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Transfer deadline reform Q&A: Premier League clubs want window shut early

Gab Marcotti reviews Barcelona's failed pursuit of Coutinho and evaluates the club's reasoning for their lack of signings.

Premier League clubs have voted on a proposal at a shareholders' meeting on Sept. 7 to move the deadline for the league's summer transfer window to before the start on the season.

The idea is for clubs to ensure they begin the domestic campaign knowing exactly which players they will have at their disposal, and several top sides are in favour of the change.

ESPN FC asked Ross Brown, solicitor at sports law practice Onside Law, to give an overview of the current system and how clubs can change it.

Q: Why can't clubs just buy and sell players whenever they want?

A: Clubs are limited due to FIFA's "Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players" which restricts the transfer of players to two annual "registration periods" -- otherwise known as the transfer windows.

Q: How and why were the transfer windows introduced in the first place?

A: They were introduced by FIFA before the 2002-03 football season after a debate between football's national governing bodies (particularly European), national leagues and the European Commission regarding how the transfer system operated.

The aim was to introduce an element of contractual stability into the system to avoid all stakeholders in football being permanently wary of potential transfers. The theory was that it's better for all to limit transfers to specified periods -- players have regular periods where they can seek transfers, clubs can plan better for the future and fans can invest emotionally (and financially) in players who they know are contractually bound to remain at their club -- at least until the next transfer window.

Philippe Coutinho
Barcelona had an extra day to try and and sign Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool because of the later Spanish deadline.

Q: Who originally decided on the length and deadlines of the transfer windows across Europe's major leagues?

A: FIFA set the parameters of the transfer windows. It stipulated that the summer transfer window should begin after one season ends and last no longer than 12 weeks. The winter transfer window need only occur in the middle of the season and should last no longer than four weeks.

It's the national football associations and leagues who determine exact dates. They vary slightly between countries depending on factors like the date the league season starts.

However, this year, the large European leagues all closed their transfer windows on Aug. 31 (with the exception of Spain which closed a day later) meaning some consistency does exist but with some uncertainty, too.

The major European leagues are even more consistent with the winter transfer window, with January regularly being used, though it can move into February if the month ends on a weekend.

Q: What are the overriding positives and negatives of the Premier League changing the deadline to before the season beginning?

A: The obvious positive is that all parties know where they stand before having to play league games. There is benefit to knowing that no Premier League club would be able to sell players to each other once the season had started (until the next transfer window). The chaotic opening to the Premier League season, given discussions of potential transfers, would be avoided.

However, there is an obvious negative to this too. As national associations set the exact dates of the transfer window, within the FIFA rules, there would be no requirement for other associations to make similar changes.

The FIFA rules state that the transfer window deadline applies to the buying club -- so if the Premier League's deadline was preseason and La Liga's remained around Aug. 31, Real Madrid would be able to buy Premier League players for two to three weeks longer than Manchester United could buy La Liga players.

China's deadline this year is Sept. 14, meaning top Premier League players could still be tempted to transfer to the Super League.

This is a potentially clear disadvantage to Premier League clubs which risks being unpopular with their players and fans. It is easy to imagine the reaction if Manchester United were preparing for a Champions League campaign only to find their best players purchased during a period when they were prevented from seeking a replacement.

Clubs risk being left significantly depleted, although they may become even more entrenched when dealing with transfer requests after the transfer window had closed to avoid this.

However, the transfer window causes such disruption that the clamour for some action will probably increase -- the ideal position being that all major European leagues elect to work together and agree a universal transfer window.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Liverpool signed Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on deadline day, leaving Arsenal little time to sign a replacement.

Q: Can the Premier League just change the deadline to whenever it likes without getting FIFA's approval?

A: Not quite. Approval is not required but a national association must give FIFA 12 months' notice of the proposed dates of a transfer window.

Q: How would the process of Premier League clubs voting for and implementing any potential changes work?

A: Each club gets one vote and a two-thirds majority is required -- so 14 clubs would need to vote in favour of a change to the timing of a transfer window.

Implementing the change is straightforward, FIFA just needs the required notice.

Q: Would the dates for the Premier League's and EFL's transfer windows have to be identically changed?

A: No. The Premier League and English Football League (EFL) would make their own decisions. However, should the Premier League vote to change the timings of the transfer window, there is a good chance that the EFL would do likewise.

Q: Would the other top European leagues have to move their deadline too?

A: No. They would be free to make their own decisions unless they agreed to adopt a unified approach to the transfer window with other countries.

Q: Would the other major European leagues have any recourse to block the move if they wanted to?

A: Not under FIFA's rules.They are clear that the decision is one for national associations to make.


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