The Dirty Transfer Game Doesn't End When The Season Starts

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 05: Robin van Persie of Arsenal looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Norwich City at the Emirates Stadium on May 5, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)

Once again, transfer drama is continuing well into the Premier League season and nobody's team is sorted.

Before their season-opening Charity Shield victory over Chelsea, Manchester City were the shock answer to the question: which is the only Premier League not to have bought a player in the summer transfer window? This displeased manager Roberto Mancini, who blamed the sporting director Brian Marwood, who then disencumbered Everton’s medical staff of Jack Rodwell which may have been, but more probably is not, what Mancini was after.

What Mancini is really after, it seems, is Robin van Persie. Which is also what Alex Ferguson, at noisy neighbours Manchester United, is after. But neither club has made any significant progress towards getting its man.

One of them probably will, of course, get him in the end; Arsenal have recruited, and recruited well, as if their captain is a saleable asset (he usually is, after all). But beyond the usual drag of the individual summer transfer saga – will he/won’t he, etc – lies a more complex web. And within this web being slowly preyed upon, as usual, sits the fan.

It goes like this.

Manchester City want to buy Robin van Persie from Arsenal. They know that they can do this because they will offer to double his wages. So he will move. But, because of incoming legislation meaning they can only own most and not all top players, before City can promise van Persie twice what he’d get at Arsenal, they need to shift the last Arsenal striker whose wages they doubled: Emmanuel Adebayor. And this brings in Tottenham Hotspur, who want to buy Adebayor, but can’t afford him; first they need to sell Luka Modric to Real Madrid. But Real Madrid don’t really need Modric, so they’re in no rush to buy him at Tottenham’s sky-high price – they can afford to wait until Spurs are desperate to sell. All of which means that Brian Marwood, much to Mancini’s (voluble and public) chagrin, has to wait until Real Madrid decide the price is right on Modric before he can move for van Persie.

Or something like that.

Such horse trading, obviously, is no good for managers who want to know their squad and give it time to ‘gel’ before the season starts. It is also, though, terrible for fans who have to watch a shadow team play the first two games (it’s shortened this season because the 1st of September – the first day of Closed Window Time™ – falling on a Saturday, usually it’s three) of their club’s season. Which isn’t fair, really. Last season, Arsenal bought five players between their third and fourth league fixtures: come and see our inferior product, it’ll cost you the same.

Of course there were mitigating circumstances – there are for City today, see the above – but it is nonsense that the current system doesn’t just allow this but encourages it. The above chain depends on Real Madrid who are, as mentioned, well-served to wait until desperate Tottenham have only a few days or hours left in which to shift a player who probably won’t be playing for them (out with ‘head in wrong place’-knack, most likely) anyway. The existence of Transfer Deadline Day makes such a situation inevitable (and, infinitely, repeatable).

Never mind the pesky fans, from a pragmatic and practical perspective the current system is useless. Last season Manchester City won the league on goal difference thanks to the last three minutes, but this time around they are seemingly going to compromise two whole fixtures (or 5.25% of the season – usually, it’s 7.89%) with a squad their manager believes to be insufficient to challenge*.

* Mancini, of course, is bullshitting here; he knows his squad is good. My general point, though, stands.

Probably, though, City will get away with it – Arsenal did, somehow – but only because the system screws everyone. Andre Villas-Boas said exactly this almost exactly a year ago. It was underreported and probably ended up filed under ‘Lacks Humility’, but he was right. Starting a 38-game season with most of the teams having only most of their team is annoying for the managers (and the players, and their families too, most likely), unfair on the fans and, ultimately, damaging to the integrity of the league as a whole; all games are worth the same number of points, and cost the same to attend but some, it seems (and, happily, these are the ones that we’ve been looking forward to all summer), are worth a little bit less than the others.

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