Three-month transfer window could have been designed by football agents
This summer's football transfer window already seems like the longest in living memory and – check the calendar if this seems impossible to believe – it still has four full weeks to run. No wonder people have been suggesting the game repackages its trading opportunity into something much smaller and neater, a fortnight or a single calendar month, for example.
Everyone is horrified at the prospect of the Gareth Bale/Wayne Rooney/Luis Suárez sagas overrunning the close season and interfering with the actual games
. Nothing concrete appears to have been happening in any of the above contractual wrangles and one could throw in Robert Lewandowski at Borussia Dortmund and Cesc Fábregas at Barcelona as well
, for the probable reason that there is absolutely no need for either party in a mooted transaction to hurry.
There is loads of time yet left for prices to be driven higher or, in a couple of cases, lower, if a club in possession of a discontented player finally runs out of options and decides to cut its losses. A three-month transfer window could have been designed by agents, as it maximises the opportunities for movement and prolongs the most lucrative negotiations. A shorter, clearly defined window that is out of the way well before the season starts would not only concentrate minds but would be much fairer to managers and supporters of small to mid-ranking clubs, who at the moment might start their league fixtures with a squad and a gameplan in mind, only to lose a key centre forward or midfielder a couple of matches in.
That Manchester United might now be able to cope without Rooney has been one of the themes of the summer but the majority of clubs are less well-placed to adjust to the loss of one of their best players when there may be only hours left to sign someone else.
So far there have been more questions than answers, although in fairness to Tottenham, they have not allowed Bale's impending departure to become a distraction. Far from standing still the club has twice broken its transfer record and, should Bale leave for a sum north of £80m, few would view it as bad business. One of the questions of the summer is whether any player is worth that much. Cristiano Ronaldo probably was, at the time, to Real Madrid, even if his contribution did end up being eclipsed by Lionel Messi and Barcelona. The idea of Ronaldo and Bale playing in the same team is quite an exciting one, in theory Madrid could have the world's most rampaging wide players on either flank, though whether Ronaldo and Bale still see themselves as rampaging wide players is debatable. But there is still talk of Madrid selling Ronaldo, if they can find a buyer. This is not the galáctico era any more, there is a limit to even Real Madrid's riches and logic dictates that, if a relatively young player is signed for £80m, the best chance to recoup some of that sum is while the player is still at the top of his game, not in a few more years when he is on the way down.
The same thing will doubtless happen to Bale in a few years, should he make the move to Madrid, though that depends on what impact the Welshman makes at the Bernabeu. Compared with risk-free, already established Madrid captures down the years, from Zinedine Zidane to Luis Figo and both Ronaldos, Bale has no track record of trophy-winning success. He is undoubtedly an exciting attacker who made the most of his limited opportunity to excel in the Champions League, yet there are plenty of Spurs fans ready to question his overall work rate and his ability to perform as a team player. The spectre of Andy Carroll at Liverpool has already been raised, though that seems a little harsh. Most clubs would fancy Bale in their side. Yet if the fee is disproportionate, any player will need a flying start to avoid pressure from his price tag.
Closer to home José Mourinho could probably pick up Rooney for a reasonable fee. If United were to let him go for somewhere around £30m, most people would feel that his previous achievements justified that value and, for around a third of the price of Bale, many would rate Rooney a safer signing.
The questions are: do Chelsea actually need Rooney and does Mourinho really want him? If the new, mature Mourinho wished to return to type for a moment and cause a bit of mischief for the new United manager, what better way than to unsettle his star player? Is Rooney going to be playing at Stamford Bridge this season or is this just a giant wind-up?
One onlooker keen to find out is Roy Hodgson, who names his squad for the now traditional silly and unwanted mid-August international friendly, this time against Scotland at Wembley. Later in the season England need to be worrying about Ukraine and Montenegro if they intend to join the party in Brazil next summer, though the greater worry is what, if anything, they might achieve should they get there.
When Richard Scudamore issued his non mea culpa, arguing that the Premier League could not possibly be blamed for England's fallow years between 1966 and 1992, he had a point. But he neglected to mention that England were more than half decent in the World Cups of 1970, 1986 and 1990. Though rarely favourites, they used to have the knack of growing into tournaments, improving as the games became more challenging.
Even the briefest analysis of the past three World Cups suggests this no longer happens. England have been going backwards since Japan 2002, arguably since France 98. Now they start poorly and get worse. Fabio Capello was shocked in South Africa, Sven-Goran Eriksson a spent force in Germany. In a sense Hodgson has very little to live up to. Expectations ought to be at rock bottom. But we all know that is not what to expect in a World Cup season.