Transfer Window Tedium by Tim Rolls @tim_rolls

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Football transfers are now an enormously valuable, highly sophisticated, truly global business, earning huge sums for agents and keeping the world’s football media abuzz during the two transfer windows. Chelsea are active and highly efficient participants in this market, and, like all top clubs, prize themselves on their global network of scouts and contacts. They have the money, and they have the prestige, to compete for the very best from the four corners of the globe. As The Observer said this week, few players would turn down the opportunity to play for Jose Mourinho.

This summer’s loan signing of Radamel Falcao, and other rumoured purchases from home and abroad, show clearly the quality of player demanded by the club. The Chelsea squad is truly multinational and the club hierarchy will happily pay, to the outsider, extraordinary sums of money for proven players from obscure parts of the world if they believe they can add something to the team or the squad.

Decades ago, things were very, very different. In the 1960s and early/mid 1970s there were almost no overseas players in English football, apart from a couple of Scandinavians. Clubs had scouting networks but their scope was much narrower. They focussed exclusively on talent from across the British Isles.

To their great credit, Chelsea put enormous effort into developing home-grown youngsters in the late 1950s, under the tutelage of Dick Foss and Dick Spence. The club were rewarded when the likes of Peter  Bonetti, Ken Shellito, Ron Harris, Allan Harris, Terry Venables, Barry Bridges, Bert Murray and Bobby Tambling helped Chelsea win two Youth Cups, in 1959/60 and a year later.

The difference between the opportunities for those players and the extremely talented players who have passed through the Chelsea youth team in recent seasons is profound. All of those eight players became Chelsea first team regulars (some of them for well over a decade), five won England caps and between them they played almost 2,300 league games for Chelsea. None of them would have earned more than £20 a week in 1961 even if they were in the first team, as the maximum wage was still in operation. Inflation has taken its toll, but reported wages for some Chelsea youngsters on the periphery of the first team squad of well over £10,000 a week are in stark contrast to those days.

Of course, even 55 years ago not every youth product came through to the first team successfully. Colin Shaw scored hatfuls of goals in both Youth Cup winning sides (22 goals in 18 Youth Cup games) and over 100 goals in two years as a junior, but he started just one league game before leaving Chelsea for Norwich in 1963. As an aside, when Shaw played his one league game, against West Ham in 62, he received just £10 appearance money.

Terry More captained the Youth Cup winning side but never started a league game at Chelsea before moving to non-league Guildford City. Other Youth Cup winners like David Gillingwater, Dennis Harkness, Michael Robinson and David Johnson (no, not that one) never played league football at Chelsea or anywhere else. Other youth team members did play for the Chelsea first team, never became regulars but did have fairly lengthy league careers elsewhere - full-back Dennis Butler and forward Gordon Bolland are two examples.

First Division clubs could not loan players out until the early 1970s so youngsters unable to break into the first team were forced to stay in the reserves or South East Counties League side. Shaw could not displace Bridges or Tambling, regardless of how prolific he was in the reserves. The same applied to highly rated youth keeper John Cowen, a member of the 1963 England Youth team that won the’ Little World Cup’ under the captaincy of Ron Harris but was unsurprisingly unable to displace Peter Bonetti, or even reserve keeper John Dunn, and moved on to Watford  in late 1964. These days he, More, Shaw and Co would doubtless have been put out on loan to gain first team experience.

Overall, though, the ratio of young players becoming established first team members was excellent. Tommy Docherty was fortunate to have that amount of potential talent at the club but, to his credit, he cleared out Ted Drake’s old brigade and gave youth its head. As well as the above-mentioned eight, by the mid-1960s John Hollins, Johnny Boyle, Peter Houseman and Peter Osgood had also become regular members of the first team squad, the first three coming through the juniors and Ossie signing as an amateur after a trial as a 16 year old. Hollins and Osgood, too, won England caps.

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13 of the Chelsea professional staff of 30 at the start of the 1964/65 season were born in London, and 22 were born in England. One (reserve midfielder Barry Gould) was born in Wales and the other seven were Scottish. None were from overseas.

Tommy Docherty, being Scottish, had plenty of contacts north of the border. It was these contacts that led him to watch Arbroath against East Sterling in April 1962, having heard reports about a couple of Arbroath players. Two hours later, having witnessed a truly outstanding performance, he had agreed a price with the East Sterling manager for full-back Eddie McCreadie, who when not a part-time footballer had a job as a window dresser. The fee was a ludicrous £5,000, arguably Chelsea’s best ever piece of business given the service Eddie Mac gave the club.

Liking what he had bought, and identifying that potential talent could be picked up very cheaply in Scotland, Docherty went back to East Sterling and over the next few months picked up two more young players for insignificant sums, winger Tommy Knox (also £5,000) and forward Jimmy Mulholland (£8,000). Neither hit the heights McCreadie did, but both were first team squad members for a couple of years and they made 30 appearances between them.

