Few noticed last week when Juande Ramos called for a shortening of the transfer window, but the nuclear fallout from Monday’s race to the finish seems to support his argument.
Prior to Monday, Robinho had been settling in nicely for another season at Real Madrid, Kevin Keegan was sorting out his first proper season in charge of Newcastle, Dimitar Berbatov was rightly benched for his self-interested transfer talk, and Manchester City were on the verge of proving they were a top-ten club under Mark Hughes.
Now, the chess pieces have been wiped off the board, and in May 2009, viewers will see season highlights from the August portion of 2008-2009 and wonder what year they’re really watching.
Not that these aren’t interesting or even welcome changes. While King Kev was certainly improving during his second Newcastle stint, the appointment had ‘stop-gap’ written all over it, and his lack of action in the transfer window was Keegan’s last straw.
Rumours that Berbatov was on the outs at Tottenham were circulating at the end of last season, so it was perhaps inevitable he would eventually choose to sign for Manchester United. For Manchester City, new owners Abu Dhabi United Group will provide an enormous influx of petrol dollars, which, sadly, seems to be the only winning currency in today’s top flight. Had their bid been made sooner, City would have probably picked a brand new starting eleven and someone other than Mark Hughes to lead them.
Now, let’s suppose the transfer window had closed one day prior to the season opener. Abu Dhabi would have likely swept in sooner after Shinawatra’s tax troubles broke in early August (he was clearly ready to sell from the start of the scandal if not before),thus giving the Arab consortium more time to buy players and pick a new manager to truly make a top four run.
Berbatov would have been compelled to sort out United’s interest before having to put on Tottenham white, and perhaps save United’s blushes during their opening draw to Newcastle.
And speaking of Tyneside, Kevin Keegan could have left with a little more dignity as well as more time for the board to pick a proper successor. Hell, in this alternate universe, Mark Hughes would likely have been available by the opening weekend.
These are of course what-ifs, and there are many who argue that players and managers prefer a few weeks of league play in order to ask themselves, as the song says, “Should I stay or should I go?” This may have been true even a few years ago, but it is now emerging that subjects of ‘shock’ transfers had in fact made up their minds long in advance of the formal announcement.
Christiano Ronaldo was set to leave United for Real back in December. Tensions between Dennis Wise and Kevin Keegan have been well-publicized since last May. While Robinho’s transfer to City truly was shocking, his ambition to join the Premier League after rumours circulated about a move to Chelsea certainly wasn’t.
Why throw fans, owners, players and managers for an opening season loop if the wheels of change were already in motion? And with recent title races coming down to a matter of one or two points, why risk crediting those points to a faded star, gone before the end of August?
Richard Whittall lives in Toronto and is the author of A More Splendid Life.