It’s Friday, its 22:59 and it’s…the end of the transfer deadline.
It has slammed shut. It has passed on. The transfer window (or should it be the loan window?) is no more, it has ceased to be. It’s expired and gone to meet its maker. It’s… well, you know the rest.
I hate it. Hate the hysteria and hype, the gossip and speculation, the flocks of so called ‘ITK’ moles on Twitter and the ridiculous levels of excitement that accompany the entirety of its last day on Sky Sports News. Beyond ridiculous. It got so bad that I was half expecting, when I popped into WH Smith for my newspaper and a cost price Terry’s Chocolate Orange, to be confronted by a rack of greetings cards featuring Jim White and the message Happy Transfer Deadline Day!
As usual, the Canaries were linked with numerous deals to bring players in to the club. So many in fact, I not only lost count towards the end of the month but I also lost interest. Here are a few of the names that were bandied around last month and in the weeks leading up to it as the fever pitch started to grow.
Cedric Bakambu, Michael Ciani, Scott Dann, Danny Guthrie, Danny Ings, Olly Mehew, Steven Taylor and Glenn Whelan.
In addition to all of that, the word was out that we were selling either (or maybe even both?) Anthony Pilkington and Nathan Redmond to Swansea whilst Snoddy was on his way to Celtic.
Let’s hope that the ground staff at Carrow Road had the 3 in 1 oil ready to give that revolving door some much needed lubrication?
As it turned out, other than Jonas Gutierrez arriving on loan, our only ‘bit of business’ was the loan arrangement agreed with Fenerbahce and Joseph Yobo that saw the former Everton and Nigerian international defender sign until the end of the season. A deal that – as is often the case – no-one predicted or saw coming until it was actually announced; initially by his parent club on their Twitter account.
For now, thankfully, the madness has ceased. That is, until 31 August when it will, no doubt, all flare up again, bigger and brighter and with, I suspect, an accompanying firework display in London and an aerial fly past by the Red Devils who, it is rumoured, are looking to bring in a signing of their own; namely one of the reportedly unsettled Blue Angels from the US Navy flight exhibition team. Talks are ongoing.
I suspect I haven’t hidden my contempt for the whole ‘transfer window’ Roadshow very well? So be it. I don’t often nail my colours to the mast and make public strong personal opinions on anything but on this occasion, I will make an exception.
First and foremost, I really don’t see how having a fixed transfer window benefits any club apart from the hideously wealthy.
The wealthy elite act like the superpowers did during the cold war. The USA and former USSR stockpiled so many nuclear weapons during that time that they both had more than enough in reserve to obliterate life on earth several times over. But that wasn’t the point. If one side had 400 H-Bombs, the other wanted 401. And so on and so forth.
It’s like Manchester City. High up in the club’s very own version of Barad-dûr, the club’s all-seeing eye caught sight of the likes of John Guidetti, Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell. Craving these shining young footballing lights, they brought all three of them to the Etihad, paying a combined transfer fee of £20million for Sinclair and Rodwell alone. Both players have, since signing for the club, made a total of just 25 league appearances between them – or around £800,000 a game.
Rodwell signed a five-year deal when he moved from Everton in August 2012, meaning he has committed himself to the club until 2017. How many first-team games will he play for them in that time? You’d like to think it would be around 200 at least.
He made 11 last year and, to date, just three this season. He stood out in a mostly disinterested Sky Blues team we met on the final day of last season. The sort of player who, if he played for Norwich, would be the fulcrum of our side and, in all probability, our best and most valuable player.
Yet he seems happy enough to be stockpiled as part of some vast non-playing reserve of footballers held by the elite clubs in England on the basis, seemingly, that if we have them then they can’t play for anyone else.
Look at the ridiculous example of Ryan Bertrand at Chelsea; someone who has played for Norwich and who did, most definitely, look to be one of our best players during the time he did. Bertrand joined Chelsea in 2005 and has, to date, made just 28 Premier League appearances for them.
The six clubs (Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa) he has spent time on loan with in the seven and a half year spell since he joined Chelsea on the other hand have seen him make, between them, 147 appearances – but that still only works out at around 20 appearances per season. Sheer footballing insanity when you consider he was considered good enough by Chelsea to play in a Champions League final!
Bertrand will be 25 this year – way past the stage when he is, or was, a young player with ‘potential’. He needs to be playing regular football for a club that has committed themselves to him – and vice versa.
Having a transfer window makes the act of stockpiling players so much easier for clubs. For much of the footballing year they can’t go anywhere anyway as the nature of the window prevents movement between clubs. In addition to that, the loan market means they can retain any and all players who they think might have either a first team future or do enough whilst on loan – and at the other club’s expense – to earn them a nice fat transfer fee when eventually they decide to release that player from captivity and return him to the wild… and freedom.
There is a perfect example of each relating to the Canaries.
Kieran Gibbs, who joined us on loan from Arsenal in 2008, made seven appearances on the left of our midfield and, in the process, did not distinguishing himself particularly well. It probably didn’t help that Glenn Roeder didn’t play him as a left-back – his best and natural position – but nevertheless the signs were that he was going to be another Arsenal hopeful. Another Brian McGovern, who came, played and disappeared. Not, as they say, a contender.
Yet Arsenal saw enough in him to persist lending. When he first broke into the Gunners’ first-team, to cries of incredulity on various Norwich messageboards about how he was now in the Arsenal first-team and that as he was “crap” with us, how on earth could that be the case?
It’s probably because Arsene Wenger is a better judge of a player than Glenn Roeder – as well as all of us. Gibbs is now a first-team and is established cover to Ashley Cole as England left-back.
