Is the Premier League transfer deadline just a different can of worms?
Вackground photo: Bалерий Дед, CC BY 3.0
Last year, the Premier League imposed a ‘voluntary’ transfer deadline on its clubs that falls several weeks before the official UEFA date. The deadline is only voluntary in the sense of the league as a whole. Individual clubs cannot opt out of the arrangement at their pleasure. For the second year running, various technical directors, managers and club chairmen are finding that a difficult pill to swallow.
The deadline’s stated objective is to protect squad integrity during the season’s opening weeks. As written, the arrangement does no such thing. In fact, it opens the possibility for greater harm.
Clubs cannot sign players after the 8 August deadline. They can sell them, however. Manchester United has two superstars rumoured to be seeking a move. Juventus and Real Madrid are testing United’s resolve regarding Paul Pogba. Inter pursues Romelu Lukaku. Losing either star on 9 August or later without the ability to sign a replacement significantly diminishes Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad.
Meanwhile, the Red Devils are finding it difficult to pry England centre-half, Harry Maguire away from Leicester City. The Foxes hierarchy claim they are prepared to move the player but only at their price.
In essence, Leicester are using the deadline to artificially inflate his value. It’s a savvy ploy to either keep the player in blue or maximise their profit. There is nothing improper in either. The question is what happens if a foreign club comes in with an astounding offer for Maguire after the deadline?
Say Gerard Pique suffers a season-ending injury on Matchday One. Do the Foxes turn down a £90-100 million offer from Barcelona? What if Barca is truly desperate and comes back with a bid in the £110-125 million range? Leicester can’t replace Maguire with an emergency signing but may never receive such an offer again. If they feel they can stay up without their best defender, do they write off the season?
That specific scenario faces long odds but other clubs may receive lucrative offers for key players between the Premier League and UEFA deadlines. You know Mike Ashley is more concerned about turning a profit on a player like Miguel Almiron than he is with Newcastle’s competitiveness. What if a Chinese Super League side approaches Watford about Gerard Deulofeu, Everton for Andre Gomes or Bournemouth for Ryan Fraser?
For the most part, you would expect cooler heads to prevail and anything but the most ridiculous offer to be refused. If foreign clubs lodge enough bids, though, executives at Premier League sides may start to regret lost opportunities.
In addition, European clubs will adopt Leicester’s ploy with the opposite effect in mind. If they can exert enough pressure as the deadline nears, Inter may hope United becomes so desperate to unload Lukaku that they accept a cut-rate price at the midnight hour rather than have his weekly wages sitting on the bench taking up a place an academy player like Mason Greenwood or Tahith Chong could occupy.
It should be remembered that Premier League chairmen voted to place a moratorium on signings only. They retained the option to sell. As such, they didn’t eliminate the pressure to do business that previously existed. Rather, they allowed it to be exerted in a different fashion. In truth, the ‘voluntary’ deadline was a two-fold effort to discourage themselves from making bad deals and to drive up the price on top players by creating an urgency that previously didn't exist before a season began.
Sooner or later, the new threshold will be crossed. When interested parties finally sweeten the pot sufficiently, certain Premier League owners won’t hesitate to risk their short-term competitive lives to make a few million quid. If clubs truly wished to preserve competitive integrity in the season’s early days, they would have closed the window entirely.