As the old proverb goes, there is always the emergency loan market. There is always another way.
Leeds United have muttered those words many times in the past – their mitigation for underwhelming recruitment – but not for much longer.
The Football League window which opens next week will be the last of its kind and the end of an era. FIFA has been trying for years to kill a loophole which circumvents transfer restrictions and as of next season the emergency market will close. FIFA gave in to lobbying this time last year and delayed the cull by 12 months but the governing body is tired of the argument that Football League clubs need special concessions.
The impact will be immediate and potentially severe, which explains why the Football League has fought so hard to protect its window. Clubs will either carry larger squads and higher wage bills or exist with a dearth of players. Neither choice is very appealing.
Mark Palios, the Tranmere Rovers owner, warned that among other things the demise of the emergency window would restrict the development of leading English youngsters on the books of Premier League sides. In reality, the Football League is more concerned about offering a cheap, affordable safety net. Palios admitted that the window helped “rectify certain problems.”
In plain English, it helps clubs with limited budgets or clubs constrained by a lack of players.
The irony for Leeds, given the way they allowed the January deadline to pass quietly, is that under the management of Massimo Cellino they have used the emergency market as little as possible. More than 350 players were signed on short-term loans during the 2014-15 season but Leeds were one of just two clubs who did not take any. Reading were the other.
In United’s case it came down to Cellino’s attitude and his opinion that temporary transfers – deals which run out quickly and provide no option for permanent agreements – were and are a waste of time.
Inadvertently, he laid the ground for the death of the emergency loan window by dragging Leeds out of a well-established habit.
With Cellino as owner, Leeds have signed two players on an emergency basis, a misnomer if ever there was one. Given that Will Buckley made one start, Liam Bridcutt is the only loanee who the club have used to any great effect. Prior to him the timeline goes back to Connor Wickham and Jack Butland in 2014; transfers made before Cellino took the keys to Elland Road.
“You’re paying to train another club’s player,” Cellino would say, a debatable argument which Bridcutt has debunked, not that it really matters any more. The emergency loan window he called “a waste of time.” Yet Leeds might find themselves turning to it after a January window which addressed too few of the weaknesses in their squad.
A proper understanding of the past four weeks and United’s work in that period depends on an understanding of Cellino’s mindset. It could be that Leeds are unlucky; intent on signing specific players but unable to push those transfers over the line. Or it could be that the low-key closure of the window indicated a reluctance on Cellino’s part to put more money up.
Leeds had an income last month, the fee from Sam Byram’s sale which more than covered the cost of signing Toumani Diagouraga. Cellino has not spoken freely about transfers but he did say last week, while talking about United’s forthcoming accounts, that the club were “spending too much”; that they were “over the budget for this season.”
It is right to say that this season is almost out of breath, save only for the FA Cup, but January displayed a lack of foresight on the club’s part; a lack of conviction to regroup the squad for the summer and beyond. Leeds had no motivation for throwing money at a faltering campaign but to think that the January window could only impact on this season would be incredibly naive.
Leeds needed a new striker. That went without saying. They needed one even before Mirco Antenucci began asking to leave. They have issues in the centre of defence which will not solve themselves and are asking too much of Charlie Taylor as the sole left-back in their camp. Granted, they can start looking for players again next week. They can do with Kyle Lafferty on a 93-day loan what they failed to do in January. But that is not really the point. And in light of what FIFA plans to do with the Football League’s emergency window, it would look like bad practice.