Matt Holland: Why does the game need transfers to be exciting?

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The Independent Football

Get your money out for the new-year sales and see what bargains you can pick up. Clothes, TV sets and football players, except I think trade will be a lot brisker on the high street than in the club boardroom. This is the first season of the transfer window, which incidentally is a good idea, but also the first year in some time when the game of football is poor.

Get your money out for the new-year sales and see what bargains you can pick up. Clothes, TV sets and football players, except I think trade will be a lot brisker on the high street than in the club boardroom. This is the first season of the transfer window, which incidentally is a good idea, but also the first year in some time when the game of football is poor.

So who is going to spend money on players when the banks are less likely to allow debt to grow, wealthy benefactors or sugar daddies are suffering themselves as their own fortunes shrink in line with stock market falls, and players are still on juicy contracts signed during the boom times – contracts that are inviolate, so if a club go down, the players are the first to get paid? The answer, I fear, is nobody.

If one club managed to sell a couple of players and decided to use the proceeds on others rather than reducing debt, then maybe a merry-go-round process could start. However, all it needs is one club to hang on to the money and please their bank manager and the merry-go-round would stop.

A grim picture, admittedly, but why does the game need a lot of transfers to be exciting? Now we have a period when managers are being tested on their coaching talent and not their wheeler-dealer skills. Players are having to accept more discipline because the recent tactics of causing unrest in pursuit of a big-money move are more likely to see them in the reserves than Real Madrid, and agents are struggling to manoeuvre and manipulate players and clubs for their own, often excessively greedy, profit.

In the long term, all these developments would dramatically improve the game, but it is a bit like "cold turkey" withdrawal at the moment. The Premier League is interesting because the big clubs can afford to buy. Manchester United must be looking at another striker and Arsenal another goalkeeper, but they are shopping globally.

Which club from 10th place downwards will spend a few million now when they could be relegated in four months' time? Lest we forget, relegation is close to administration.

So what we have is a chasm forming where a gap once existed. The rich get better and almost certainly richer while the rest, quite simply, don't. The number of English clubs that will make the Champions' League in the next six years is probably five, and that I consider a maximum. That will make those clubs even richer, more attractive to the best players and therefore perpetuate the divide.

Name the clubs. Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, who are the bankers, and then there is a second tier of Newcastle and Chelsea. I would include Leeds United in the long run, but they need to compete against the opposition rather than fight each other.

That is all the probables and possibles, so maybe in time it will be six clubs. Also there will be one club that no one has considered, and that, for me, would be Everton. David Moyes has proved in five months that he is an exceptional talent by taking the same core of players who have been at Everton in recent seasons and pushing them towards the top of the table.

The fight against relegation continues, according to the man himself and his squad, but the reality is that they are developing into a very hard side to beat who rely on hard work, organisation and excellent team spirit.

Maybe the next breed of big-money men in the game will be the best managers. And while Everton rise, their arch rivals Liverpool fall. The past month has been horrendous for them, and if they lose today at Arsenal I think they will have to forget winning the Premiership.

The talk is of a crisis of confidence, which seems to be a favourite excuse when a club are struggling. The truth is probably that they simply have not played very well.

No side have a divine right to win, as Manchester United have discovered rather more frequently than usual this season, and Liverpool's performances have not warranted victories. Maybe they know that, and the frustration of working so hard for so little reward is beginning to bubble over. At least that would explain Steven Gerrard's two-footed lunge at Everton's Gary Naysmith.

At least Ipswich are looking more like contenders to rejoin Liverpool. A draw against Portsmouth followed by wins at Leicester and at home to Walsall yesterday have put us near enough the play-off zone to suggest this season may not be a write-off, and with me playing at centre-half as well. Injuries dictated the switch – I do prefer midfield, but the team come first.

Finally, my predictions for the new year are a fantastic battle between Arsenal and Manchester United for the title, a high-octane poker match via the media between Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, and loan deals rather than straight purchases to dominate the transfer window.

The Ipswich captain was talking to Iain Fletcher

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