Is it time to shut the January transfer window down permanently?

For all its American origins, the phrase “last chance saloon” has found its contemporary metaphorical meaning in British environs. UK Prime Minister David Cameron used it in the House of Commons while speaking on the need for statutory media regulation, in wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal in 2011. It’s a popular pun among British automotive journalists too.

But the chances of encountering this phrase grow significantly if one were to follow the sports coverage of British media houses closely.

Narrow your attention to European football alone and the frequency of its usage during a January transfer window would be too obvious to miss. Most would admit that the month-long period for buying and selling players is nothing but a “last chance saloon” for clubs and their managers. It’s the final opportunity to strengthen the squad before the season ends.

However, more than a decade after being established as a rule by FIFA, it continues to have its doubters. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently made a strong and convincing case for restricting transfer activity during the month-long window.

“It is unfair some teams have played, for example, Newcastle already and then some still have to face a side with six or eight new players. I think it should be completely cut out or limited to two players."

Wenger’s protestations are not new, though. Managers, ex-players and pundits have expressed their dissatisfaction with the window in the past too. In fact, a few coaches like Sir Alex Ferguson wait until the summer to pursue their major transfer targets.

However, for struggling teams, the January window is a boon. Much can change with a shrewd signing or two in this period, as Harry Redknapp would testify. The 65-year-old manager has surprised many in his long managerial career by his ability to sign quality players on the cheap.

Redknapp’s loan acquisition of Yakubu Aiyegbeni proved to be the catalyst for Portsmouth’s promotion to the Premier League in 2003 and the Nigerian was subsequently signed permanently.

Those success stories, however, fail to weaken Wenger’s argument. The question of ensuring a level playing field for all the teams in a competition is hardly addressed by those developments and an example from this season’s UEFA Champions League would seemingly clinch the debate in the Frenchman’s favour.

When Schalke was drawn to play Galatasaray at the tournament’s round of 16 draw in December, many reckoned that the former would go into the tie as slight favourite. After all, the German side had topped its group, besting Arsenal, while Galatasaray had just managed to sneak into the knockout stages.

Over the past month, though, Schalke sold midfielder Lewis Holtby, one of the most creative players in the side, to Tottenham and Galatasaray caught everyone’s attention in the football world by its double swoop of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba (the latter’s move is yet to be confirmed).

Now the Turkish club, if it manages to complete Drogba’s signing, would be expected to overcome a somewhat weakened Schalke later this month. The clash between the two has suddenly acquired a different texture.

Over the 10 months of a season, some uncontrollable factors like injuries, bad refereeing decisions etc cause a significant impact upon the fortunes of clubs. In its present form, the January transfer window not only hurts a few teams but harms the credibility of the entire competition too. Fortunately, the window is still open for modification.