Amid Jools Holland’s squeaking and the frenzied anger of Twitter’s glistening gammon over a set of fireworks that resembled the flag of the EU, the chip in Sky Sport’s Jim White’s brain started to fizz and whirr into operation. While his family will have embraced one another with cheers of “Haud Hogmanay”, Mr White was already looking ahead to the month to come, a month framed by a lurid yellow ticker tape and aggressive “Breaking News” graphics. The January Transfer Window is open – a chance to witness some of the ugliest sides of football.
Perhaps “ugly” is too strong a term, but January is draining both on and off the pitch. In the recent Netflix documentary Sunderland ‘Til I Die, the sight of Martin Bain and Chris Coleman slumped in their chairs in the bright, artificial office light having spent a full deadline day trying to bring in a striker was revealing as to how much of a slog it can be.
Three days into January and Chelsea were already setting the tone. The signing of Christian Pulisic from Dortmund for £58 million was one sanctioned without their manager’s knowledge and, although they are signing a young American whom many recognise to be mature beyond his years, their supposed willingness to allow a product of their own academy, in the shape of Callum Hudson-Odoi, leave for Germany shows that very little has been learned from Jadon Sancho’s current reputation as the best young player in the Bundesliga. So good in fact, that he has been keeping Pulisic out of the Dortmund starting XI.
Raw talents now represent too great a risk for top-level managers in England and it is increasingly the case that player price needs to be part of the selection criteria. For a manager to feel safe playing a young player, a large transfer fee makes the club complicit too.
This is an example of the overriding short-termism that takes hold over January. This month in the football calendar feels like a contrived combination of all the daytime television available. The endless gossip and attention-seeking headlines that would not look out of place on Good Morning Britain and Loose Women; the bickering and airing of dirty laundry about internal transfer policy would make for good Jeremy Kyle Show fodder.
Clubs trying to stave off relegation look for cut-price options for a proven goal scorer. It’s like the final moments of the trip to the car boot sale as the red team and blue team finally decide on the unconvincing cutlery set perched on the edge of a Vauxhall Astra boot that they might just break even on in the best case scenario.
It is now all so predictable – like daytime television. Yes, someone might just break away from the mundane and beat the Tipping Point machine but really, in January, we’re all just watching on as Ben Shephard asks questions and plastic discs move at the will of a giant arcade machine.