A Little Rant About Player Movement.
I've spent a lot of time during my life watching baseball. It isn't common, but its not rare either, for a player to turn up to a match and find he's been transferred to the opposite club before they start. The players are handsomely rewarded (too handsomely if they're Neifi Perez - I recommend reading up about the 'Neifi Effect') but they remain commodities of the clubs and the transfers between them suggest such. Three-way trades occur as a matter of routine, and the phrase 'PTBNL' (Player to be named later) is neither uncommon nor as callous as it sounds. The Cubs might acquire a pitcher from the Orioles, for example, and trade them a Catcher, two prospects, a second round draft pick, and a PTBNL.
Football, of course, is not as flexible.
It will come as no news at all to people who have looked into football's finances at all, but the biggest outlay for football clubs is on wages. It is wages that are being tackled by FFP, it is wages that cause the big problems, and it is wages that are resulting in some of the more innovative transfers, and offers of the moment. An unnamed Russian club recently offered Lionel Messi €250,000,000 to buy out his contract so he could sign for them for more astronomical wages. Messi refused, but I doubt we've seen the end of such bids; where there's offers of bottomless pits of money, it can be used as leverage by players against their clubs.
In the context of the Power of Wages, we're seeing a new transfer system emerging. I've always been cynical, I know, but any time a player's contract is announced as being renewed - particularly below the Premiership, my initial thought is 'I wonder where he's going'. By tying a player to a long contract, a club (who presumably accept that the player will move anyway) can guarantee they will recoup some money from the sale. Now we have the Bosman system, it is the only way they can.
We have come to terms, it seems, with balancing the wage bill. So often nowadays, we hear people saying 'We can't bring anyone in until somebody leaves', and most clubs are, and indeed, have to, operate at the very limit of their wage potential. Transfer fees are rarely seen in the lower leagues, except when players are being 'plucked', they are signed for free, or more and more commonly, loaned. We are now at a point where a team can be more or less constructed around loan players - when writing articles, I'm frequently surprised by how many players are at clubs on loan. I don't necessarily see this as a bad thing. In signing a player permanently, a club has to commit to paying his full wages for a length of time. Where that can be avoided, it is worth doing.
I like loaning players. It is a 'try before you buy' for footballers. As we enter the January window, I'm expecting a lot of players (particularly those who are out of contract in summer) to be loaned out/in to other clubs. Loans used to be far more rigid than they are today. When I was younger, it would be a case of one, or two, loan players (Andy Turner, Ben Thornley, Paul Williams, Tom Cowan!) in a team filling a necessary hole where someone had been sold or injured. They either lasted a month or were 'with a view to a permanent deal'. A little later on, we got 'emergency loans', initially for goalkeepers, but now for anyone.
Allow me an example of a deal that might happen in January. I am a manager of a Championship club who desperately need a right-back because our regular right-back has been sold to Bolton. Burton Albion are willing to sell me their 25-year-old right-back who I have been scouting for a couple of months, but he would cost £200,000 up front, and would want a 4-year contract worth £7,500 per week. He is out of contract in the summer but won't sign an extension with Burton. Manchester City are willing to loan me an equally able 19-year-old right-back, who is earning £15,000 a week for them, but they would cover 75% of the wages while he was with my club, so my club's outlay would be £3,750 per week. Its easy to see why you'd plump for the loan player, even if it means the Burton player goes elsewhere - there will be other, and far more right-backs available in the summer, as other contracts will expire (Bolton's original right-back, for example, may be looking for a move) and there'll be a little more in the club's coffers to cover the wages because there's been less paid out before.
The crux of this is that in the January transfer window, the players who are available on loan in January represent a relatively small pool of the total players who may be available in the summer. It is rare that players transferring in January are the best players; more that the clubs who are signing them have painted themselves into something of a corner. There is no stigma to having loan players at your club, and there's no point in signing players permanently in January if you don't 'need' to. Liverpool have needed a forward all season - in comes Daniel Sturridge. Chelsea, knowing that was going to happen, knew they would need a starting striker, in comes Demba Ba. Newcastle, in losing Ba, seem to be looking to a second-choice striker in France - Loik Remy. There the chain should end.
Behind all this is bubbling the fact that I am a Huddersfield Town fan. I want them to perform well, though times are rough at the moment (10 winless games and a 6-1 tonking at Leicester last time out). If there are arrivals at the club in January, I expect them to be on loan, or if they are signed permanently, for pretty low fees. There may have been £8,000,000 coming in from the sale of Jordan Rhodes (which is looking better and better value for Huddersfield by the day) but that would help to balance the books for a couple of years in terms of wages - there's no point in the club agreeing to pay wages at Championship level (which would have to be the case) in the long-term, when the battle is to remain in the Championship; if that battle is lost, the additional wages would cripple the club. I trust Dean Hoyle not to take that kind of gamble - thus, any incomings will be at least balanced with out-goings.
Further to this, I honestly believe we're working towards the end of the transfer fee. We are approaching a time when the only figure is 'compensation' - so young players when being signed still fetch a fee of some kind, or 'big' players who are breaking a contract are covered, too. As I say, the bottom two divisions of the Football League operate practically that way anyway already and I fully expect the January window will serve to illustrate this.