The Winter Transfer Window – A Football/Soccer Agent’s Perspective
In a previous episode of this series concerning the world of agents, we assessed the summer transfer window through the lens of an agent. As the winter holidays have come and gone and we move into a new year, in most countries around the footballing globe, the winter transfer window has opened.
By name and by concept, the summer transfer window and the winter transfer window may be placed into the same bracket. However, the reality is that these two windows take on starkly different characteristics. In this blog we will once again take the perspective of an agent in approaching and operating within the winter transfer window and highlight the biggest contrasts with the summer equivalent.
The Winter Transfer Window
The winter transfer window occurs across different national football associations over different time periods. These are outlined in the graphic below:
As you can see, for most national associations, the winter transfer window takes place during the middle of the season and often in the month of January. I will detail the exceptions to this later on in the blog. Inevitably, as the window lasts only a month rather than spanning across three months, business is slower and there is a significant difference in the volume of deals that take place in the winter window compared with the summer, pre-season window. This is reflected in the graph below which shows the disparity between the spending of the top 5 European leagues in the summer and winter windows. These are typical figures taken from before the impact of COVID-19 dramatically altered the financial expenditure in transfer windows:
Another factor which creates a more stagnant market is that clubs are typically more reluctant to spend significant sums of money on major transfers mid-season unless there is a drastic urgency. There are, as is the case in most aspects of football, exceptions that go against this general pattern. For example, Ferran Torres moved from Manchester City to Barcelona for a fee of around €55million in the January window of the 2021-22 season. It is important for agents not to dismiss transfer opportunities and to ignore this as an option entirely as the football market is unpredictable and if a club is desperately interested in a specific player, there is no law preventing them pursuing a deal in the winter window.
Nevertheless, the common pattern in the winter window is that the kind of opportunity that clubs are looking for are loan deals. One way in this materialises is a club that is looking for a particular player profile or position to join the squad until the end of the season. Perhaps this may be to replace a long-term injured player or to fill a glaring gap in the current squad. Targeting loan deals means that the club can patch over the urgent need for now and then carry out a thorough investigation leading up the summer window and finding a permanent solution.
The Role of the Agent
As an agent, you can begin to assess and predict how the winter window may play out well before it opens. It is very common for discussions to happen and offers to be made well before January. The best agents have an in-depth knowledge of the current football market and will be able to make fairly accurate estimates as to the kind of player, or at least the position, which clubs will be looking for when the window does begin. Constantly and relentlessly monitoring the market benefits your savviness as an agent. You can identify club needs that link with particular players that you are able to access or even your own clients and you can make the deal happen. This will also enhance your reputation and relationship with clubs as you will approach them with a purpose and a preexisting understanding that they are likely to be interested in your opportunity.
It is better to approach a club with a meaningful opportunity rather than to be seen as wasteful of their time. For example, you may have spotted that a club has two central-defenders injured and another hasn’t quite been performing at the required standard in the lead up to the January transfer window. Furthermore, there aren’t an abundance of academy-graduate options available to them that they can trust at first-team level. This club is unlikely to be prioritising strikers as they have had no trouble in the goals department and their attacking options have been playing well. It is futile to offer this club a forward player but the chances are, they will be interested in bolstering their defensive options until at least the end of the season. This can present an opportunity for you as an agent to broker deals and perhaps for a client to find a loan move. The best case scenario could be that you are able to bring a client on a loan deal in the winter window with an option or obligation to buy at the end of the loan included in the contract. If your client impresses at the new club and fills the void they needed, this can then materialise into a permanent transfer, perhaps in the following summer window bringing you additional income and will be appreciated by your client.
Alternatively, a club may be more concerned with offloading players from their squad in order to enhance their match fitness and experience. This is particularly the case with younger players in squads who are still developing and adjusting to men’s football. Clubs tend to be willing to source suitable loan deals for these players if they have not been able to give them consistent game time in the first half of the season. If you are the agent of such a player, you need to assess whether this is a positive career step for the client.
