The Peter Corrigan Column: Stellar signing that smacks of forward panicking

The pre-deadline stampede was worryingly desperate and can't be good for the game's stability
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Without doubt the fearful nature that football has acquired during this time causes a lot of panic buying, but I believe we have had our first major instance of panic signing in Michael Owen's unexpected union with Newcastle United.

By no means am I suggesting that from the moment Owen's signature scribbled its way on to a Newcastle contract last week he became anything other than a devoted servant of that club and utterly committed to helping them out of their exasperating times. But there would have come a time in the bewildering negotiations involved in him leaving Real Madrid when Owen clutched at Newcastle like a drowning man would a straw. A golden straw, maybe, but for some reason the only one in reach.

There have been stories that the contract is riddled with escape tunnels through which Owen can eventually wriggle to surroundings he might find more amenable, but it should be binding enough for both parties to get plenty out of each other; and both the player and the welcoming Geordie fans deserve no less.

None of this is meant as an offence to Newcastle United. Not the most attractive or popular of administrations, their audacious if overpriced bid to sign Owen and the way they hurled everything into his capture was impressive. Owen is just one of five expensive players they have acquired, and if fears that the club are manoeuvring their way into a Leeds collapse situation have any substance, they still think the risk is worthwhile. I believe the expression is shit or bust.

For a multi-billion-pound business, top- flight football presents a disturbed picture at the best of times, but last week's pre-deadline stampede was worryingly desperate and can't be good for the game's stability. Ironically, Chelsea took no part in the rush. They had spent their £56 million early and are already guaranteed to win the fidgeting bench award; although, thanks to a late rush, Tottenham may run them close.

Chelsea's strength is they don't have to haggle. Those that do tend to use the deadline to play cute and practise brinksmanship and many, Liverpool and Everton included, were left facing empty chairs when the music stopped.

It is time to pose a serious question about these transfer windows. Are they fulfilling their purpose, whatever that was? It causes massive financial problems for the Football League clubs and, as we've seen, scatters chaos around the place when the season is already four games old. Almost as many deals fell through as were successful, leaving players, management and fans unsettled. And those who weren't buying or selling were chucking players out on loan to lighten their wage bills.

The market is never going to be less than volatile, but it used to be far better ordered and subject to much less panic. Close the windows and open it all up again.

The malice of absence

If Damien Martyn hadn't made such a daft call for a single and Australia's captain, Ricky Ponting, hadn't been run out by a dead-eye throw from Gary Pratt as a result, we would never have had all this kerfuffle about substitutes.

The subject might have continued to simmer just below the surface, and that's where it deserves to be. But now that Ponting's outburst has developed into a distracting talking point almost as big as the series itself we're stuck with it as an issue. And to many of us who were unaware that liberties could be taken with the substitutes rule, it seems that Ponting has a point.

Not that there was any excuse for him ranting at his opponents in the manner that cost him three-quarters of his Trent Bridge match fee. It was his colleague Martyn who should have copped the curses and Ponting could have brought up the subject when he had calmed down.

Television viewers miss most of the temporary absences from the field, and commentators mention them only when it is apt, so it would have been a surprise to the majority of cricket's newly gained armchair adherents that there was such a busy stream of traffic to and from the dressing room.

As it happened, Pratt's substitution for the injured Simon Jones was perfectly legitimate, but it seems that it is not always so. Popping off to the toilet or for a spot of treatment is one thing, but going for a lie-down and a read of the Racing Post before your bowling stint is taking things a bit far.

As for the substitutes themselves, the introduction of a specialist squad of coconut-shiers to share the role is equally rich. We are told it is all part of home advantage and that the Aussies themselves have not been averse to a bit super-subbing back home.

Just as well that the ICC have begun discussions about clarifying the role of the substitutes. In cricket, as in most sports, mental and physical endurance are all part of the test, and relief from fielding stints should be only for emergencies. And when they arrive it should be down to the normal 12th man.

Gold medal for obduracy

Early reaction from the Scottish FA to a directive from the Fifa president, Sepp Blatter, that a Great Britain team will compete in the 2012 Olympic Games suggests that Scots would play in that team only over their dead bodies. As tempting as that sounds, we can but hope that the four home nations reach a sensible concord about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our best young players of the time.

Because of the obduracy of some of the administrators concerned, Scottish stubbornness leading the way, I've long abandoned banging my head against this particular brick wall.

They are terrified of risking their auto-mony, and there had been also the practical difficulty of qualifying. But London's winning of the 2012 Olympics means that a GB team would qualify automatically as host country. Blatter has confirmed in writing to each of the four associations that their participation as one team would not threaten their independence in the future. He is not bothered if the four have a play-off, with the winning country carrying the GB banner, but that would deprive the best of the rest from a chance of an Olympic medal.

It wouldn't do much for the fans either. For the supporters of all four countries to be represented in a major football championship would not only be unique but an opportunity it would be criminal to miss.

Teams competing in the Olympics are limited to players under 23 plus up to three over-age players. With home advantage we would have a strong chance of reaching the final stages. We shall have to wait to see if certain administrators remain too full of their own importance to take a wider and wiser view.

Apart from personal considerations such as status and free trips, the main reason they hold office is, presumably, to promote and develop the game among the youth of their nation.

How could they reconcile that respon-sibility with the deliberate withholding of Olympic participation from the brightest of their progeny in 2012?