Joe Fascione and Jim Thomson were other young players Docherty picked up for very little money, both from Scottish non-league football clubs (Kirkintilloch Rob Roy and Provenside Hibernian respectively), and both had runs in the first team. He also picked up Billy Sinclair and Jimmy Smart from Morton, the former in an exchange deal for Mulholland. The Scottish scouts were certainly earning their money.

Docherty regularly monitored Scottish players but those he was linked with in the press were up-and-coming youngsters as opposed to the established Scottish internationals coming south in the early 1960s like Jim Baxter, Alan Gilzean, Ian Ure, Pat Crerand and Ian St John.

The inspired acquisition of Charlie Cooke from Dundee in 1966 for £72,000 was the only major Chelsea signing from Scotland between the purchase of Bobby Evans from Celtic in 1960 and the signing of David Hay from the same club in 1974. Cooke was a massive success, the other two did not work out, though but for injury the unlucky Hay could well have been a cornerstone of the side for years.

Other 1960s and 1970s signings, big and not so big, successful and otherwise, were almost inevitably from English clubs, with just a very few exceptions. At the start of the 1960s goalkeeper Errol McNally arrived from Portadown for a couple of years and at the end of that decade Paddy Mulligan from Shamrock Rovers. Graham Moore arrived from Cardiff, flattered to deceive for a couple of years and left for Manchester United in late 1963.

Nowadays, there are very few Scottish players playing regular top flight football in England, a smattering of Welshmen and a few Irishmen but nothing like there were 40-50 years ago. Of 83 players bought by Premier League clubs this summer (at the time of writing) none were Scottish, unthinkable in the Docherty/Busby/Shankly era.

Of the current Chelsea first team squad of 22 as listed on the club website, not one is Scottish, Welsh or Irish. Only three of those listed were born in London - John Terry, Reuben Loftus-Cheek and Jamal Blackman. Gary Cahill is the only other English player in the squad. Other British-born players are out on loan but, in the coming season, it is unlikely that at any stage more than three British-born players will turn out for the Chelsea first team.

These days, the vast majority of Chelsea youth products, plus those youngsters bought for their potential, are farmed out on loan to gain experience, either in England or, increasingly, across Europe. Vitesse Arnhem have been described as a ‘loan farm’ because of the numbers of young Chelsea players who go there on loan for a season or more.

It does not take a genius to see that the Chelsea policy of attracting global stars at the expense of giving young talent a chance, when replicated across the top English clubs, has a negative impact on the home international teams. The policy is, though, almost certainly necessary to maintain a constant seat at football’s top table. Most supporters will be very keen for Loftus-Cheek, Bamford, Solanke or one of the other talented young stars to make a real breakthrough into the first team, but I suspect the realistic ones are not holding their breath.

There is another major difference between the transfer operations of Tommy Docherty and Dave Sexton, and those of Jose Mourinho. Until the early 1990s there was no transfer window, just a deadline, usually in March, beyond which clubs could not buy players for use that season. Managers and directors were not forced into rushed early- or mid-season action and, in general, acted in a more rational manner.

In the 1960s Chelsea rarely ‘went big’ in the summer transfer market. Moore, Derek Kevan, Marvin Hinton, Joe Kirkup, Cooke, Tony Hateley, Geoff Butler, Alan Birchenall, John Dempsey and David Webb were the ten biggest purchases (in terms of cost) that decade. All cost £30,000+ but were signed during the season, Docherty or Sexton identifying specific areas that needed strengthening as the season went on.  Most top managers did the same. This more considered approach was surely preferable to today’s late-August and late-January hype fests. There was certainly activity on deadline day, and some clubs obviously bought in an attempt to transform their season, but with more of the season to act, irrationality and panic were less prevalent.

There is almost a machismo in the transfer market these days. Aspiring clubs want to be seen to compete at the top level, and under-pressure managers want to be seen to be ‘players’. Agents hype their clients in the media and to club contacts. As deadline day approaches, pressure creates panic, which in turn pushes up prices. Ambitious directors ‘release the purse strings’. The resultant rushed and over-priced purchase by a hyperventilating manager often results in a desperate attempt to integrate into a struggling side a player, or players, they had barely thought about a few days earlier. This cannot be the most effective way to operate a football club. I am always surprised top European clubs do not put more pressure on UEFA to revert to a version of the old system.

Though a faux excitement may be generated by the likes of Sky Sports News ineffable Jim White and the tabloid press, I find the transfer window tedious in the extreme. Revert to the old March deadline system and you will reduce the hype. I know it arguably means there will be transfer stories all season long but a lot of the current nonsense would stop. Top clubs may continue to look globally rather than locally for their signings but at least they could do so in a more rational manner.

An extract from this article appears in a ‘transfer window’ article in the new edition of cfcuk fanzine, on sale at the Community Shield and against Swansea City. Tim Rolls is halfway through writing a book about Chelsea under Tommy Docherty, which, all being well should come out early in 2016.


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