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Football’s transfer windows are a bore

- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 1, 2010

PARIS (AP) - Rejoice, European football's summer transfer window has closed. What a relief.

Until someone invents a better system or wins a major legal challenge against the current one, both of which may never happen, the ugly process of football clubs trading players like cattle during a few designated months each year is here to stay.

Which doesn't mean that we have to like it. Transfer windows are a bore, among the most repellent aspects of the football industry. Here are a few reasons why:

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THE MONEY: With the exception of Manchester City, where financial logic seems to have taken a lemming-like leap out of the window, the era when European clubs were prepared to break the bank for players and splurge beyond all rhyme and reason seems to have been tamed or, at least, is on temporary hold until European economies pick up again.

European football governing body UEFA likes to think that its campaign to curb silly spending is forcing clubs to be more reasonable. Maybe. UEFA certainly showed mettle in excluding Mallorca from the Europa League because of the Spanish club's financial woes, which included reported debts $79 million. But UEFA has not been as tough with other far more famous clubs with far larger debts like Barcelona or Manchester United.

Although spending by European clubs is generally down, indecently large amounts of money are still changing hands for players. That clubs should be compensated for players they found, trained and nurtured is undoubtedly reasonable and an important source of revenue for some of them. But that top footballers carry such outsized price tags is absurd. The estimated $538 million that Premier League clubs spent this summer surely would have done more good had it gone on training young players, better facilities or lowering ticket prices.

"It's a rat-race with no winners," says Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of the players' union FIFPro. "It is a ridiculous thing but we have to live with it."

How sad is that?

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THE TIMING: It is irritating and untidy that the transfer window remains open even after competition in leagues around Europe has resumed. French clubs, for instance, were already four games into their season when this transfer period closed on Tuesday. That overlap between the business of football and action on the pitch is unsettling. It distracts from the sport and leads to situations like that of Jose Manual Jurado. On Monday night, the 24-year-old midfielder scored the first goal in Atletico Madrid's 4-0 defeat of Sporting Gijon in the Spanish league. The next day, he moved to Schalke in the German Bundesliga.

It would be better if such transfers were concluded before European seasons resume. That would ensure that the focus stays on football when competitions start and not on the silly sagas about which players might be leaving for a fat check.

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SILLY SAGAS: Rule No.1 of the transfer window: Believe little or nothing of what you read in the newspapers. Buy two different papers and you get two different versions of which player might be moving to which club, why and for how much. The constant speculation keeps journalists in business but is an almighty bore.

You can't trust players or managers, either. After moving, players will trumpet how happy they are at their new club and claim to be fulfilling a long-held dream, when really they just came for the money. And managers will complain about other clubs trying to poach their players even as they do the same thing.

Players moan that their managers won't let them move. Managers moan that players who want to move are acting sulkily because they can't get their way. None of this makes football look good.

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THE VERDICT: Transfer windows are a necessary evil. Clubs need to recruit players to replace those others who retire, move elsewhere or simply aren't up to scratch. And it does make sense that the trading of players is limited to certain periods of the year, so that clubs can build stable teams and compete without having to worry whether a player will quit midseason.

Even so, that doesn't mean that we have to like it.

Now, back to the football.

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John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org

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