Adam Pearson has seen more transfer windows than he cares to remember. For over six years he arranged and delivered the concerted investment which carried Hull City up the Football League’s ladder.
His old club made headlines this week with a £3.5million deal for midfielder David Meyler and winger Robbie Brady, countering the prevailing view that January is a hopeless time to do business. Pearson does not believe that the winter window is designed to frustrate; he merely concedes that January signings tend to cost more.
Across the game, opinion varies on FIFA’s system of transfer windows but some clubs and many coaches see the concept as flawed. Neil Warnock, the Leeds United manager, called it a “nightmare” on Thursday as he reflected on a period in which trade at Elland Road had been slow.
Permanent deals with Michael Tonge and Ryan Hall were taken as read, signings which Warnock saw no need to worry about.
United’s new owners, GFH Capital, were wary of promising too much when they bought the club from Ken Bates shortly before Christmas.
Asked about January, new Leeds director Salem Patel said: “As you all know, it’s not a great time to do business.”
Warnock found as much when eight phone calls to different managers established that players who he thought were available would in fact be retained by their existing employers, and frustrated by those knockbacks, he and chief executive Shaun Harvey met yesterday to review their plan of attack.
A breakthrough came with the arrival of England Under-21 international Ross Barkley on a month’s loan from Everton.
Pearson, a former commercial director at Elland Road, fell short of describing January aNots a straightforward market but his experience of it during his time as chairman of Hull was not unduly negative.
“It’s not a bad time to do business,” he said. “In fact, it’s an ideal time to top up on what you’ve already got and make sure you’re in good shape for the rest of the season.
“If you’re prepared to pay the money then players are available. That was my experience. I think it’s fair to say that you need to be willing to pay a bit more than you might do in the summer and that’s the one complication of January but deals are there to be done.
“In many ways the sort of month you have in January depends on what you did the previous summer.
“If you’ve got the structure of a strong squad and you go into the January window needing tweaks here and there, it serves its purpose. If you need big changes then I accept that you’ll be up against it in the space of a month but the window can be used to good effect. And it’s part and parcel of the game now.”
Leeds have concluded four deals since the January window opened, signing former loanees Hall and Tonge on a permanent basis, recruiting a talented prospect in Barkley and extending Alan Tate’s loan from Swansea City until the last weekend of January. Tate and United will reassess his situation then with a view to keeping him at Elland Road for the rest of the season.
But Warnock has been open in admitting that the decisive transfers this month would be those which bring entirely new players to Leeds, and he was frustrated to find himself chasing false leads during the early stages of the window.
The 63-year-old said: “Agents are saying ‘he’s available, he’ll cost you this’ yet when I go and speak to the managers, none of them are available – seven or eight players on my list and not one of them’s available. The clubs won’t let any of them go.
“I don’t agree with the transfer window and I don’t understand it, not when you can loan players in the Championship and not when you’ve got that European law about freedom of movement. But it’s there, it’s the rules and you have to adhere to it.”
Warnock has already endured one difficult window at Leeds, fighting a lack of funds throughout the summer, but the club travelled to Barnsley today with two points separating them from a play-off position.
Having feared at one stage that United would need January to fend off the threat of relegation, it is now their best means of finishing the season convincingly.
Pearson, who currently runs Hull FC rugby league club, said: “They’ve got a very good manager at Leeds and someone who usually gets the best out of what he’s got.
“They’re not in a bad position but a lot will depend on how much backing he gets and how much money the club put into the squad. Looking in from the outside, most people would agree that they need strengthening and it’s not clear how much he (Warnock) will be able to do.
“At the moment there’s such a good opportunity for a lot of clubs in the Championship. I don’t know if it’s coincidence or if there’s a specific reason behind it – damaged confidence after relegation maybe – but for the past few years we’ve seen very little from the teams coming down from the Premier League. West Ham went up last season but a lot of the other sides have drifted. It’s happening again with Blackburn, Bolton and Wolves.
“They’ve got the advantage of parachute payments and pretty impressive squads but it hasn’t made a difference to them. That leaves the division wide open.
“If you’re competitive and strong enough like Cardiff City seem to be, then you’ve as good a chance of coming through the pack as anyone. Hull have spent another load of money and they’ve got a great chance.”
Pearson recently launched a new business in Yorkshire, founding Pro Sports Recruitment (PSR) which specialises in recruiting staff for professional sports clubs.
The 48-year-old said the firm would “provide the right people for positions from top to bottom, from administrative staff right up to chairmen and chief executives”, and at least one of Yorkshire’s football clubs will be looking for a new chairman before the year is out.
One of the terms of GFH Capital’s recent takeover was that Bates would relinquish his seat on the board at Elland Road at the end of this season, allowing for the appointment of a new chairman. Bates’ reign at United will have spanned more than eight years by the time he makes way and, if existing plans are followed, takes up the role of honorary president.
Pearson said: “Pro Sports Recruitment is basically a one-stop shop for finding the staff that clubs need.
“Our databases will help them recruit the right people for the job and we’ll do it in the discreet manner that clubs are used to.”