This summer, football has seen some pretty extraordinary transfer activity. Of course, a prime example of this can be seen in Neymar’s megadeal taking him from Barcelona to Paris Saint Germain, but there have been notable moves elsewhere as well. Italian defender Leonardo Bonucci made the controversial switch from Italian champions Juventus to title rivals Milan for a fee of £35.1 million (Milan themselves have spent £160 million this summer alone) and Bayern Munich picked up Lyon’s starlet midfielder Corentin Tolisso for a similar price. Across Europe it’s been, as expected, a two-month spending spree for the top clubs.
The Premier League has also seen its share of crazy cash sums being thrown around. But, as things stand, many of the stories from this window are about the deals that haven’t (yet) happened. The first of these to make headlines was Virgil van Dijk’s failed transfer from Southampton to Liverpool. Liverpool looked to have wrapped up the move, but it transpired they’d jumped the gun and approached the player before agreeing a transfer fee with The Saints, for which they were subsequently reported to the Premier League by Southampton for tapping up of the Dutchman without the club’s knowledge.
Since then, many players have tussled with their parent clubs over transfers. Ross Barkley is once again at odds with his boyhood club Everton, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain appears to be angling for a move away from Arsenal, and the same could be said of Danny Rose at Tottenham or Riyad Mahrez of Leicester. And what can you say about Diego Costa’s current standoff with Chelsea. After being informed by his boss Antonio Conte that his services would no longer be required at the club, Costa is now being fined by The Blues for failing to turn up to reserve team training and of course maintain some of his transfer value to the club. Costa is threatening his employers with legal action for blocking his desired move to Atletico Madrid and instead looking for a more substantial bid from China. But it’s been the aforementioned, seismic Neymar transfer that has made the biggest waves in the Premier League, and brought about perhaps the most high-profile transfer dispute of the window.
Phillippe Coutinho has arguably been the league’s brightest player over the course of the last three seasons. His vision and his control on the ball is what’s made him an Anfield favourite, and earnt him admiring glances from Europe’s biggest clubs. So, when Barcelona identified Coutinho as a natural replacement for the outgoing Neymar, few who’d watched the maestro play were particularly surprised – least of all Liverpool. The club made its stance on Coutinho clear. The player had just signed a new five year contract to stay on Merseyside, and under no circumstances would any bid for his services be considered. Liverpool fans breathed a collective sigh of relief.
It had been considered that, whilst the Brazilian playmaker might well be interested in the move and happy to up sticks to Cataluña given Liverpool’s blessing, his loyalty to Liverpool meant he wouldn’t go as far as to actively pursue the transfer. But four days ago, Coutinho did just that by handing in a formal transfer request. The request came just moments after Liverpool’s ownership stated their desire to keep the player at all costs. It also came just one day before the team kicked off their league campaign with a match against Watford.
As the Liverpool manager, you can imagine the despair that Jürgen Klopp must be feeling at this moment. He’s prepared his squad as best as he can for the upcoming season, a season in which the club realistically should be in the mix for the title, only to find that his prized asset has intentions of abandoning ship. Not only was Coutinho withdrawn from the squad for the Watford season opener with a ‘back problem,’ but he also missed yesterday evening’s Champions League qualifier against German side Hoffenheim. Even if Liverpool do manage to hang on to the player until the window closes, will Coutinho want to come back and give his all for the club after they put the brakes on his dream move? He might never play for Klopp in the same full-blooded way again. But should they cash in on the Brazilian then they’d be charged with finding his replacement at short notice, with other clubs fully able to exploit their last-minute desperation by driving the prices of their talent sky high. You can only feel for the coach in a predicament where he holds very few of the cards.
And the question that Klopp has raised, and one that has been echoed by other managers in British football is this; the season has begun, players have been registered, squads have been submitted. Why are transfer deals still able to take place at this stage?
The concept of a last-minute transfer shock is one that seems to fascinate the British media and the public. Every deadline day we’re glued to the screen watching Sky Sports reporters stood outside training grounds across the country as they discuss the potential last gasp dealings that could be done. And that’s great, even if in most cases these days, the reporter has already been told they may as well go home because nothing at all is going to be happening. But why can’t deadline day be brought forward by three weeks, allowing managers to finalise their teams before the action gets underway? Well that’s what most Premier League and EFL clubs seem to think, and as such a vote has been called on whether to end the summer transfer window before a ball is kicked in anger. Managers can go into the first game of the season knowing that they have a settled squad, that none of their rivals can sway the heads of their top talents, and that they can focus solely on the football and not on spending money in the transfer format. It sounds like a great proposition.
But whilst plenty of bosses appear to be chomping at the bit to end the window earlier, they should be careful in how they vote. Of course, managers in English football are perfectly entitled to, and seemingly capable of changing their own summer transfer window early should they want to. But as things stand, no other European leagues are showing signs of following suit. And unless the rest of Europe buys into these changes, Premier League managers leave themselves very vulnerable indeed.
The changes would mean that the English summer transfer window would next year end as much as three weeks earlier than the rest of the European leagues. And although during those three weeks managers would not have to worry about their domestic counterparts courting their players, other teams across the continent would still be within their right to make bids for the Premier League’s finest. Only this time, if a club did lose a player, they’d be unable to bring in a replacement until January.
It seems to me that these proposed measures just don’t solve the problem. If Jürgen Klopp wants to stop his star player from deciding that he wants to leave the club right as the season is starting, then he either needs to get the whole of Europe onside with the Premier League’s proposal, or vote against these changes. Because the changes would not have protected him from the current predicament he finds himself in, only exacerbate it.
And let’s not forget, Premier League clubs are notorious for making good use of this period in between kick-off and deadline day in the past. Tottenham stand out as a good example of a club who have done some great business in the latter stages of past windows. Liverpool themselves are still hopeful of completing a deal for Southampton’s Virgil van Dijk before the end of the transfer period. So, whilst Klopp bemoans Barcelona’s late approach for his star Coutinho, one suspects he’s most likely hating the player, rather than hating the game.
Authored by James Foggin