We should know by now that Sir Alex Ferguson is not for turning. As recently as a fortnight ago, Sir Alex reiterated his view that there is no value to be found during the January transfer window. “The January transfer market has never been the best market,” he said, “and that has proved itself over the years.”
Yet much as he (and, come to think of it, Arsène Wenger) might not like to admit it, the world is changing, particularly in an economic sense. The thinking behind Fergie's theory is sound; that January signings go against principles of long-termism and good planning, and they stem from panic. For many, the winter window will always be characterised by Andy Carroll and Fernando Torres.
These two are, of course, extreme examples of panic buying. They make us think that the window is all about being desperate to buy, when it’s about the need to sell too. Just look at Portugal, where capital club Sporting are enduring a nightmare season. The Lisbon club are labouring under debts which are expected to touch the €250m mark later this year, and so need to cut bodies from a bloated, shabbily assembled squad.
Whether they’re getting rid of the right players in their panic to slash the wage bill is open to question. Some within the club are heralding the £600,000 sale of former captain Daniel Carriço (pictured above) to Reading as a move that will also save them £125,000 in wages. Given that Manchester United were closely tracking him two years back with a view to a move costing in excess of £15m, Sporting will more likely be left looking monumentally daft if Carriço can fulfil even some of his considerable potential at the Madjeski Stadium.
Other clubs can smell Sporting’s desperation and are circling above like vultures. Russian Marat Izmailov, intermittently brilliant but frequently injured, is looking likely to complete a move north to champions Porto later this week. Izmailov has spent a fair chunk of his time arguing with the Alvalade club about their medical management of him and if Porto can get it right, they’ll have snared a bargain. The last player to make that move, having been branded a “rotten apple” by Sporting? One João Moutinho – who, incidentally, would make Porto a profit in excess of £15m if they sold him to Spurs tomorrow.
There are plenty of other good players lost in a dysfunctional mess at Sporting, and the same is true at other clubs. Speaking after Crystal Palace’s win over Wolves yesterday, Ian Holloway wasn’t as shy as latter-day Harry Redknapp in admitting a keenness to work the market. In his words, “a bit of ducking and diving” is all that’s needed to uncover “some great players who aren’t in the team for whatever reason”.
At this time of year, we habitually mutter that the FA Cup’s a great leveller but in fact, it’s relative poverty that’s leaving most clubs in the same boat. Creativity is necessary in today’s transfer market all year round, not just in January. So managers and chairmen need to challenge themselves to find the next Demba Ba (January 2011), Vedad Ibisevic or Ludovic Obraniak (January 2012), rather than attacking the market in a frenzy. Brinkmanship is the name of the game at any time of year.
Click here to read more from European football expert Andy Brassell.