Football transfers: who is really leaving, and how does it really work?



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There is a headline in the EPL Index 30 June “Report: Arsenal Set Sights on €50m Barcelona Defender as Priority Signing” which made me think, does the author of the article really believe that this is how signings work?  And further, do the publishers really think that their readership actually believe it?

Let’s think how the matter actually works.

Premier League clubs have not only a manager, but a whole team working under the manager that looks at how the first team is performing and what can be done to improve it.

Their immediate source of new players are the five substitutes that can be used in each Premier League match out of the nine on the bench.   Arsenal used five subs 13 times last season.  Manchester City only did that four times.  On the other hand, Manchester City used three subs ten times, while Arsenal only did this five times.

In fact the number of times five substitutions were used by clubs tells us very little – West Ham use five subs the least (just once in fact) while Brighton used all five 62% of the time.

Of course making full use of the 25 man squad relates a number of issues, ranging from just how good some of that squad actually is (as opposed to being there to make up the numbers) and how many first-choice players are either injured, called away on meaningless international games, or simply not as good as the first choice player who keeps his place.

But clubs do have 25 men squads,  plus players who are under 21 years old at the start of the season.  And obviously squads change over time.  But does it happen as the media that focus on transfers suggest, with names suddenly popping up all the way through the window?

The answer is certainly not.  The manager and his team will have looked at the squad for next season even before the last season ends.   Gaps and improvements will have been considered and possible changes outlined.   So the notion that suddenly, a few weeks or even a couple of months after the end of one season that a club will suddenly develop an interest in a particular player is something of a nonsense.

The manager and his team will have the current 25.  The players who are going to move on will have been informed and indeed will probably have known about the possibility of being put up for sale months before.  Because we should be clear that the player has the final word in any transfer agreement.

Now in effect, players generally don’t say no to a transfer because the alternative can mean being left out of the 25.   That means they might well receive a salary, but they won’t get any games – and they will become known as a player to be avoided as one who will not fit in with the club’s plans.

So the management team tells the player’s agent, “he’s not in our thinking for next season,” and the player and agent devise a strategy – hopefully (although not always) along with the club, of finding a new club to play for.

But given the way the system works there are other complications.   Players who do not yet meet the age range (ie the under 21s) but who are playing at a high standard are particularly valuable, since they mean the 25 man squad can be extended.   Players who are happy to be in the squad while knowing they are only back-ups can be valuable since they will not be making a fuss about not playing.

The ones who are not so welcome are those who are not making the XI and are either not in the squad at all, or just endlessly on the bench, but who are not willing to be sent out on loan.

Then we have the players who are injured but upon returning can’t get back in the team.  Take for example Emile Smith Rowe, with four starts and 15 sub appearances in all competitions last season.   He will surely be wanting more.

So at the end of each season, there is some moving on to be done, not necessarily because the player is not good enough, but because there is someone ahead of him in the rankings who plays in the same position.

But, players can’t be forced out.  If they have time left on their contract, and they don’t want to leave, the manager cannot force the player out.   Of course what does help the matter along is that players generally want to play, so a pay cut and a move to a less desirable part of the country might be acceptable if the player sees the chances of more games.

Arsenal last season had a full complement of 25 players of whom two have now left the club at the end of their contract and 61 under 21 players registered with the club, all of whom were eligible to play but some of whom will now be over 21 for the new season.

There will, as ever, be some shifting going on.  So the notion that Arsenal is now, suddenly starting to have an interest in a particular player they might transfer in or out, is just fantasy.  The statistics would have been known from at least January, and discussions would already have been arranged.

Indeed some weeks ago Arsenal announced the departure of 22 players who have now gone…

Mauro Bandeira
Omari Benjamin
Luis Brown
Catalin Cirjan
Noah Cooper
Sabrina D’Angelo
Henry Davies
Ovie Ejeheri
Mohamed Elneny
Taylor Foran
Hubert Graczyk
James Hillson
Henry Jeffcott
Tyreece John-Jules
Alex Kirk
James Lannin-Sweet
Kaylan Marckese
Vivianne Miedema
Arthur Okonkwo
Kamarni Ryan
Cedric Soares
Kido Taylor-Hart

Three other players have contracts that expire today and no announcement has been made as yet concerning Amario Cozier-Duberry, Karl Hein and Reuell Walters.

Hence now we wait and see.


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