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January transfer window highlights ruthless nature of our game


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By John Baines - Football Correspondent

Wednesday 19 January 2011

Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind? Apparently so if you are a footballer. No sooner does the dulcet hum of Robert Burns’s straddling of years old and new die down, than a window of opportunity opens for those players seeking a new job in the new year.


Coupled with Max Beesley popping up during every television ad-break encouraging you to ditch your current employer for pastures new, the January transfer window as ever has provided a stimulus for the likes of Darren Bent and Steven Pienaar to forget their acquaintances, and certainly bear them little to mind.


Indeed, loved or loathed and more frequently in the latter, this months transfer haven highlights the harsh brutalities of player power in today’s game. Just two hours after Sunderland’s 1-1 draw against north-east neighbours Newcastle, Mackems striker Darren Bent handed in a transfer request to his club in an attempt to seal a prospective move to Aston Villa.


Bent’s moves came roughly as Everton faced up their Merseryside derby with Liverpool minus Pienaar, who may have asked to be left out of the Toffees matchday squad as he prepared for an imminent move to either of the Champions League chasing duo of Chelsea or Tottenham Hotspur.


In both instances the players have left their clubs with little option but to sell. In Pienaar’s case, the South African’s contract is due to expire in the summer and after negotiations hit an impasse, would be allowed to move for free post season. With David Moyes’s side loitering safely in mid-table, Pienaar’s £3m fee will be a welcome addition to the Goodison coffers as opposed to losing their man for nothing in a few months.


Similarly, Sunderland will command more than double the £10m they paid Spurs to sign Bent a little over 18 months ago and will view the sum as a tidy investment on a player who has scored 32 Premier League goals in 58 games, thus securing his sides safety and elevation in the league during his one and a half seasons on Wearside.


Given the levity of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez’s declarations to leave clubs with more financial clout than either Sunderland or Everton, players are increasingly giving their owners hobson’s choice as to what to do with their employees.


But how much responsibility does the transfer window have for this power change, and would it really be any different without pre-defined periods of allowed transfer activity?


In theory the answer to these questions are not much and no. The major criticism of the January jostle is that it de-stabilises players and causes unrest during an important part of the campaign. The fact of life in modern day football is that the Bosman ruling and increased influence of players agents and advisors mean that at no period would a players future be ultimately certain at one particular place, yet for one of the twelve months of the year the window openly promotes players the right to actively exercise their freedom to move.


A continuous transfer plateau would make for a revolving door scenario, with the size of the club invariably - as it does during all transfer windows - having a direct correlation on the fortunes of their playing staff. Had Villa wanted to arrest their form earlier than January, then they may well have done at any point prior to this.


And what would that have meant for the parties involved? A rhetorical question, but given the circumstances, not a lot would have changed. Bent would have been in the midlands, Sunderland would be a few million pounds better off and Villa would have a new striker. Those sentiments extend to Pienaar, and to almost every other transfer which do, eventually, end up being concluded mutually and with sufficient recompense to the seller - reticent or otherwise.


In fairness the transfer window is a double-edged sword and the actions of the players can partly be attributed to the cut throat nature of the purported hard done by clubs. Ask Shaun Wright-Phillips where he’d like to be playing his football for the remainder of the season and he would likely plead his own case at least to be part of Manchester City’s title chasing team. However, that distinction is likely to be taken away from him by his superiors at Eastlands, whom themselves are not shy of upsetting the apple cart when it comes to hiring and firing.


Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz have already been jettisoned, with Emmanuel Adebayor set to follow. Robbie Keane and David Bentley have been politely ushered away from White Hart Lane, Steve Sidwell has been waved on from Villa Park and any other surplus stock out there can expect a ‘reduced to clear’ price tag slapped across its buttocks in the hope of a quick sale to a willing or desperate bidder.


More than anything, the January sales highlights the ugly nature of what used to be loyalty - from both sides of the fence. The truth is, both parties have a usefulness and expiry date towards one another, and come the start of a new year, but more than likely from well before, those relations are aired in the interest of business and self gain.


The January transfer window is neither right, nor wrong. It does and it doesn’t to both players and clubs, and the arguments for and against carry as much weight as each other. Do ‘un to those as others do ‘un to you seems to be the motto.


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