THE clock is ticking.
Just 17 days remain before the transfer window in this country slams shut for the summer after the Premier League and Football League voted last season to bring forward the deadline from August 31.
Managers had complained that deals still going through during the first few weeks of a season were causing unwanted disruption to their squads
The Premier League instigated a move that has put English football out of step with the rest of Europe, as all the other major leagues remain able to buy or sell players until the end of next month.
A desire to protect the integrity of the competition was held up by the top-flight clubs as a reason for change with the old deadline meaning it was possible for an in-demand star player to face, say, Manchester City in the opening couple of weeks but then have been sold before the same club tackled another title-challenger in early September. Or worse, a player being left on the sidelines for a large chunk of August amid speculation about him going elsewhere in the top flight.
No specific cases were cited during the discussions that preceded last September’s vote by the 20 elite clubs but there was the unusual case of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain facing Liverpool in Arsenal colours only to then move to Anfield within a week of that 4-0 defeat.
Fourteen clubs voted in favour of bringing forward the deadline, the minimum required to push through a change in the top flight. The two Manchester clubs, Watford, Swansea City and Crystal Palace all voted against, while Burnley abstained.
The Football League clubs followed suit in February, the motion passed by 40 to 29. Three sent their apologies after being unable to attend. A key difference to the Premier League set-up is that loans will still be allowed in the Championship, League One and League Two until August 31.
It is this caveat that Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, believes renders these first changes to the window since its arrival in 2002 largely meaningless.
“Having different deadlines for permanent deals and loans doesn’t make any sense to me,” the 50-year-old told The Yorkshire Post. “As a manager, I am glad it is earlier for permanent transfers.
“No-one wants to lose their best player three or so weeks into a season. But the changes haven’t gone far enough, due to loans still being possible.
“Premier League can’t do loans but there are plenty of big hitters in this division who could come in and do a loan deal that then becomes permanent for ‘x’ amount of millions in January (when the window re-opens).
“That is why, to me, little has really changed. Sure, the new set-up has slightly altered it but not enough.”
United, in common with many in the Championship, have found it difficult to get deals over the line this summer.
Bolstering a forward line that lost David Brooks to Bournemouth in a £11.5m deal has been the priority but, as yet, progress has been slow. It has been a similar story across the county, with Leeds United also having found recruitment tough under new manager Marcelo Bielsa.
Sheffield Wednesday’s window has been all about getting players out of the club in an attempt to comply with Financial Fair Play rules. Again, only marginal success has been achieved but Jos Luhukay insists the pulling forward of the deadline for permanent deals in the League has been a step in the right direction.
“The transfer window closing earlier is a good thing,” said the Dutchman. “It could be earlier, that is my thinking. I say all of August be closed.
“You then begin the competition with everyone working with the team they have. It is bad for a coach when the squad can change after the season starts. You plan and those plans have to change.
“Having the whole of August makes it difficult – especially with the last few days all being about transfers. It is not completely closed after August 9 with the loans possible. I have no problem with that.”
Back across the Steel City, Wilder is working hard on adding to the captures of Dean Henderson and John Egan. But, he says, it is not proving easy.
“Clubs are holding back,” he said. “We have found this summer that a lot of clubs are not loaning players out, they want them to go on permanents. Only once we get past that date will it go again.
“It is really frustrating. We have some money to spend but when you are after players and up against other clubs with bigger resources, it becomes double difficult.
“I won’t bring just average in. We want to improve. We have looked through last season through both our own eyes and the stats, and from box to box – from tee to green – we were really up there with the best teams in the division.
“Now, though, we have to be better in both boxes. I still enjoy the way we play, as we really attack sides. That didn’t change from League One into the Championship.
“People will look at us in the second half of the season and say, ‘Sheff United have been sussed out’. But we played just as well then.
“The key is bridging the gap on the field and on the training pitch.
“Upping the players’ physical efforts, while tactically we have to be cuter and better. Bringing better players in is a big part of that.”