The Premier League, to give it credit, has come up with a pretty good answer to a very important question. The question: how can a league have a winter break, with all the lack of football that implies, while at the same time ensuring that the television companies — the most important people in English football — have something to put on the televisions?
The answer. Split it! Half the league gets this weekend off, half the league the next. Television gets to carry on regardless. It’s an elegant compromise. And hey, we all get to watch Brighton vs. Watford, and that wouldn’t be happening on a normal weekend.
So of course, to celebrate the occasion of their excellent sensibleness, the Premier League has gone and done something silly.
Breaking: Premier League clubs vote to return to old longer transfer window, closing on Sept 1 and no longer before the start of the season— Martyn Ziegler (@martynziegler) February 6, 2020
There are many ways in which this is a terrible idea. The most exciting, however, is the blessed return of what we’re calling The Chaos Overture. That is, the few weeks between the season beginning and the transfer window closing. Two games, maybe three. Enough time for a twitchy football club to look at their summer’s work, and look at their early performances, and look at the long season stretching out ahead of them, and think:
Oh God, oh God, oh God — we’re doomed, we’re totally doomed. Who even are these clowns? Did you buy them? I didn’t buy them. Quick! Get somebody else! Anybody else! Who’s free get on the phone? How much money have we got? Get on another phone at the same time! How much money can we borrow? Oh God, oh God — does anybody know David Luiz’s agent?
It’s probably more professional than that, with suits and handshakes and so forth. But we reckon that’s the gist.
This is an odd thing to do. It’s one thing to have a problem hanging around that nobody has ever seriously tried to fix: football has hundreds of these, big and small, from the ongoing nonsense of time wasting to the pointlessly arcane ballet of the throw-in. But the game rubs along anyway, with the occasional well-meaning tweak here and there.
Here we have something different. A problem was identified and then solved, and has now been unsolved. Reproblematised. And it’s all the fault of those pesky Other Countries, refusing to fall in line with the Premier League. As Jürgen Klopp put it back in September:
I don’t care when it closes, but it must close at the same time. That was the idea in the first place. They spoke about finishing it before the season starts. Good idea, but only England did it. That makes no sense. It was a good idea but it didn’t work out.
It is better, then, to be unsensible with everybody else than it is to be sensible alone. (You can position this as a neat inversion of Brexit, if you’ve got the energy.) It was, certainly, unusual that English clubs could sell but not buy after the deadline; whether this was a “big mistake”, as Mauricio Pochettino felt, is up for debate. But having an unreplaceable Christian Eriksen gazing out of an open window for 20 days can’t have helped anybody.
The real winner, as ever, is television. Sky Sports’ yellow-trimmed carnival of filthy lucre has always thrived on panic and chaos, and that’s what’s returning here. And perhaps that’s OK, in the long run. The Premier League should do the silly, televisual thing, because the Premier League is a silly, televisual thing. The brand is strong. Sensible never stood a chance.