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For the sake of soccer's integrity, reform the transfer window

Enact a pan-European deadline of August 1 to stop horse-trading once league season starts, as loyalty and stability are important

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 2:58am
UPDATED : Saturday, 01 September, 2012, 4:55am

The summer transfer window slammed shut yesterday amid the usual last-minute scramble between tight-lipped players, their well-fed agents and brooding managers.

The horse-trading to buy that much-needed forward, playmaker and defender, to offload the lame and the aged, or embark on a fire sale of talent to keep the wolves from the door, has, as tradition dictates, been fuelled by gossip and speculation - much of which often proves to be true.

Since the transfer window opened on July 1, the summer spending spree has been on par with last year - with the 20 Premier League clubs splashing out about £350 million (HK$4.3 billion).

Come Monday, the total spend is expected to match last year's figure of more than £450 million, according to Deloitte's Sports Business Group.

Since its introduction 10 years ago, more than £4.4 billion has been invested in players by club owners, with Chelsea leading the pack at £681 million. Champions Manchester City have forked out £572 million - most of it in the past two years - and Liverpool have spent £414 million. Manchester United occupy fourth place in the high-rollers league, with £352 million spent since 2002. Tottenham have outlaid ?350 million and  Arsenal £214 million.

The transfer window puts the fear of every known god into supporters as they stand hapless outside the gilded glass, looking on in awe and fear at the buy-and-sell bloodbath. Who would have wanted to be an Arsenal fan this week? England international Theo Walcott let it be known he had rejected a new contract, sparking interest from Liverpool and Manchester City and causing a wave of speculation.

Countless nods and winks between Walcott and his representatives saw the starlet winger reject a five-year offer worth around £75,000 a week. Those Gooners who have sung out Walcott's name will have egg slung in their face if the player starts running at their defenders in a rival team's colours in a couple of weeks, but such is the nature of the EPL beast and the bizarre Fifa transfer market rules.

Walcott is not alone in the ruthless, soulless avarice that dominates the dog days of the European summer and the opening games of the premiership. Everyone has their head deep in the transfer trough, from Paris St Germain to Porto - everyone except the supporters, who ask for nothing more than a settled team and players loyal to the badge and cause.

Amid the cacophony of ringing cash tills, however, you can still hear many asking the £64 million question - what price loyalty? What is certain is that during the transfer merry-go-round, not one penny or cent is spent on integrity.

It must be unsettling for most of the players, too - those paid a king's ransom to entertain us in the spirit of competitiveness. Pampered as many of them are, most are victims of the system.

Fifa introduced transfer windows in 2002 after pressure from the European Commission. Brussels claimed the then transfer system breached the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the precursor to the European Economic Community, and threatened to dismantle it entirely. Fifa put forward a compromise package, among which was the introduction of transfer windows, opened short in winter, and long in summer.

But after a decade, it is crystal clear the game's integrity is incompatible with the current set-up. Fans and players are left in limbo until September and squads stay unsettled for weeks.

Managers have long complained about what Steve Coppell, the former manager of Reading, described as a "scurrilous" system that breeds panic. This summer, there was general agreement at the pre-season managers' meeting that changes must be made. Andre Villas-Boas, Arsene Wenger and Martin Jol made public their dislike for the system and the Premier League is also reported to be in support of a call to lobby Fifa for change.

"The transfer market is open for two months, and for one month and three weeks it is nearly closed," Wenger said. "It wakes up completely in the last week and then every minute becomes important."

Some have called for the window to be left open all season, but this misses the point by a country mile. Who could possibly put up with the ceaseless rumour mill for the 37 weeks? It's unbearable for two months as it is.

Surely the only way for clubs to gel their squads and fans to feel secure is to put in place a pan-European transfer deadline of August 1, with the window opened as soon as the last whistle is blown from the preceding season.

There is now acceptance it is detrimental to allow transfer activity once a league campaign has started. So it's time to haggle hard and persuade Fifa to buy into the concept of loyalty and integrity, and reshape the transfer window.