To close the transfer window before the beginning of a Premier League season seemed a perfectly sensible idea at the time.
For far too long, campaigns had begun with too many question marks and uncertainties. The first couple of rounds of matches were overshadowed by the collision course set with Transfer Deadline Day, which in itself became a far bigger event than the actual football being played in August.
Among the many examples of an open transfer window being a hindrance was the farcical sight last August of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain lining up in an Arsenal team that lost 4-0 to Liverpool only to become a Liverpool player within a couple of days.
Now, for those who strap themselves to social media, get a rush when the Sky Sports ticker turns yellow, covet Jim White’s spanking yellow tie and ogle the female presenter wearing a dress of a similar hue, the party is not quite over, but last orders has been called way too early.
The choice to bring the shutters down was made last September, when 14 of 20 Premier League clubs decided the distractions had got too much and they would like to just get on with the football, thank you very much. The EFL, with a couple of caveats, including being able to sign Premier League players on loan with a view to a permanent deal up until August 31, have followed suit.
Therefore, come 5pm on Thursday afternoon, English football is closed for business. Except when it isn’t, and here is where the quibbles begin. In a fashion that can only invite comparison with the doomsday Brexit scenarios currently chilling the bones of a nation, European clubs are free to trade with each other and even more problematically, FIFA rules mean they can still pick off Premier League talent.
Take Thibaut Courtois, at time of writing an absentee from Chelsea’s training sessions as he seeks to push through a move to Real Madrid. Or even Paul Pogba, whose return to Manchester United after winning the World Cup with France, has been accompanied by rumblings of discontent with manager Jose Mourinho.
It appears Mourinho’s snark at Pogba’s performances for Les Bleus as compared to those in red did not go down well. With a matter of hours to run until Thursday, neither stand-off would need be terminal in the relationship between player and club, but the transfer window still being open in Europe leaves the clubs in danger of being caught swimming naked with the tide out.
Madrid play brinksmanship in getting their men, examples of which include the failure of their fax machine when trying to snare David de Gea in 2015, and have the rest of the month to draw out the best deal for Courtois. Meanwhile, Chelsea spend the final two days of the transfer window trying not to enter the season with Willy Caballero as a first-choice goalkeeper.
And though Mourinho appears to be indifferent to Pogba’s charms, United are in danger of losing him for the second time of asking, as a Barcelona rumour machine begins to churn into action.
With the relative lack of backing United have given their manager this summer indicating he might not be at Old Trafford for the long haul, the club’s suits, led by executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, would almost certainly be reluctant to lose their most marketable commodity, but they may be powerless to prevent Pogba escaping during that purgatorial period between Thursday and the end of the month.
That United were one of five clubs against the pre-season shutdown, with Manchester City, Swansea, Watford and Crystal Palace, While Burnley abstained, though this does not prevent them entering such limbo and some of the rest may soon be considering self-inflicted wounds.
Business has been slow, non-existent in the case of certain clubs. Inside the world of football agency, the talk is of panic, the World Cup jamboree having previously stopped much business being done in June and July. Clubs have reduced their expenditure on players overall, with spending short of the £1.4 billion spent in the summer of 2017, and recruitment not at all sped up by a fast-approaching time limit but time pressures can only lead to mistakes.
Not everyone is able to operate with the decisiveness and budget of Liverpool, whose books are closed after making four additions of high quality in Alisson, Fabinho, Naby Keita and Xherdan Shaqiri for almost £175m.
Tottenham have signed nobody, and it looks like chairman Daniel Levy’s usual late-night-on-Christmas-Eve splurge may not even happen, as if he forgot the shops close early this year. Burnley, Everton, Crystal Palace, Newcastle and even Manchester City remain sluggish in the market.
The bed having been laid, English football must now lie in it.