It has been a transfer window full of the usual long-running sagas and occasional surprises, but it does seem to have been a bad-tempered few months, with more than the usual number of players – as well as the occasional manager – trying to force moves in the most public and spiteful style.
Zinedine Zidane’s treatment of Gareth Bale has done nothing to enhance the reputation of either the manager or the player. Bale looks restrained because he has not said anything, while Zidane looks the villain because he won’t shut up. But if you were a sporting director at a club considering a move for Bale, the fact that his manager is so desperate to get rid of him would inevitably make you doubt whether he was the kind of character you want in your dressing room.
It was strange to see a club treat a major asset so contemptuously, as if they do not care they are devaluing him, and then pull out of a deal with the one club who has made a genuine attempt to buy him because he was undervalued. Meanwhile, Zidane’s behaviour, while clearly motivated by a desire for Bale to leave, is at the same time making it less likely anyone will take him.
Elsewhere, there have been several players who have refused to join pre-season tours or turn up to training as they attempt to force clubs to let them leave. This has always happened, but perhaps less often and less publicly. It is only two years since Paris Saint-Germain bought Neymar for a world record €222m; this summer he has been desperately trying to engineer a way out again. Where has all the love and decorum gone? I spent a month in Paris during the Women’s World Cup and when I talked to Parisians about Neymar they couldn’t stand him. When he says that being part of a team that beat PSG 6-1 is his favourite football memory he’s making himself seem calculated and spiteful. It doesn’t help either party if there’s that level of public contempt.
I wonder if this will have an impact on the fees being paid for players in their mid-20s. It is clear a large investment will not buy the player’s loyalty even in the short term, and if the player does later decide to agitate for a move his club will find itself in a bad negotiating position and will struggle to recoup their initial outlay. A player such as Moise Kean from Juventus to Everton is a great signing: he’s young, hungry, wasn’t crazily overpriced and has scored goals at a top club. He’ll be ambitious to prove himself at Everton and move on for a bigger fee, which is in everyone’s interest. But if that looks like money well spent, plenty has also been wasted.
Perhaps it’s best to keep out of the transfer market altogether if you can avoid it. Manchester City have had a restrained summer by their standards, and Liverpool have spent very little. After Harry Maguire moved to Manchester United Pep Guardiola said City “could not afford it”, while Jürgen Klopp said Liverpool “are not in this fantasy land where you just get whatever you want”. It is as if they are fighting about who is the poorest. The truth is City could surely have bought Maguire had they considered it really necessary, and having won the Champions League Liverpool would have been able to put together a decent transfer budget.
But with already excellent squads, why take a risk? Why spend money on a big-money player who is probably going to throw his toys out of the pram in a couple of years if things aren’t going his way, when they can play players such as Phil Foden or Rhian Brewster, who are young, ambitious and already part of the club?
It is dangerous to sit on your laurels, but a lot of the time you only have to add one or two people to the fringes of a winning team to improve it. A big player coming in can change the dynamics of the dressing room, upset the rhythm of the team and end up doing more harm than good. Perhaps Klopp and Guardiola have noted the problems other teams are having in the market. Or maybe Tottenham’s success last season, despite not signing anyone the previous summer, has sent the message that you don’t have to spend loads of money every window to be successful. Sometimes keeping a squad together can improve spirit and with it performances.
I think Chelsea’s transfer ban could be a blessing in disguise. It should mean that Frank Lampard is given a bit more time than most recent managers, young players will be given a chance in the team and fans will once again feel an affinity with squad members and coaching staff who have a history at the club and wear the badge with pride.
The case of Laurent Koscielny was another curious one, with the player announcing his arrival at Bordeaux with a Twitter video of him stripping off his Arsenal shirt and throwing it aside, revealing his new kit underneath. Perhaps it was motivated by a desire for likes and retweets rather than contempt for his former club, but I thought it came across as crass and disrespectful. Clubs like to find different ways of revealing signings, and the traditional picture of a player, pen in hand, hovering over a contract or of him shaking the chairman’s hand doesn’t exactly get the pulse racing, but this was not a good idea.
It’s important for a player to leave on the right note. Even if you’re not happy to be going, or your relationships at your old club have turned sour, it is always best to be respectful. Thank the club and its fans for their support and the opportunity they gave you and leave with head held high. If you’re moving move well, let the dust settle and then talk about it later, if you need to. All the anger and disrespect flying between managers, players and clubs over the last couple of months has not been great to see. As windows go, this one has looked pretty murky.