The transfer window dilemmas facing SPFL clubs and players
Big decisions are set to be made this summer, as Joel Sked explains
For a number of reasons this summer has been and will continue to be a strange one in Scottish football with the transfer window one of many aspects set to be affected.
When it comes to recruitment, clubs tend to focus their shopping in one of two aisles: Scotland and England.
Across last season 164 players were signed by the 12 top-flight clubs with more than half (83) arriving from English teams.
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Now reaching the middle of June and with a potential start to the 2020/21 campaign a little more than six weeks away, there’s been just six signings, while more than 100 players have departed.
Of those six signings, three were confirmed prior to May.
This is in no way a criticism of clubs being slow of the mark. It is simply to highlight the stark change to the environment in which they are operating in. The coronavirus pandemic has created a climate of uncertainty and general unease with teams remaining vigilant, moving forward with extreme caution.
When so many clubs, who at times survive on a hand-to-mouth basis, have a key revenue stream in season-ticket sales and gate receipts, taken from them it makes a prudent approach not only sensible but a necessity.
The free agent market in Scotland is brimming with talent that could improve most Scottish Premiership sides, from Jonny Hayes and Vaclav Hladky, to Alex Gogic and Drey Wright.
Waiting for further developments and clarity over league reconstruction, structure of the leagues for the 2020/21 season or calculating the impact of selling virtual season tickets, could see clubs miss out on key targets.
There are so many moving parts for clubs to consider.
On the other side, in an interview with the Scottish Sun, Jason Holt, who was released by Rangers, expressed the dilemma facing players.
“You need to get your timing spot on,” he said. “If you wait a little bit too long, the options you might have in Scotland, those clubs might go for other targets.
“There’s a difference between Scotland looking to start their season and England being a few weeks behind, the English clubs might not be looking to sign players until August.
“In Scotland, if their season is starting in August they might want their squads sorted by the end of July.”
The former Hearts midfielder spent last season on loan at St Johnstone and revealed he has interest north and south of the border.
The timings of the English market are set to be very different to Scotland due to both the Premier League and Championship resuming the 2019/20 campaign and not finishing until the middle of July.
Premier League chief executive Richard Masters confirmed the transfer window would not open until the conclusion of the season on July 26.
Fifa, according to reports, are set to grant permission for those countries who have resumed their campaign to alter their dates
The summer window lasts 12 weeks. In Scotland it was due to open on Wednesday, 10 June and will run until September 1. In England it is set to operate between the end of July and potentially October.
That poses its issues.
On the playing side, there is the dilemma Holt noted.
Getting a contract is set to be more competitive than ever with teams expected to run with smaller squads in the likelihood of having reduced budgets. It means there are only so many spaces going around.
The Athletic estimate that around 1,400 players will be released by clubs in the top four divisions in England. One agent said: “The bottom line is it’s definitely not the summer to be out of contract.”
With that in mind, do players like Holt take the first offer that comes their way or bide their time and assess the English market?
Clubs in England are not going to spend a lot of time assessing their squad and making transfer moves with so much focus on the conclusion to the current season.
Teams in Scotland who have set their sights on players in the Championship or Premier League are going to have to play a waiting game which means managers are unlikely to have the squad they want in place until after the season is well underway.
For example, loaning players from Premier League U23 sides has been a useful route, but clubs will be hesitant to allow individuals to leave before they have brought in the players they want so they are not leaving themselves short.
On top of that, with the Premier League and Championship transfer market likely to stay open well into September it means they can swoop for players in Scotland.
They can still be sold once the Scottish transfer market has shut but managers in the SPFL won’t be able to replace those lost unless there are free agents still without clubs.
It could lead to the position where Arsenal make their move for Odsonne Edouard in September or a club comes in for Martin Boyle. The money could be too good to turn down, but there is not going to be anyone available on a free who can replace what those players bring to Celtic and Hibs respectively.
There are a number of different approaches clubs could take to the transfer market.
Will they switch focus to players from abroad, will they put more faith in their academy or will they take the risk and leave space in their squad and budget in the hope they can do a deal between the Premier League and Championship concluding and the Scottish market closing.
Or, alternatively, they could perhaps judge this moment as one to take a risk and move for players who would normally not be in their price range, or potentially try to prise players from clubs who’d be open to selling at a knock-down price because they are in need of revenue.
On the one hand, for both clubs and players, opportunities which may never present themselves could arise, but equally there are going to be dilemmas, risks and misfortune.
One thing for sure, it is set up to be both fascinating and frustrating.