From the Touchline: Know When to Hold ‘Em at the Transfer Deadline

From the Touchline

The end of the summer transfer window is an insane time for a manager. January is a short burst of insanity in player acquisitions but because it is midseason, most major names say put. Summer is when your squad can be altered at the last second because a rival club makes your Board an offer it cannot refuse. Think Danny Rose and what he could do to Spurs. By the time the dust settles, the clock has struck midnight and you have a gaping hole in your roster.

As a manager, though, you have an additional issue. If you are Mauricio Pocchettino, right now you have an essential player in Danny Rose. You need him because you are challenging for a Premier League title, at least. But, conceivably, you have a vested interest in Danny Rose. You know he’s heard that more high-profile clubs want him, and he has an opportunity to grow somewhere else that is more willing to spend to build a contender. For the three weeks or so you have a ticking time bomb on your club at a time when the press and fans need to see a fast start.

Usually, this means a manager “rests” a player. Suddenly a key contributor has a training injury or needs to handle a family issue. This is to prevent an uncomfortable situation: asking a player to go out and potentially injury themselves for a team they want to leave. Usually, it leads to a player at half speed which prompts even more media attention to their play, and even more transfer rumors. For a manager, there are no clear correct answers on how to deal with these players.

Case in point is the situation of the much-desired Southampton defender Virgil van Dijk. The Saints have told anyone and everyone that he is not for sale, but the defender has submitted a transfer request anyway. The club’s chairman said yesterday, “Virgil is not for sale in this window and it’s not personal”. Van Dijk has been “separated” from the club and sat out Saturday’s draw with Swansea City with a “virus”.

This week the news that the Football League will consider closing its transfer window before the start of the season may help English and Welsh clubs. No matter when they transfer deadline is, though, the key for a club to survive the transfer window is a good relationship between the manager and the player. As Roberto Martinez told Michael Calvin in his book Living on the Volcano: “There is a happy balance where you allow the player to express himself, allow him to think and make decisions. But give him too much and that leads to a lack of clarity. He becomes an individual in a team sport.”

Transfer drama will probably be with us forever, but it is up to a manager to best balance the player and the team to prevent it from spinning out of control and sinking a season early.