In America we’re used to players signing 3 year contracts, playing for 3 years, and then either re-signing a new contract or becoming a free agent (give or take those ludicrous 12 year hockey contracts and several NFL players “holding out” every summer).
Soccer does things a little more, well, wacky. In soccer you can only change teams during what are called transfer windows. The summer transfer window is from July 1st to September 1st. The winter transfer window is essentially the month of January. These two sections of time are the only times that players can change teams, and for the most part, there are never free agents, and no one plays until the end of their contract. You have to have your paperwork submitted to the league, and your player has to have had his physical by midnight.
If baseball was soccer (I might use baseball as my go to comparison from now on) and the New York Yankees had their eye on say, Mike Trout, they could simply call the Anaheim Angels of Anaheim and say, “hey, we’ll give you $75 million for him”. The Angels would likely say, “Make it a $150 and you’ve got a deal”. The Yankees being the Yankees would simply reply, “done”. At this point, they call Mike directly and let him know the two teams have agreed to a transfer fee. He’d say, “well Yankees, my current deal is only $513k per year and that’s a joke, I’m basically the next A-Rod in terms of talent and I’m not nearly the donkey that Bryce Harper is, so let’s say 5 years $175 million”. The Yankees being the Yankees, they simply reply, “done”.
When teams like the Orioles are involved the selling team might say, “well Orioles, you’re $35 million dollar bid is great, but the Indians are offering $40 million”. Bidding wars happen all the time, having the Yankees and the Red Sox both eyeing a Houston Astro would be fantastic news in Houston.
Every time a Trout or a Harper or anyone of that ilk that finds themselves on a team that’s not headed to the playoffs anytime soon, they let it be known to their team that they have no intention of signing a contract extension. From there the team that “owns” him can either decide to let him walk via free agency at the end of his deal, or choose to cash in during one of the transfer windows. They’d semi quietly tell all the big market teams that the player is available and hope that the Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers are all interested.
Southampton, the Cincinnati Reds of the EPL, are going to sell their 19 year old phenom Luke Shaw for around $35 million this coming summer. $35 million to Southampton is a huge chunk of money. They don’t want to sell him in the January window as they are are in the top half of the table (soccer speak for “league standings”), and if they sell him in the summer, they have more time to spend their money. If they had sold him at noon today, they’d have had twelve hours to spend the money, or they’d have to wait until July.
Because of the strict deadlines involved, “Transfer Deadline Day” often gets wacky . Reporters are stationed outside the headquarters of nearly every team trying to decipher whether or not that SUV that just entered the parking lot was a star midfielder from the Dutch league or if that was actually one of the marketing directors coming back because he forgot his Blackberry. Sometimes you get reporters at the airport claiming that any number of private jets belong to any number of high profile teams and may or may not contain any number of high profile players on their way to join those teams. Because you have reporters stationed outside the team headquarters, you sometimes get the television gold of a player showing up to sign his new deal, and he finds that the doors are locked and someone needs to let him in.
All the while the reporter is using their captive audience for a spur of the moment uncomfortable (for the reporter, player, and viewer) interview. Sometimes a player who doesn’t like his current team will just throw his agent in the car and drive down to the team he’d like to play for and try to force a deal that way. The last time someone tried it things didn’t go well.
Imagine the excitement here in the US if one of our major sports did things this way? If you’re a fan of one of the big boys, you’re always wondering who your team is going to snag to try and improve. If you’re a fan of a middle of the road team, your hopes rest with your scouting department and their ability to spot diamonds in the rough. If you’re a fan of a bottom feeder, you have to hope that none of the big boys come calling for that one player on your roster that makes games worth watching for you. Everyone’s on pins and needles until midnight. SportsCenter would be going nuts all day long. Sports radio would be awash with rumors and brimming over with Joe Sixpack’s reactions to all the deals both rumored and confirmed. In yet another instance I wish American sports was more like international soccer.