Nature abhors a transfer vacuum

EVERY mid-January, without fail, some academic or other claims to have pinpointed the most depressing day of the year. Generally, it’s the third or fourth Monday in January.

The theory is that by then, our Christmas credit card bills are coming in, we’ve broken our New Year’s resolutions, it’s still cold and dark – and it’s Monday.

This year, some academic or other went one step further, by declaring that January 19, 2009 would be the most depressing day in history – because on top of all the above factors, we’ve also got a credit crunch to contend with.

(I remember feeling quite cheerful on January 19 this year, but that could just be nostalgia kicking in.)

Now I’d be extremely suspicious of any research which blindly assumes that we all make New Year’s resolutions, work Monday to Friday and have credit cards. I’d also be suspicious of any research that fails to take into account pestilence, famine, war and death when calculating a day’s misery quotient.

But I think the average Premier League manager will agree the most depressing day of this year would have been around January 19 – simply because it was slap bang in the middle of the bloody transfer window.

And this transfer window seems to have been the most stressful one in English football since it was introduced in 2002. Managers have spent huge chunks of January at each others’ throats over the slightest thing.

Most of these slightest things seem to involved Tottenham over the last month. I’ve lost count of the number of managers who are hacked off either with Spurs generally or Harry Redknapp in particular.

Rafa Benitez has had a pop at Redknapp for claiming he would like to see Robbie Keane back at Spurs. Ricky Sbragia has had a pop at Redknapp over Tottenham’s interest in Kenwyne Jones. Mark Hughes has made his dislike of Spurs clear in at least one interview. Vladimir Putin threatened to turn off the gas supplies to White Hart Lane because . . .

OK, maybe not the Putin one.

But Tottenham have even managed to cause fall-outs between other clubs, inadvertently. Manchester City and Wigan came to blows over Wilson Palacios, who finally completed his move to White Hart Lane in midweek.

Wigan manager Steve Bruce claimed that City had made an approach to Palacios with the sole intention of getting Spurs to back off in their pursuit of Craig Bellamy. City denied this, and Hughes described Bruce’s outburst as confused.

Ah yes, January is not a happy month to be a football manager. Perhaps all that stress was, on some level, behind Benitez’s infamous rant at Sir Alex Ferguson three weeks ago. (Was it really as recently as that? It seems much longer.)

And there doesn’t seem to be a manager anywhere who thinks the transfer window is a good idea.

I was at Hughes’ press conference yesterday, ahead of today’s defeat at Stoke. At that press conference, Hughes described the window as a restraint of trade.

“I think it distorts the market somewhat,” he said. “It was introduced to restrict the bigger clubs’ ability to go into the market to address things, because they have the resources to do that.

“But it probably hampers teams with a lack of resources, because they can’t wheel and deal, they can’t generate finance and they can’t address weaknesses by bringing players in and moving players out.”

Hughes added that the window puts a lot of pressure on managers to complete deals in a short space of time, often in full public glare. So it’s no wonder, really, that managers get a bit het up.

From a journalistic perspective, I haven’t got much good to say about the transfer window either. It hasn’t put an end to the drip, drip, drip of transfer speculation stories – which will continue even after the window shuts at 5pm on Monday, because nature abhors a vacuum.

But what it has done is make the closing weeks of August and the whole of January a living hell for football reporters. (Not as much as it has for football managers, but all suffering is relative.)

With all the contacts in the world, you can’t always be sure exactly when a deal is going to be done. And that means if there’s a prospect of a transfer on your patch, you have to be on constant alert.

I was talking to another journalist about this the other day. “The thing about the transfer window,” he said, “is that your working days almost become open-ended.”

This was especially true on the last deadline day, September 1, when many reporters – me included – were on tenterhooks at two minutes to midnight waiting for the paperwork on Robinho’s transfer to Manchester City to go through.

It’s very exciting, covering a story like that, but it’s also exhausting. Goodness knows what that transfer was doing to the stress levels of Hughes and Garry Cook, not to mention Robinho himself.

This time around, at least, someone has seen sense by making the cut-off point 5pm. No one will have to work a 16-hour day on this deadline. But I could completely understand if every Premier League manager clubbed together to demand a return to the old days, when you had one deadline day in late March, and that was it.

Alternatively, those managers might want to follow the advice of psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall, the ‘former academic’ who put forward January 19, 2009 as the most depressing day in history.

He said: “People feeling depressed could put on a fun DVD, get some friends over for something to eat or call someone they’ve put off calling for months or years.”

So there you are, Rafa. If you’re feeling a bit glum after your fall-out with Harry, stick on a Spongebob Squarepants DVD or give Fergie a bell.

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