Commentary

Euro leagues ponder impact of EPL decision on shortened transfer window

Fifteen months after Britons voted to leave the European Union, the Continent’s top soccer leagues are mulling the effects of an English vote in a matter of international commerce.

At issue is an earlier shutting of transfer windows, as was approved by the 20 Premier League clubs in a vote conducted Thursday. Needing a two-thirds majority to pass, a proposal to move up the transfer deadline from the traditional date of Aug. 31 to the Thursday before the start of the regular season squeaked through by a vote of 14-5, with one abstention.

Among the clubs voting against the proposal were Manchester United and Manchester City. The other big clubs – Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham – voted in favor.

“Even in the games, you sit there before the games and even in players' minds they have no clarity,” said Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger prior to the announcement. “Are they in? Are they out? Are they half in? Are they half out? Are they tapped up in the afternoon of the game by people who want to get them out? It's not the way to work and it's uncomfortable.

“Every single manager in the league would agree that it's time to kick that out before the season starts.”

Well, not every club in the league voted that way but the proposal did pass, by the narrowest possible margin, and will be implemented for the 2018-19 season. English teams would still be able to sell players to other leagues with later deadlines but would not be able to bring in players under contract. The countdown to the domestic deadline will likely be as crazy and chaotic as current practice, but at least moves will be done and dusted before the official matches begin.

Managers have complained that the roiling market that comes to a boil just when teams are starting to find their feet after playing a few competitive matches is far too disruptive, especially when interdependent deals entangle several players and multiple clubs. The current deadline also runs smack up against the FIFA international dates as teams finalize preparations for crucial matches such as World Cup and European Championship qualifiers.

Now comes the reaction from Europe’s other top leagues, which normally start later than the Premier League and could follow the same procedure of closing their windows a day or two prior. This staggering of transfer window closings already exists to a limited extent in Europe -- the Turkish league closed Sept. 8 and Portuguese clubs can transfer players until Sept. 22 -- and among proponents of the concept are UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin and Borussia Dortmund managing director Hans-Joachim Watzke.

A spokesman for the Deutsche Fussball Liga (DFL) told Deutsche Welle on Thursday, “The theme of the transfer window -- regardless of the decision of the Premier League -- was on the agenda of today's general meeting of sports representatives of the Bundesliga and the second Bundesliga at the DFL, and it became clear that there is no definitive opinion among the clubs.”

However, officials of at least several clubs have come out in favor of a deadline that precedes the start of the season rather than disrupts the first few weeks of it.

“I believe the decision is right,” said Schalke's Peter Peters. “But we would have to find a uniform regulation for all major leagues in Europe.” Borussia Monechengladbach director of sport Max Eberl said, “The current regulations aren't just a distortion of the competition but also cheat the fan who buys the shirt of a player who might play for another club by the end of August.”

As always, the biggest clubs in each league will dictate the course of action yet there may already be a consensus in Serie A.

Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta says the 20 clubs are set to close the transfer window as early as July 31, which precedes the start of league play by several weeks. “The transfer window is exhausting,” he said recently. “It's become a circus.”

Moving up the dates wouldn’t stop the circus from pitching its tents and sending forth the clowns, but would certainly clear out the fairgrounds before the real show begins.
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