Feature Photo: Action Images via Reuters
As the English leagues kick-off ahead of those in continental Europe, and with football fans only beginning to readjust to discussions involving Italian calcio given the Azzurri’s summer hiatus, we asked our only present non-Azzurro staffer Carlos Molano to get in touch with a football-mad friend from across the Channel.
Andreas Duhn brings a different football perspective; a love for the game that has taken him to more than 100 stadiums worldwide, but very much born in – and influenced by – following his beloved home city club in the lower tiers of the English game. Here he gives us his appraisal of the English summer transfer window:
I admit it. I am a transfer deadline day aficionado and I love a good story. And it is one of the peculiarities of modern football spectatorship that one can derive as much, if not more satisfaction, in watching commentators speculate upon the potential incomings and outgoings involving a favorite team – or any team for that matter – than in watching their matches.
While players and their representatives negotiate with their suitors, while medicals are undergone and paperwork completed, we watch on as these otherwise mundane events are given life in real-time and reported upon with all the fanfare of a cure for a deadly disease. And not a blade of grass in sight.
Some narratives have been committed to deadline day folklore. Enthusiasts in England will recall an agitated Peter Odemwingie hanging around in the car park outside Loftus Road, home of Queens Park Rangers, as he made desperate attempts to force his own eleventh hour transfer from West Bromwich Albion in 2013. Those with longer memories will remember, five years previous, the “will he, won’t he?” drama Benjani brought about as he slipped into a deep sleep in the departure lounge of Southampton airport – almost scuppering his own payday by missing his flight north to sign for Manchester City.
This summer’s window didn’t disappoint either. And it just so happens that the most captivating domestic transfer story of the day involved a player I have enjoyed watching develop at my hometown club; highly rated young full back Joe Bryan of Bristol City.
To the story.
On a sunbaked Wednesday evening as most Brits were tucking in to their 50th barbecue of the long hot summer, somewhere on the M40, one of the UK’s busiest motorways, sweat drips down the brow of erstwhile Manchester United defender Steve Bruce. Bruce, a seasoned manager and current boss at Championship club Aston Villa, is behind the wheel and hurtling along giving literal chase to what should be his third and final permanent signing of the window.
Further down the same stretch of road, glancing periodically into his rear-view mirror is Bryan, who just a television commercial break or two earlier in the afternoon, was with Bruce at the Belfry Hotel and Golf Resort, Aston Villa’s de facto transfer center, finalizing the finer detail of a move to the Midlands. Bryan has since learnt of a late bid from Premier League newcomers Fulham that has been accepted by Bristol City and his priorities have changed. A hitherto unplanned trip to West London might yet be in his career interests if a deal can be achieved in time.
In a sign of how quickly things can move when two parties are working to a common deadline, Bryan completes his journey to his nation’s capital unhindered, promptly signs a four-year contract and just three days later claims a starting place in Fulham’s 0-2 opening day defeat by Crystal Palace, realizing a childhood dream to play in the English top division. He leaves with the blessing of fans at Bristol City; his goals against detested local foes Bristol Rovers and in a historic Carabao Cup quarter final victory versus Manchester United at Ashton Gate will live long in the memory. And I’d wager that we’ll see him pull on the shirt of the Three Lions before long.
Bruce meanwhile has given up the ghost and turns around after a bland cup of coffee at Beaconsfield motorway service station, cursing his luck on his way home and ruing his narrow Championship play-off final defeat at Wembley in May – inflicted by Fulham no less.
Whether these events are wholly fictitious, or only in part, one cannot know for sure – Bruce does have some form when it comes to impromptu motor vehicle pursuits though – ask Ross McCormack, the Aston Villa striker, who in January 2017 found him parked at the gates to his home after one too many training session no-shows. Played out on social media the Bruce-Bryan saga resembled football’s answer to the OJ Simpson car chase – reimagined for the present day.
One thing that is undeniable is that this little tale represents just one of 62 deadline day transfers involving English league clubs. In total Premier League clubs spent almost 1.4 billion euros in the window. The question that has been asked is, why were they in such a hurry?
The rush would have been rendered unnecessary, or at least premature, had the Premier League, or to be precise 14 of its member clubs, not voted to bring forward the transfer deadline for permanent signings to August 9th, a full three weeks before the leagues in Spain, Germany and France. The remaining 72 EFL clubs that make up England’s professional League structure followed suit by mirroring their decision.
At first reckoning the idea of bringing forward the deadline to before the start of the Premier League season appeared a shrewd one, so as to prevent a repeat of the problems of recent windows. In January of this year then-Chelsea coach Antonio Conte cursed the disruption caused to his players’ preparation when the deadline coincided with their fixture versus AFC Bournemouth at Stamford Bridge – which they went on to lose 0-3 – on a night when no fewer than six other Premier League matches also took place. Furthermore in August 2017, Alexis Sanchez, Virgil van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho were among those at competing clubs who missed the start of the campaign due to conjecture with regards to their futures.
At second glance however the decision does not look so clever. The ruling only affects clubs’ incoming business, leaving rivals abroad free to prey upon transfer targets in England until the month is out. Hardly a way to put a stop to unsettling transfer speculation. And, in their haste to get deals done, they have been met by what look like inflated fees when buying from Europe’s other top leagues. Those 1.4 billion might not appear quite so well spent in September.
Given my love of transfer window deadline days perhaps I should be grateful that I have two to enjoy in a short period of time. Twice the fun. I cannot help thinking though that the English Premier League, in making a unilateral and poorly thought-through decision affecting their ability to trade reciprocally with their European counterparts, have committed an unnecessary act of self harm.