The Last Word: Window simply opens door for silly sack race

Either scrap the January sales altogether or don't allow clubs to trade managers during the season
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The Independent Football

Just before last January's transfer window opened, Steve Bruce had some strong words for the unedifying month-long spectacle that in Italy they more realistically call Mercato. "It's like buying puppies at Christmas," he said. A few weeks later, he was giving Watford a reported £5 million for Marlon King. The striker went on to make 15 appearances (seven as sub), scored one goal and is now on a season's loan at Hull City.

Perhaps it was King's doleful eyes that wooed the Wigan manager so, or maybe it was his gloriously wet nose or even his playful temperament. Whatever, it is surely fair enough now to view it as an example of panic buying. The sums certainly suggest it was. Wigan are rumoured to be ready to accept £3m for the 28-year-old, and although tossing away a repor-ted £2m is hardly, even in these times, akin to throwing Scamp off Wigan Pier, it still cannot be described as good business. Just as Bruce's shrewd analogy signified he knew it probably wouldn't be.

In the frantic search for a lifeline before the deadline, Bruce simply could not resist it – and he should not be pilloried for doing so. At the time, Wigan were near the foot of the table, the recently installed Bruce was desperate to put his own mark on the place and, to be fair, King was, and is, no dud. But would Bruce have bought the Jamaican international if the hours had not been counting down, and if the mercury on the pressure gauge had not been rising? Probably not.

But that's the transfer window for you, and that's football management for you. It is little wonder that members of the latter show so much disdainfor the former.

Ever since Fifa bowed to the wishes of a few well-meaning, know-nothing European commissioners in 2002 and implemented their summer and winter "windows", the dissension has been growing. It is almost always heard from managers, which is no real surprise considering that (a) they are about the only employees at football clubs who regu-larly go on the record to the press now-adays; and that (b) they moan about most of the things to do with their job. How-ever, with the transfer window, there are a few blatantly obvious reasons for their ire.

The first is that ithas made their job security that much rockier. Before 2002, the chairman of a team not playing well in say, October, would initially be minded to go to the chequebook for a new player before going to the axe for his manager's neck. Now that this isn't an option, there is only one option. And where a team have been hit by an injury to an influential player,or encountered some other unforeseen circumstances, it all seems that bit more unjust to the poor dolt clutching the P45 in one hand and a press pass to the Sky gantry for West Brom-Middlesbrough in the other.

Of course, there is a solution to what could be regarded as a gross anomaly, one that is given an annual airing before being swept back under the Zurich Axminster. If Premiership clubs cannot buy or sell players during the season other than in January, then why shouldn't they be so curtailed in appointing or sacking managers? After all, wasn't the transfer window brought in originally to ensure a greater sense of stability during the season?

No doubt chairmen, chief executives, or whoever it is who abuses their power at clubs nowadays, would claim that a club can bench a player but cannot bench the manager, and there is quite possibly something in that. But assistants could be promoted, continuity preserved and whatever reputation the game has left might, just might, be spared.

Or of course they could simply scrap the new system and go back to the old way of doing business, a way favoured by seemingly everybody in the pyramid except those at the very top. The free market does not seem to be working in any other facet of the financial world but it could just do so in football. For instance, certain Football League clubs will soon have a more pressing need for readies than ever before, and a wait until the summer to cash in on a player could well be the breaker. Meanwhile, as squads are inevitably reduced, the clubs not forced to pare back the wage bill will enjoy a more obvious advantage than they would anyway.

As Steve Coppell, the Reading manager, put it on Thursday, the supposed benefits of the transfer window have long since been forgotten. "I cannot see the logic in it," he said. "It brings on a fire-sale mentality, causes unrest via the media and means clubs buy too many players."

So what were the concerns of Mario Monti, the EU's competition commissioner, whose threats to outlaw transfer fees altogether forced Fifa into their ill-advised overhaul? Commissioner Monti contended that the old system broke EU rules on fair competition and free movement of workers. Fast-forward to the end of the decade and we have a transfer system which does anything but make it a "fair competition", and allows the free movement of workers twice a year.

As restraints on trade goes, it is as far removed from the EU's philosophy as it is possible to get, an opinion echoed in Gary Megson's rant on the FA's website. "I can think of no other business in Europe where these time restrictions apply," said Bolton's manager. "If you are running a haulage firm and you need a new lorry in September, nobodyturns around and says, 'You can't have one until January'. It means you can't compete. It is ludicrous."

As the EU's motto might put it: "United in diversity (but most of the other teams in adversity)."