign more players. Hypocrite, You can’t complain about someone trying to sign one of your players while you want to sign players yourself. Practice what you preach. You don’t have to sign players once the season starts) . Not only is Martinez’s idea even more restricting on free trade its impossible to do with one transfer window for everybody because seasons start at different times (and in the US, Sweden and Norway to name but three examples the season is going on right through the window).Just proves how stupid a universial rule is. To enforce Martinez’s plan you’d either have to have all the seasons of every league in the world played at the same time –  a practical and climatic impossibility – or have separate transfer systems for different countries – which is where we were back in 2002!

The case that has really annoyed me in football this year is David de Gea. Manchester United’s goalkeeper wanted to join Real Madrid because his girlfriend Edurne Garcia wants him in Madrid and he wants to keep her happy. Now I suspect in every other industry he would have been sent on his way with his employer’s best wishes – surely employee happiness is the most important thing – but this is arrogant football. United played hardball first wanting Madrid player Sergio Ramos and then when that fell through insisted on a big transfer fee and then froze the poor guy out of the first team. Finally they saw sense and agreed a deal yesterday – only for the Spanish FA to receive the papers a minute late thus scuppering the deal. I also suspect their might be an undercurrent of sexism here (with football that would not surprise me) in that United probably think that Garcia should just be a nice little girl and go where her man goes. An attitude that is woefully out of date and is stuck in the 1970s.

If I were de Gea I’d take FIFA to court. Why should his girlfriend suffer because two big clubs mucked up trying to beat an artificial deadline? It is true the clubs are partly to blame for leaving it so late but it is human nature to leave things to the last minute as anyone who has ever gone to the shops on Christmas Eve will testify. The transfer window is a restraint of trade and I suspect if someone challenged it in court FIFA would get a sharp lesson that football is not (and should not) be above the law. Just like UEFA learned in the Bosman case (1995) and the International Cricket Council (ICC) learned in 1977 when it tried to ban players for the hideous crime of signing for another employer and the High Court in London told them it was a restraint of trade and they couldn’t ban the players football might have to learn the same lesson again.

One reason I suspect United played hardball over de Gea was the fact they could get a transfer fee.To my mind transfer fees are an abuse of human rights and must go. Football is the only industry where human beings can be bought and sold in a market like animals. Even other sports like cricket and baseball don’t have transfer fees for heaven’s sake. Needless to say the world outside sport doesn’t have them. There is no reason for football to have them. Football moans that clubs would go out of business but cricket and baseball clubs seem to survive perfectly well without them. in fact if you had no transfer fees it is at least possible players might move less. Some agents I suspect encourage players to move because they get a cut of the transfer fee. If their cut was 5 % of nothing there would be less reason for them to encourage their players to move. Also I think clubs might sign more UK players than they do now. A lot of clubs buy foreign players because they are cheaper (£49 MILLION for Raheem Sterling. I rest my case). I suspect if the players were equally priced at zero most clubs would go for the UK player. Not for racist nationalist reasons but because someone who speaks the language and knows the league is less of a risk than those who don’t and since they are the same price the cheapness argument in favour of gambling on a foreigner would go.

There is no reason – except for football’s arrogance – that these ideas of free trade and no transfer fees can’t be implemented. Football’s argument that it would be ruined is nonsense. How on earth then does every other industry survive without transfer windows and transfer fees then? It is time – as with so many other issues  – to tell football that to be a part of society you have to play by the rules of society. Every rule. And that includes free trade and no transfer fees.

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