The January transfer window is about to get a lot busier — and even more expensive — thanks to UEFA’s second tweak of Champions and Europa League rules in just as many months.
In February, UEFA amended the qualification rules, directly advancing all of the top four from Spain, England, Germany, and Italy into the group stage of the Champions League (instead of three) and staggering start times to show more live games on TV (and make more money).
But the second batch of changes could have an even bigger impact. And UEFA buried the lede in their press release. First, they prattled on about 23-man squads instead of the current 18, twelve subs on the bench, earlier start times, a fourth substitute permitted in extra time and which clubs can put winners badges on their shirts.
Ho-hum, for the most part, although the extra sub is a welcome change.
Then they dropped a bomb.
Regarding the registration of players after a group stage of the UEFA Champions League and UEFA Europa League, a club may register three new eligible players without any restrictions. This is in line with the existing regulatory situation in the different domestic leagues, which does not impose restrictions on the eligibility for competitions of players registered for a new club during the winter transfer window.
“Without any restrictions.” Yowza. No more cup-tied players in the January window. Well, up to three, anyway. (They seem to forget that players in England can still be FA Cup-tied.)
But imagine the implications of that. From Chelsea’s perspective, Nemanja Matić was cup-tied when we bought him back from Benfica in the 2014 January window. We played Atletico Madrid in the Champions League semi-final with a midfield of Ramires and David Luiz. We lost 1-3 and crashed out. With Matic, would we have beaten Atleti and maybe Real Madrid in the final?
This season, the likes of Philippe Coutinho (Barcelona) and Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang (Arsenal) would have been eligible for Europe with their new clubs. And a complicating factor in Chelsea’s pursuit of Edin Dzeko was that he had already played for Roma in the Champions League.
But here’s the thing... with no more cup-tied worries, will the richest clubs be even more tempted to dip into the January window? And will that send prices soaring in what is already a pricey time of year to do business? As for who lobbied UEFA to make this change, well, it’s not hard to imagine that the clubs themselves pushed for it.
In the past, January has often been a somewhat sleepy window. With Champions and Europa League restrictions lifted on up to three players per club, that may be about to change. Fasten your seat belts and keep a firm grip on your pocketbook.