Transfer windows have become an integral part of the modern football landscape.
The season may end when the fixtures run out, but the soap opera continues as the on-pitch drama of the most global of sports is replaced by the intrigue and chicanery of player purchase and trading.
Each year the price tags go up as the deals go down, and the media makes ever more hay from the speculation and subterfuge that surrounds the transactions.
It may create good headlines for the curious and endless coverage for 24/7 sport news channels, but there are many who criticize the current status quo. Just this week two English Premier League managers joined the chorus of concern.
Everton boss Roberto Martinez questioned whether it was healthy to have the window open when league games are being played. “It’s a bigger question for every football fan because I think it devalues the league,” he told the BBC, and with good reason.
Two of his best players, Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines, have been subject to bids from Manchester United in the last few days.
Newcastle United manager Alan Pardew, who is trying to ward off an attempt from Arsenal to lure his star midfielder Yohan Cabaye away from St James’ Park, added: "I know the Premier League asked the European leagues to do it and they wouldn't fall in line, but after … the situations we have had this summer … it is definitely something they need to put under the microscope again."
There is plenty of opposition to the transfer window - which for most European leagues will end on September 2 before reopening for a month on January 1 - but is there a better alternative? Would it make sense to streamline the windows even further, or, conversely, go back to letting clubs sign players throughout the season?
The current concept was put in place in 2002 after a lengthy consultation by FIFA, global player representative group FIFPro, the now disbanded "G14" collective of Europe's biggest clubs, and the European Commission.
The previous system was seen as unfair, explains Daniel Geey, a London-based lawyer in the sports group for Field Fisher Waterhouse who advises clubs on the regulatory framework of football transfers.
“The main issue with being able to buy players throughout the year was that the more wealthy clubs had greater opportunities to sign a player towards the end of the season to bolster a title challenge or to stave off relegation. It could be argued the wealthy clubs benefited the most," he told CNN.
“In theory a limited supply window can drive up prices, but there is no counter factual situation to compare – a player’s value is only really determined by the two clubs involved and this is the case regardless of the window. It is far from perfect but I’m not convinced there’s a readymade alternative.”
According to Liz Ellen, a specialist sports lawyer for Mishcon de Reya and an FA Licensed Players' Agent since 2004, not even the agents lick their lips at the negotiation leverage a deadline creates:
“I wouldn’t say agents are big fans of the transfer window - if you could sell players all year round, that would be a much better position to be in than the panic buying and selling during the windows.
“Most agents will tell you it’s a difficult market these days. Some of the bigger deals go through, but with smaller squads and financial fair play, often clubs won’t take a chance now. There’s much more pressure on finances, to make sure you spend the money wisely. I wouldn’t say agents are relishing the next few days because it’s a high-pressure situation for everyone involved.”
So, if trading throughout the year creates an uneven playing field that benefits the rich, would a shorter transfer window be the solution?
“I find it difficult to imagine a more streamlined window," Geey told CNN. "After all, with good planning and proactive strategies in place, a club can register a player as soon as the window opens. I think interested parties - to stoke up interest in their players - would always provide stories to the newspapers whether there was a window or not.”
Ellen admits the window closing during the season is not ideal as clubs can be left “quite vulnerable” to bids, without time to find replacements, but fundamentally there seems no change in sight for the transfer window.
And is this really such a bad thing? The great allure of football is surely its unpredictability and often its intrinsic injustice, where teams who do not deserve victory can win.
This perfect chaos has a beauty, why should it not extend to the transfer market? Business dealings should always be legal and beyond reproach, but the game of the world football marketplace is just another area of competition in which managers can test their wits. Time to play to win, Arsene …