KEIR RADNEDGE: FUN AND GAMES IN THE TRANSFER WINDOW

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The fun and games start again in January when the transfer window opens with managers both relieved at the opportunity to strengthen their squad and fearful that a rival may come along and weaken it.

Transfer time will also prompt the usual whingeing and moaning about the specific time slots and, even, why such window restrictions exist at all.

The answer is simple: history.

Britain is the only mainstream country which, until Jean-Marc Bosman came along in the early 1990s, operated without transfer time restriction at all. Managers who complain nowadays about the inability to buy during the season never appear to reflect that rivals are prevented, similarly, from carrying off their best players at any time of the day or night.

Abroad, the general standard was to permit transfers during the summer with a small window for adjustments either early in the season (as formerly in Italy) or in midseason (as in Spain).

The one factor which no-one queried, until George Eastham forced his way out of Newcastle to join Arsenal in 1961 with High Court help, was the very philosophy of the retain and transfer convention.

At a time when critical attention has been drawn to the kafala, tied-employment system in Qatar, football may consider it somewhat illogical that clubs retain the right to buy and sell their employees.

Or not. Luis Suarez wanted to exercise the right to leave Liverpool but the club insisted on holding him to his contract; Gareth Bale wanted to leave Tottenham and, by contrast, the club jumped at the money.

Two clubs took diametrically opposed standpoints because the rules offered them the power to do so. To some extent, both had Bosman to thank.

Bosman had challenged the right of his Belgian club (Liege) to prevent him moving, on the expiry of his contract, to a French club (Dunkerque). The European Court of Justice ruled that a player at the end of his contract had every right to move to a club of his choice in another country within the EU.

That meant, per se, that the foreign player restrictions operating in every country were formally judged to contravene the EU’s freedom of movement of labour laws.

This produced immediate confusion. All countries immediately scrapped foreign player restrictions as they affected EU nationality players. But, at first, players were fee-free only when moving to another country. This resulted in the farce of a player moving from, say, Germany to France, for two weeks and then moving back to another German club fee-free.

Within a few months the right to a fee-free move at the end of a contract became the internal standard within EU countries. But the truth is that, what is now termed as a ‘Bosman’ is a twisting of the precise facts.

The European Commission, initially, was opposed to any sort of player retention system. But it was persuaded, by FIFA and UEFA, that the transfer system held a key role in both the business and the entertainment of professional football.

Hence the compromise that the system should remain in place and that two transfer windows be established to balance player movement with stability of employment.

This is the reason the windows exist.

One critic is Philippe Piat, now back in command as president of the international players’ union. FIFPro wants the transfer system overhauled altogether because “it fails 99pc of players.” Many in the game believe, contrarily, that players wield greater power now than clubs; but this is an argument for another day.

In the meantime one of Piat’s concerns – recalling interviews from years back – is philosophical and concerns whether clubs should be permitted the right to buy and sell players at all.

Is that, perhaps, a form of modern-day slavery . . . ?

Keir Radnedge is one of the foremost observers of international soccer. He has reported at every World Cup since 1966 and is a regular contributor to TV, radio, newspapers and magazines worldwide. He is editor of KeirRadnedge.com and is chairman of the Football Commission of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS). Visit www.KeirRadnedge.com for further information. Follow him on Twitter for more sports industry updates.

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