Serving the Client and the Club
Often, your role will be to offer your services to the club, as well as your client, in finding a loan agreement that best serves the interests of the client. You will need to consider the standard of the football at the prospective clubs as well as their coaching system. In some cases, it may actually be favourable to try to avoid a loan if the player is developing well at the current club and is flourishing under the coaching staff. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be the case that a loan move is too much of a step down in level for young players and this stalls their development. It can be better for them to stick with the higher club, learn from the coaches and the better players around them and make the most of the game time and opportunities they do get. However, my advice would be that in most cases, a loan move is a good option for a young player if they are struggling to break into the first team at their current club. It will expose them to a greater experience of mens football and at a young age, this is the best time for their development so it is important that they are playing football.
As the agent, you need to understand your client, their style of play and their interests well. This knowledge will not only enable you to find a club in which the player will be able to flourish but also will ensure that they are happy with the move themselves. If the system at the club is not one that will suit your client nor are they particularly motivated in moving there, this can create an issue and the second half of the season can be wasted if you commit to a flawed loan move in the winter window. A loan deal mid-season needs to be carefully considered and communicated with the clubs and the player.
Another important factor to be aware of is the performance and success of the club in the first half of the season. This can often indicate and hint at what their intentions might be in the winter window. Some clubs may be very content with their season thus far and are pushing above their expectations and are not in any kind of hurry to find new players. However, as well as clubs that have had injury problems, the most likely to be looking for players in the winter windows are ones that are either pushing for trophies or promotion, or those that are set to be involved in a relegation battle. These are two, very different, desperate situations.
For those facing relegation, a push in the January window can help them bring in one or two key players that can make the difference in keeping the club from going down. They may also have had a change in manager before the winter window, who is implementing a new system at the club to try and change their fortunes and needs the right players added to the squad to carry out their plans. At the top end of the table, the clubs that are targeting promotion, play-offs, European qualification or maybe even the title, may have a couple of areas which they believe, if improved, could help them get over the finish line where they want. Identifying the clubs that fit into these categories can also help you as the agent to narrow down the opportunities that may be available to you and your clients if they suit what the club is looking for.
The key is to be smart and savvy. The window is short but it can also be very busy if you have the nous to identify and seek out the most favourable opportunities for you and clients. Use your contacts and knowledge of clubs to analyse the market and carry out due diligence well in advance of the window. This increases your chances of being active and successful in a slow January window.
The ‘Winter’ Window in The Americas
As I mentioned, the winter window, in the majority, is a shortened mid-season window to allow clubs to make quick and often temporary adjustments to their squads before completing the second half of the season. However, there are exceptions to this and this is the case in two major markets, Brazil and the US. In these national associations the ‘winter’ window usually doesn’t open until the end of January as it closes in others. This is because it is a pre-season window, just like the summer window elsewhere as the timings of their playing seasons are different. Hence, these windows are also around 3 months long and will remain open until the latter stages of april.
The implications of this for an agent is that if you are not based in these regions, once the January window is closed, you should not stop working. There are two major football markets that are just opening for business so it is an opportunity that should not be missed. It is vital that you consider and plan some potential deals that may present themselves by looking into these markets. This falls under the advantage of being a global agent. Having connections in each corner of the football globe can help you to access deals and sources of income, even when the main transfer windows are closed.
It is vital to be aware that if the window is shut in European markets for example, the player is not able to sign into a club in these regions but they are able to leave. Consequently, as the agent you can still move a client into a window that is still open even if they are transferring from one that is now closed. This is a significant factor in finding a next step for your client and possibilities that are available even when the window is shut in their current market.
In these markets, you can speak with contacts and clubs as well as carrying out your own research to find whether there is any potential for you to conduct business during the winter pre-season window. You have three months to find clubs that are looking to improve their personnel before the beginning of their campaign for the year. It could be an exciting possibility to move a client abroad and to an upcoming and thriving market such as the MLS in the US. If your client is dissatisfied with their current situation, they will appreciate that you continue to work for them even after the usual windows are shut and are trying to find them a new beginning in a new league and country.
Perhaps it is needless to say that in order to operate as an agent in football, you ought to have a wide-ranging and extensive knowledge of the markets and transfer windows. There are major points of difference between the summer and winter windows and I hope that this blog has demonstrated the nuances you need to work around in order to successfully conduct business in the January winter window. However, this blog has also highlighted that there are opportunities beyond this traditional January window and further afield. Finding the best opportunity for your clients, no matter where in the world, should be the priority and along the way there will also be the chance to broker deals and to work alongside clubs, further improving and expanding your capabilities as an agent.