The European Winter Transfer Window

The Winter Transfer window presents an opportunity for many European Clubs to add new talent to their roster.

The goals of teams are various:

1. Improve the current roster to win or qualify for a championship.
2. Improve the current roster to compete against the top teams.
3. Improve the current roster to help the team escape relegation.
4. Sell off the surplus talent to get some revenue.
5. Waive some contracts to ensure the bottom line.

This window provides a brief opportunity for a course correction for many teams, for others, namely those in the Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway and Finland, it presents a chance for a new start. In this way it is particularly interesting, because while it is the mid-season break for several leagues, it also marks the start of the league for several Nordic countries. As seen in the list above, the overall emphasis of this period is to improve the current roster.

Some of the transfer periods for 2014/2015 are shown below:

December 20th – January 26th German Winter Break

December 9th – February 23rd Danish Winter Break

January 1st – February 2nd General European Signing Period (mid/start of season)

March, 2014 Start of football in Sweden and Norway

A Complicated Look at the Transfer Window

A set in mathematics is defined as a collection of items (which are called elements). A set can be collection of anything, but for the purposes of this discussion, we will look at a deck of cards, the value of these cards and look at the applicability to choosing players during the transfer window.

If the players can be viewed as a deck of cards with fixed attributes (speed, goals per game, etc.), then the collection of them distributed amongst teams will result in some teams having better talent than others. Thus, If these cards are dealt out at the start of a game (any game), your success is dependent on the hand that you have dealt, which is the talent on your squad, i.e. the set of players on your roster.

The Cost of Getting New Players

The chance of winning games however, is increased if one can get a high value card out of the undealt pool (a better player from the pool of the available free-agents), when the chance presents itself. There are two things that are implicit in this statement - A card of high value exists (a talented player) and it can be obtained. What is unstated is the chance of getting this card. This is why the winter transfer window is challenging, it brings together the chance of selecting an available player at nominal cost.

Clubs under the risk of relegation therefore have the opportunity to add a talent player that can improve their performance. Similarly, small clubs that have just been promoted have a chance to add talent that could help the compete with bigger clubs. Both of these teams however must draw from the available players, which is the set of available players. Many clubs cannot afford to spend a lot of money on new players, and so this process becomes even more challenging.

Expanding the Set of Available Players

Typically the available talent is players that currently exist in the league. They are the cards that are now available, undealt by the dealer in the card game analogy. In a card game there is randomness to what new card you get, in football there is a cost. What remains the same is that set of available players is known. Similarly the observant card players have an intuition as to what players are in the set of available cards, but the randomness prevents them from accessing them.

Typically clubs draw new players from the available free-agent players in their local leagues. After the transfer window closes, some of these clubs show no change in performance. Part of the problem here, is this case is that the total set of all players (free agents and signed) within a league is the same and the aggregate performance is fixed.

If teams want to dramatically improve their chances, the focus must be on expanding this set of available players. Thus scouts should look at available players in the local league and available players outside the local league. Many things make such and endeavor difficult, such as work permit rules, the difficulty of quantifying foreign talent, but at the end of the day teams can see improved results by working hard on expanding the pool of available free agents, beyond what is normal of comfortable.

Scouting Across the Globe

Teams in domestic European leagues that are looking to improve talent on their roster have several ways to expand their talent pools.

  • Players from Other European Leagues – Other European Leagues present excellent scouting venues for top division teams across Europe. Talented players can be found at the lower levels of many of the nation in the European Union, such as France, Germany, Portugal, and Italy. Furthermore, talented players can be found in Austria, Switzerland, Croatia, and the Nordic countries. The best way to scout all these countries is to formulate a scouting network prior to the start of any season.
  • Players from Africa - Some talented players can be found in Africa. When scouting in Africa, the key is to look at the African Champions League, a grueling continental tournament. Statistical measures of performances can be looked at, and teams can get a high level confidence on the quality of the player. Beyond this tournament, teams can scout the African Nations Cup, the African Confederations Cup and the continental age-grade tournaments. Some of these players will be free agents, but teams will have to navigate the work permit gymnastics.
  • Players from Latin America - There are many talented players in Latin America, and a good number of these players carry European passports. That said, many of these players are contractually committed to teams in their home countries. As such, many of these players may only be obtained with the payment of a transfer fee. With some effort, a talent player can be found that is available as a free agent.
  • Players from North America - Players from the United States or Canada, present interesting prospects. Because of the complexities of the American soccer system, it is advisable to bring in these players in early during the preseason. The greater Los Angeles area has about 10 million people, and clubs from Mexico have been mining the area and discovering many talented players. European clubs can obtain a young talent, who could make an impact for the team, but there is some up front effort required to infuse players who may be coming from outside the MLS, but it is possible.
  • Players from Asia - Asia presents a region where European teams can recruit talented National Team players. Countries such as South Korea, Japan and players from Australia are talent pools that have not been fully exploited. If a European team wishes to expand their talent pool, they should forge long term relationships with sports professionals in those regions and devise a strategy that could unearth talented players.

Conclusion

Many teams fail during the Winter Transfer window because they have failed to expand their talent pool. The performances of relegated teams before and after the winter transfer period point to the deficiency in scouting, and not the collective team performance. It is thus very important for teams to prepare intensely for the winter transfer period. This can be done by organizing player trials early, and working out travel visas for foreign players well ahead of time. If a team has sufficient budget, success in the winter transfer window mean not hesitating on agreeing on the transfer fees of established talented players. The winter transfer window always has many winners and loser, those who win are those who prepare well for this critical period.