One way or another there’s always going to be a transfer deadline. There’s no getting away from the scenario I experienced when I left Nottingham Forest and signed for Southampton in 2003.
That deal went through on the last day of the January window and it was a proper on-off, last-few-seconds-before-11pm signing. I had to meet my agent close to London on the way down to the south coast and for some reason, late at night, the M25 was rammed with traffic. It gave me that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and that voice in my head saying: “You’re not going to get there.” You picture yourself on Sky Sports News, sprinting for the medical room as the clock counts down.
I did get there, of course, and the rest is history but if all this talk about changing the timing of the summer transfer window is serious, there’s no point in pretending that it’ll make things calmer or less ludicrous. You’re really just rearranging the timeframe for everyone to panic. And as for controlling expenditure, you can forget that. Neymar’s move to PSG means the subject of who’s worth what is now irrelevant. I was no Neymar but I dread to think what clubs might have been willing to pay for me these days.
All that said, I do think it would be a sensible idea to move the deadline to a date before the start of each season. It strikes me as slightly odd that the deadline was set at the end of August from the very beginning. It surely makes as much sense to have your squad finalised at the start of August as it does on September 1. Done in the right way, an earlier deadline takes out some of the uncertainty about who or what might derail everything.
Needless to say, any change is entirely dependent on the rest of Europe, or the rest of the world, coming into line. If you look at the way clubs recruit now and the countries they recruit from, it’s completely pointless shutting the window in England on August 1 but creating a loophole where players can still leave this country and move to the continent until a later European cut-off arrives.
What you’ll get is Liverpool, for example, losing Philippe Coutinho late on and winding up with £100m-odd in the bank but no means of spending it. Okay, you can save the money for January but January is a notoriously difficult month for buying players and as a rule, the biggest clubs don’t bother if they can help it. If you think this is only a problem for the Premier League, consider how much Leeds have looked to Europe this summer and how much Huddersfield Town did last season. The days of English clubs trading exclusively with each other have long gone and they won’t be coming back.
In any structure, you’ll still have a food chain. Watford sign Andre Gray, Burnley use that cash to buy Chris Wood and Leeds United are left chasing strikers at the very end of the window. Then Leeds make the signings they need and someone else finds themselves with a hole in their squad.
I said last week that I wanted Wood to stay at Leeds and I stand by that. He’s a big player to lose and a big player to replace. I’ve heard criticism of him for taking a move to Burnley and I understand the complaints. Supporters have an emotional attachment to clubs, the feeling that their club is better than any other, and I don’t believe in telling them that the grass is greener elsewhere.
But Wood has done what I did when I went to Southampton. He’s gone to a higher league and he’s earning more money. I can honestly say that I didn’t force my way out of Forest – I respected the club massively and owed them a lot – and right up until the last minute, I wasn’t even sure if they would sell me. In the end the money got to a level where the decision was made and I left. Fair enough, I was happy to join Southampton but it was ultimately Forest’s decision to sell me.
I signed too late to play for Southampton against Manchester United the following day but I stood in the tunnel before the game and that’s when the enormity of the move hit me. You feel like you’ve joined the big time because the Premier League is made to feel like the big time. Like it or not, it’s the focal point and it’s where every player wants to be.
What Leeds and Wood can probably both agree on is that it would have been better if this move had been done earlier in the summer. Leeds get more time to use the cash and Wood gets the chance to bed in with a new club before the competitive football starts.
There are ideal worlds but professional football isn’t one of them and much as I think moving the window is a decent idea, you’re never going to stop the chaos. It’s part of the psyche, it’s part of life and sometimes I think we’d all be bored without it.