THE JANUARY WHICH PRUDENCE WON

PRUDENCE  may not stand out from the crowd and she definitely does not turn heads. She is no Ugly Betty, she is just un-spectacular. As a character, though, she possesses certain qualities which make her timeless. She is caring, wise, well-meaning and always has one eye on the future.

The 2010 January transfer window was extremely uneventful.

In the past, our country’s biggest footballing institutions have used the New Year transfer window extensively. By comparison, the past four weeks have seemed really rather dull at first glance, but underlying this initial impression is a truth that we all – as lovers of the Beautiful Game – must come to terms with. The truth, is that many of the football clubs we have fallen in love with, and continue to bestow our affections upon, simply do not have the funds available to buy new players.

The January transfer window should, in theory, be an exciting start to the year and if we were back in the early years of the new millennium we would probably have seen a lot more money being exchanged. The years between 2000 and 2005 will forever be symbolised by the transfer of Francis Jeffers from Sheffield Wednesday to Arsenal in 2001; the transfer fee was £8 million pounds and the transfer seemed to represent the trend of a super-inflated transfer market in which footballers were being bought for amounts of money far exceeding their real market value.

Transfer fees were rising and as an audience we loved it. Every football fan suddenly wanted a Roman Abramovich-type figure to invest in their club and propel their team in to the footballing stratosphere. The sky – if you had the money – was the limit. What seems clear now though, is that as a collective, we did not question the money that was being thrown around in these years. Because extravagant money was being spent on transfers, we just presumed football clubs could afford to do so.

Since then of course, digital television companies have gone up in smoke and the UK economy has crashed harder than it had done since the 1930s (or maybe longer depending on who you believe) in what was a truly worldwide recession.

Two weeks ago Championship side Crystal Palace were docked ten points after having been placed into administration and it seems only a matter of weeks before the 2008 FA Cup winners Portsmouth meet a similar fate. Manchester United have been all over both the front, back and middle pages of newspapers in recent weeks as it came to light that the supposed ‘richest club in the World’ actually owed £700 million. Strife seems to be all-around in the football world at the moment, but to what extent can these financial plights currently being experienced be attributed to the crash of the Economy? Well, who knows, I very much doubt even Deloitte could tell you.

What we can say for definite is that the Premier League and indeed the rest of English football has over the past nineteen years continued to grow in stature. In any industry Growth is hard to manage. It is to enter previously-unchartered waters and how can you know exactly how to manage a process that has never been experienced? You can’t, all any business can do is to have the right people on board, people with experience of working in fast-moving environments with enough knowledge of the industry in which they work to be able to manage the changes that come with expansion. So do the football clubs we love have the right businessmen on board? Unfortunately again, we have no way of knowing.

What is sad is that some of the country’s most prestigious football clubs appear to have been mismanaged and as the main stakeholders of these businesses we have been powerless to dictate events or have any sort of a say. Football fans face a strange predicament, especially those who support teams who are in real financial danger. If there was a rumour going around that the bank you had been saving your future pension with for the last thirty years were about to go under, would you still put money into that bank every week, or would you withdraw your investment and take it elsewhere? With the dark clouds of financial difficulties brewing over their head, can clubs expect their fans to invest twenty pounds a week in to something which appears to be being mismanaged?

No they can’t.

Something has to change.

So, if you are disapponted by the January transfer window and are tempted to complain about the lack of transfer activity, think again. There is simply not enough money actually liquid in our football clubs to be spent on new players. Surrounded by financial uncertainty football clubs have decided to largely ignore the January transfer window. They have decided to put short-term ambitions on hold in the hope that it will benefit them in the long-term not to borrow even more money from their creditors. The men in charge of clubs’ finances may have made some bad choices in the past, but on this occasion, the decision to keep their money close to home is truly judicious.

With reason and sensitivity to the current economic crisis, chairmen all across the country have chosen to turn to Prudence. In times of trouble, she is approachable and always understanding. She will help find a better way but she will care for the present. The Money Men have chosen well. Whilst Prudence watches over us, we need to come together as followers of football and put pressure on the FA and UEFA to review the relationship between football and money. She will steady the ship for the time being, but only these two organisations can work out a way to calm these stormy seas.

By Ross A. Fox

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