Wengerisms are oft-repeated idioms used by Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger to explain away the betrayal of a complex world. "Hand brake on" denotes his side's lack of killer instinct; "little bit niggle" covers Jack Wilshere's lack of serviceable ankles. However, for reasons unique to the madness of modern football, it is upon hearing the words, "super super quality," that many fans of the North London club break into a Pavlovian-esque fear cycle that is now an annual summer occurrence.
If faith truly demands a steady conviction in what non-believers cannot see, then the Arsenal squad is Wenger's true religion. He believes in the ability of the players he has assembled and, unashamedly, guards their future against public pressure. He already has super quality at his disposal, so to replace them, he suggests, would require an added dose of, well, super. This view is unforgivable to many, because the basic tenets of modern player acquisition prove that football fandom makes fools of us all.
The transfer market was not built for faith; it exists for certainty – a certainty that additions, any and all, will inevitably equate to on-field success. Perceived as a never-ending pool of possibilities, the system offers no semblance of balance in a club's abilities to add players to a squad. As long as the cheque clears, nothing stops a team from spending any sum of money on any player, thus the opportunity to make "improvements" are considered endless. And so for three months across the summer, and a tempting few weeks in the New Year, the window is treated not like a player's market, but a points market. Teams are expected to go out and pick up their points, during a period when nobody will question their reasoning out of fear it will reveal their limited knowledge of the Campeonato Paulista Série A1. Pundits will be "shocked, Jeff" as to why clubs are not actively diving in to claim their own portion of the available free points on offer. Gazing through this filter, it seems unthinkable that the Arsene Wengers of the world would not frolic freely in this obvious giveaway. To think in terms of what the transfer window actually is, however, would be to acknowledge a scramble for the finite resources on offer, resources that are fundamentally human in their fallibility and who can guarantee nothing more than the obligatory 110%.
The lack of a guarantee on players doesn't mean teams shouldn't try to acquire them, but the ripple effects of this free market submerge a range of wider, negative results that are not easily condensed into a Sky Sports News chyron. This summer has seen considerable price inflation across the global football market. Every Tom, Dick and Yannick Bolasie now costs upward of £30 million. We've come to accept that a player is worth whatever a club is willing to pay for them, but that doesn't represent their worth, but their price. The transfer market gives every player a price, but fails to properly gauge the player's value in relation to the squad he's joining.
It seems strange that America, which refers to its domestic league titles as 'World Championships', provides the system of relative introspection and balance football should adopt. Across all major North American sports, acquiring new players involves a variety of trades. Outside of free agents, you must offer the selling club a player or the loss of a potential future player (draft pick) in exchange for their asset. The method demands a deep knowledge of your squad and the potential on offer from additions. It requires a degree of justification; a need to look at your fanbase and explain why a certain player they've come to know, love, or at least grow accustomed to, doesn't match up to what's on offer elsewhere. The following season will also present a direct comparison with what you've lost in order to add.
The transfer market, as it works today, does not provide such an objective view of player assessment. It would, though, if clubs were bargaining for players rather than speculative fees. In a trade-based system, buying clubs are forced to evaluate exactly what a player is worth in relation to the rest of the squad. For example, Schalke 04 may have reacted to Manchester City's interest in Leroy Sane by asking for Raheem Sterling in return. Sterling supporters could argue that the Englishman was a more established international who needed more time to settle at the club, while those in favour of Sane could point to the quality of the players blocking his route to the German national team. In another case, we could finally discover how many Marouane Fellainis actually make a Paul Pogba. The focus returns to players, and the realities of how sides can find meaningful improvement.
In addition, smaller clubs struggling to catch up to their league's elite will find a fight for parity far easier if they always get something from the deal. They won't constantly be left with huge holes they struggle to fill due to the rising costs of transfers. Potentially, should a team find themselves hosting a squad full of undesirables, they might see their ability to trade near impossible. However, receiving some variety of ready-made quality and future potential when star players are poached should mitigate against that. As it stands, the pure purchasing of players encourages Europe's top teams to find ways of curtailing the opportunities for smaller teams to progress in a meaningful, longstanding way. Jose Mourinho, not known for being shy when it comes to asking 'sir' for more, recently complained about clubs who act like "Mother Theresa" in public but, behind the scenes, actively work against proposals that would see ladders of opportunity hoisted up for teams who can't seem to break through.
The culture of the transfer window has also cultivated a basic failure across our common discourse. We've become increasingly lazy in the way we debate how teams construct effective league campaigns. Ian Wright recently argued that spending big was effective because "star name arrivals get the players buzzing too, because they make your job easier and you're more likely to finish with a medal or two." Not only has he highlighted the universally accepted magical powers of players and fans "buzzing," he also makes several leaps that assume that such progress is but a bank transfer away for every team. Of course good players who play well make teams better, but, considering teams are picking from the same market of available players, it seems mathematically impossible for every elite team to add instant quality in perpetuity (unless, of course, you believe there is an infinite number of world-class players in the world). There exist too many examples of teams spending large sums during a transfer window, only to do worse the following season, for us to keep making the same easy assumptions every year. A sole focus on saviour signings, as exciting as they are for any fan, is disingenuous. They don't exist as often as we pretend they do, but we obsess over the search and use it to define potential.
The central thesis of Moneyball – a film that taught a generation how to pronounce s-t-a-t-i-s-t-i-c-s – found that the language of Major League Baseball was wrong; teams were focusing on cosmetic traits that had little bearing on results. Big teams can always absorb inefficiencies, but, as a whole, the sport is poorer for it. Billy Beane's approach, often likened to Wenger's, was not a crusade of principals, but a strict focus on the reality of running a modern team.
It would be naïve to ignore the obvious appeal of the transfer window in its current form. Despite social media, and the increased access we think we have to the clubs we support, many fans still peer over the gates to try to catch a glimpse of the happenings inside. Conversations over transfer fees, and whose cousin spotted whom in a service station, offer a way in. Purchasing provides the perception of a quick route from A to Open Top Bus. Managers, I suspect, know better, but they operate in a hostile and desperate environment that has created an average coaching tenure of one year. Actively ignoring the strengths already in your squad is three months of easy, sympathetic press. You will be lauded with the most treasured of managerial compliments: showing 'intent' – though it's never entirely clear who you're demonstrating this most vague of traits to.
There is nothing inherently wrong with teams spending their own money. In fact, in an era when ticket prices are rising and annual kit launches amount to Chelsea re-portioning how much blue covers the inside collar, teams must be held accountable for their priorities. But these priorities become skewed when we disproportionately reward the performance art of transfers. It's a summer of showboating without substance, and I'd trade that for super super quality any day.