Jim White

The transfer window’s icy draught

Jim White

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Let us for a moment pause for thought at the predicament of the poor folk at Sky Sports News. There they are all set up for this, their whole working calendar focussed on what should be a highlight of their reporting year.

They have that bloke with the five mobiles, the one who claims the ear of every chairman in the country, on stand-by in the studio. They have reporters around the country poised to go and stand outside training grounds for hours telling us that not much has yet happened. They have their news anchormen, their shouty dials ready to be turned up to the maximum. And so far: nothing. This January transfer window has been about as eventful as a Labour Party leadership coup.

Since the window opened for business, the biggest financial deal of a fortnight's activity has been Birmingham City's £3 million purchase of the midfielder Michel from Sporting Gijon. It is not enough even to send my namesake Jim White into his normal blood vessel-bursting condition of rapture. And he can go off like a jack in the box at news of Steve Sidwell pulling a hamstring.

The bad news for Jim and his mates is, there is no hint that there is much else to come. Manchester United and Chelsea have indicated their cheque books will remain firmly closed, the humungo-spenders of Manchester City have picked up solely the free transfer Patrick Vieira, while Liverpool have added only Maxi Rodriguez to their swollen ranks of not-quite-up-to-the-job foreign mercenaries. Meanwhile Arsenal have apparently gone back to the future by re-signing Sol Campbell.

The transfer of Campbell, together with Vieira's move to City and David James imminent departure from Portsmouth on loan, is the most telling facet of the transfer window. With a combined age of 107 - 110 if you believe the persistent rumours about one of the trio's true vintage - they hardly represent much in the way of long term prospects. But each of them is an understandable signing. Even if he is old enough to be much of the squad's dad, Campbell can give Arsenal's callow dressing room a lead on how to close out wins and secure titles. Which is much the purpose of Vieira, a man who won a championship medal every year in his Italian sojourn, and who will bring a wealth of pertinent experience to the disparate egos at City, maybe even turning them into title contenders.

As for James, whoever signs him will get themselves the sale bargain of the year. His move finally signals what a condition the south coast club is in. They couldn't afford to play him because any more appearances would have triggered a clause in his contract that would have meant he was offered an extension. In playing terms, it would have been a perfectly valid extension. Avram Grant would have loved to have kept him. But the club is in such financial straits they simply could not afford to take on another couple of million pounds worth of future liability. So he is available for free. Incidentally, a similar thing happened with Oxford United in 1999. They let by far their best player, Dean Windass, go in similar circumstances. At the time - largely thanks to Windass's goals, they were in the top 10 of the Championship. Now they are in the Conference. Something worth pondering at Fratton Park.

So here we are 15 days into the period that normally sees an incontinent splurge of spending and the highlight is three old timers moving for nothing. What does that say about the current state of the English game? Probably that it is broke. Or if not actually bust then at last realising that a bit of financial rectitude is required. Unable to compete with the Spanish giants for the truly world class names, not particularly impressed with what is on offer domestically, our top clubs have so far largely decided to keep their wallets in their back pockets. Which, though they probably won't thank them in the studios of Sky Sports News, may prove to be no bad thing.

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