Is the transfer window a restraint of trade? Should it be abolished or transformed?

John Nicholson
Alexis Mac Allister, Jude Bellingham and Dejan Kulusevski have all completed big-money transfers in 2023.

The idea behind the transfer window was to prevent smaller clubs being undermined during the season by richer clubs buying their best players at any time. Whether you like it as a concept or not, there are two aspects to the window that are still fundamentally unfair.

First, the window closes on different days in different countries so it’s not an even playing field. Transfermarkt says it ends in England and Wales on September 1, but on August 31 in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Japan it’s August 16, in Poland it’s September 4, in Belgium it’s September 6, in Australia the 12th, Turkey is on the 15th and you can lose a player to a Benin club right up until their window closes on October 27.

Each country’s FA can decide how long they want the window to be as long as it doesn’t exceed 12 weeks. Obviously, sometimes the dates of the window are dictated by when the particular league actually plays football. For example, Norway’s pre-season window is January 9 – April and 1 their ‘January’ is August 1–31.

But because each territory can set its own dates within certain parameters, it gives an advantage to those who close later than most. Is it fair that an English club can sign a Scottish player on September 1 but the Scottish club can’t sign a replacement for that player until January? And while most of Europe’s major league’s windows end on September 1 it is only 10 territories that do.

READ: The 20 biggest transfers in the world in the 2023 summer transfer window

While there have to be variations because of when the season is played, surely there should be a defined transfer window for all that play their season at the same time?

It doesn’t seem right that an English club could lose a player to a Belgium club six days after the window has closed and so be unable to replace them. With a closing date two weeks later than most of Europe, Galatasaray can come in with a big offer for your best striker, turn their heads and totally disrupt your season. Similarly, Japanese clubs, now a popular source of players, can have their players bought by English or Scottish clubs in the next couple of weeks…after the Japanese window has shut.

Which brings us to the second unfairness. It would surely be better for the window to end the day before your season starts. Then you’d know the playing staff you had at your disposal, at least until January. As it is, Spurs, for example, didn’t know if they’d have Harry Kane for a few games or not.

Right now, lots of clubs don’t know if they’ll lose an important player or if they’ll be able to add someone significant with the season already underway. It’s pointless uncertainty and disruption. There’s nothing to be gained by it and can lead to overspending and panic buying when a club loses someone late in the window and has to replace them at the last minute.

This all happens because individual associations have so much autonomy and can set the window for whenever they like and set the start of the season similarly. But now more than ever it is a global game and while it’s not possible to harmonise everyone’s start and end window dates for obvious reasons, surely it would be possible to do so fairly comprehensively.

If it isn’t possible, at least change the rules so that a club can’t buy a player from an association whose window is shut. Either that or don’t have a window at all so that everyone can recruit staff whenever they like, perhaps outside of the last couple of months of the season. That does hand a huge advantage to the wealthiest, but they already have a huge advantage anyway and it would make life easier for everyone.

Some might even argue that the window is a restraint of trade and that footballers and football clubs should be allowed to buy and sell themselves and their players to whoever they want, whenever they want.

The way things are right now doesn’t do anyone any favours. The transfer window needs reforming one way or another.