A sign of the loan system – praise be – actually having a productive result. Young player is farmed out to lower division club, plays a number of games, and, in doing so, proves to his parent club that he is, indeed, a star in the making.
On the other hand, there are the players who are loaned out by their parent clubs and drift, from guest club to guest club before, eventually, drifting out of the game altogether. Remember Jonathan Grounds? A product of Middlesbrough’s Academy, he made his first team debut for them at 19 and was rated, at the time, to be a player who would go on to have a good career in the game at the top level.
Unlike Gibbs, he impressed during the loan spell at City; 16 league games in total and three goals in a six game spell when he emerged, out of a field of general mediocrity and Alan Gow, as a stand-out performer at centre half – the position that then Middlesbrough manager Gordon Strachan had stipulated he play in as part of the deal that took him to Norwich.
It was all looking good for Grounds who returned to the club after Norwich had tried, and failed, to get him to stay for a longer spell; signing a contract extension and looking to push on as a first-team player. It never happened for him however and, after another loan spell (this time with Hibernian) he spent time with Chesterfield and Yeovil before being released by Boro’ in 2012.
He is now with Oldham Athletic and is at least playing regular first team football, albeit at League One level, but you would now think, at 26, his chances of playing at the top level have gone.
Yet how different it might have been had Middlesbrough recognised that his chances of playing regularly for them were as minimal as they turned out to be (33 league appearances in five years) when Norwich first came calling and agreed to sell, rather than loan, him to the Canaries. He would then have been playing regular football for a decent-sized club and at a decent level; his chances of being noticed by bigger clubs enhanced as he did so and his age, then just 19, being very much in his favour.
We and he will never know of course. And I know if my auntie had ‘you know whats’, she’d be my uncle. But it’s an interesting thought.
How, for example, might things have been different if the current system was in place when Norwich signed Dave Watson from Liverpool in 1981 – a young centre back (like Grounds) who was, at the time (like Grounds) just 19 years of age. He’d worked his way up into the then hugely successful Liverpool reserve side; one that seemed to have permanent ownership of the Central League title at the time, but, with such footballing gods as Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen dominant in Liverpool’s first team, what chance would he ever have of making an impact at that level and getting a run of games?
Remember, this was a time in a game when the top teams used far fewer players in a season – Liverpool used a total of just fifteen players in their 1978/79 title winning side over a league programme of 42 games. Fifteen! A Premier League side can use only one fewer than that in one game now!
Those sort of statistics – a time, remember, when we are told players were “nowhere near as fit as they are now” (perhaps that is why Liverpool used a total of 33 players over their 38 game Premier League campaign last season?) as well as the fact that only one player could ever be substitute – meant that Watson wasn’t going to do much in the game, if anything, unless he moved on.
And permanently. No loan spells, no passing him from one club and one league to another over a few seasons before concluding that he probably wasn’t much Kop anyway before releasing him into the clutches of those clubs in the Fourth Division who’d offer him £100 a week tops.
If that had been the case, a disillusioned Watson might have thought about packing the game in altogether.
But those were not so unenlightened times.
Norwich got their man for the sum of just £50,000, Watson himself admitting later on in Rick’s book 12 Canary Greats that he didn’t have much choice in the matter. He said of the prospect of moving to Norfolk, “I never actually jumped for joy” before adding, “…I thought I’d get a chance of getting in the first-team a little quicker than I would at Liverpool.”
The move made sense all round. For Watson because he would be able to play. For Norwich because, for a comparatively low price, they’d be getting a player who would in all likelihood improve and turn out, as he did, to be a sound investment. And for Liverpool because, even for them at that time, £50,000 was a lot of money for a player who’d never appeared for the first team.
Watson signed shortly before Christmas 1980, making his debut against Ipswich at Portman Road that Boxing Day. He featured in all but one of Norwich’s remaining league games that season as well as 38 of the clubs 42 league games the following season. In 1985 he became the first, and, to date, only Norwich captain to hold aloft a major trophy at Wembley before – one year later – returning to Merseyside and Everton for £900,000.
Not a bad return for that £50,000 of the club’s money and a young player’s choice to escape the comfort of familiar surrounds even if the prospect didn’t make him “jump for joy”. But I bet he did when that move to Everton went through.
You can only wonder how Dave Watson’s story and footballing career might have changed had he been born in 1994 rather than 1961.
Would Liverpool had moved him on in order for him to push on with his own career when even his obvious potential was showing at Anfield, aware that the form and status of players like Thompson, Hansen and Mark Lawrenson meant he’d rarely – if ever – get a first-team game?
Or would they have doggedly held onto him as a ‘home grown’ player, resulting in the odd appearance in a League Cup tie as a substitute or a non-playing one in a relatively undemanding Premier League game? Maybe he’d have had a couple of dozen games on loan with two or three lower league clubs during his time at Anfield before being released one May afternoon, contract expired, he and around 600 other players in the same position – all looking for a club.
The joy of that transfer window-free time in 1981 when Norwich signed him is in the very story of his capture and the career he went onto have. Clubs were free to bring in players whenever they felt the time and the player were right for them; similarly, players looked to move on when the occasion arose because even if it wasn’t necessarily the thing they would have chosen to do, they felt it might be the best thing for them to do in terms of their long term career.
Dave Watson made the right choice.
It seems a pity that the likes of Ryan Bertrand do not seem either able or willing to make that sort of choice for themselves. Either that, or the clubs that hold their registration seem reluctant to encourage them to do so.
Bertrand, incidentally, will be eligible for a testimonial if he is still at Chelsea next year.