The 2022/23 English Football League(EFL) season started as early as the 29th July to accommodate this winter’s dubiously located Qatar-based FIFA World Cup, but the transfer window, in which clubs can trade players and bolster their squads for the campaign ahead does not close until 11 pm on the 31st August. This has created significant upheaval and myriad ‘will he, won’t he’ rumours that many clubs could do without, especially as in the five weeks between both landmarks as many as nine games will have been played by each of the 72 sides in the Championship, and Leagues One and Two.
In an ideal world most clubs would have a settled squad going into the first weeks of the season, something that could be effectuated by the window closing as the season starts. As though in something of a rather perverse move which seems more for general entertainment purposes for Sky Sports’ News than having any constructive meaning, clubs must focus on a busy league programme and potentially two matches in the Carabao Cup whilst their players are being circled by suitors who are far from being the guilty parties, but in actuality are only doing what the rest are but would like to avoid. In an invariably unhealthy scenario of the tail wagging the dog, some clubs risk losing their prize assets – Wesley Fofana and Josh Bowler are just two examples – and not having sufficient time in which to adequately replace them.
In the lower divisions transfers often ape the pitfalls of buying(and selling) properties. Dispensing with the services of a player can frequently first rely on a replacement being sourced, and that player needing to be supplanted, and so on. It is rare for significant outgoing transfers to be absorbed by recruiting internally, as was the case when Harry Maguire left Leicester City for Manchester United, to be more than adequately replaced by squad member Caglar Soyuncu, but normally clubs are dependent on a chain of transfers being seamlessly straightforward so that a selling club can quickly offset losses to the squad, but only if from whom they are buying can also follow suit. It is therefore a finely balanced and precarious business.
Blackpool’s Josh Bowler quickly rose to prominence after the new year, having only been signed on a one-year deal(with an option for a further season) the previous summer. It is moot as to whether the club only opted to offer such a short-term deal due to being unsure of Bowler’s potential, or if the player himself wanted to keep his options open. Either way, the former Everton man blossomed during the second half of last season into one of the Championship’s hottest properties. Although still having much to learn, especially with decision-making, Bowler is not only young enough at 23 to improve yet further but appears to be coachable, which is more than can be said for some past and present Blackpool players of a similar age.
It is still a possibility that Bowler will see out the remainder of his contract, leaving as a free agent in June 2023 to receive a hefty signing on fee (and inflated salary) in lieu of a buying club shelling out on a large transfer fee. If Blackpool get another 25-35 high quality performances from the player, he could be the difference between relegation and the Seasiders retaining a place in an extremely demanding second tier of English football. In such circumstances would the player be more relaxed and less distracted, or instead be concerned that his big chance had gone should a dip in form or injuries intervene?
Far from being a nailed on certainty I still anticipate Bowler leaving in the next three days, and I am sure would do so with the blessing of almost all Blackpool supporters. That though might depend on the fee, which should be at least £4 million but there is a scenario where the player may prefer one club who are offering less, than another who are willing to go to and beyond the aforementioned figure but are not an as attractive proposition.
Those in the frame for Bowler’s services include Bournemouth, Fulham, Leicester City, and Watford, with outliers Blackburn Rovers not exactly offering a bigger challenge or the better chance of promotion than afforded by Blackpool. It would be a bitter pill to swallow if the player decamped to Watford, only because selling to a fellow Championship club would see the player pitch up at Bloomfield Road in the next few months. For a player who presumably wishes to ply his trade in the Premier League, there are no cast iron certainties that signing for Rob Edwards’ Hornets offers a smooth route to doing so.
It is with some irony that Blackpool’s final game before the window finally shuts is against Blackburn Rovers. Will Bowler be in tangerine? I presume not, but it is far less likely still that he will be turning out for the opposition. Football is though an industry where money talks as much as the garrulous property development industry, so to rule any possible outcome however outlandish as unlikely, especially at the eleventh hour of the transfer window, is undoubtedly foolish.
Those involved in scheduling the current season and the transfer window’s denouement really need to indicate what the latter’s purpose actually is, if only because of it closing such a significant length of time after the new campaign has kicked off. Is it for the entertainment of neutrals and to sate Sky Television, where viewers are all but encouraged by the ticker in the corner of their screens to sit back with the popcorn. If Blackpool lose Bowler in a last minute trolley dash by a struggling Premier League side, who will replace him? Midfield exponents of his ilk are rare beasts indeed and whilst Blackpool have signed Ian Poveda on loan from Leeds United, it is a hard ask for the former Blackburn loanee to step into Bowler’s mercurial slipstream.
The transfer window has become something akin to a peep show of guilty pleasure, a circus, and where rational thought becomes increasingly conspicuous by its absence the nearer the deadline becomes. Where is the sense in so many games being played before the window closes, until January? There isn’t a solid case for any alternative being viable, but with most contracts running until June the 30th it would make more sense for these to instead terminate at the end of May, affording clubs a whole two months to undertake their transfer business. That the season started so early because of the egregious staging of football’s showpiece event in Qatar just adds further insult to injury and greater evidence yet, should it be needed, of the tail wagging the dog.