Soccer - Transfer window ripe for reform

By Brian Homewood

BERNE (Reuters) - For the first time this season European players, coaches and fans were able to concentrate on soccer at the weekend without the air being clouded by transfer talk - and most of them would like to keep it that way.

Players, coaches and UEFA president Michel Platini have all complained the summer transfer window drags on too long and should be closed before the season cranks into gear.

For many, there is nothing more frustrating than starting the season with a squad of players and not knowing if they will still be together in September.

"We need some fair play with the transfer window," former Manchester United and Netherlands goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar told Reuters at a European clubs meeting last week.

"We work with a player for eight to nine weeks and just before the deadline we lose two players...so it's great the subject has been touched upon," said Van der Sar, now Ajax Amsterdam's marketing director.

Napoli coach Rafael Benitez, who led Chelsea to the Europa League title in May, agreed.

"You prepare everything with your players and one week later your players can be playing against you," he said at a conference for coaches held at the headquarters of European soccer's ruling body UEFA.

Roberto Martinez summed up the feelings of many coaches after his Everton team met Cardiff City two weeks ago as Manchester United were chasing midfielder Marouane Fellaini, a deal that eventually went through.

"We had to face four games while the window was open, it was an incredible situation, it has to be addressed," Martinez told the BBC.

"I don't think it's good for anyone. Here we were at a big football occasion, the first time that Cardiff and Everton have met in a league game in over 50 years and all the talk and focus is on transfer speculation.

"It's wrong, nobody should be put into that position, not the fans, nor any player...once the official games start, (the window) should be shut.

"They shouldn't be overlapping and mixing emotions. In my eyes that devalues the competition and it affects everyone," added Martinez.

Antonio Conte, coach of Italian champions Juventus, was fuming after striker Alessandro Matri was whisked from under his nose and sold to rivals AC Milan two days before the deadline.

"He's the player who has scored most goals for us over the last two seasons," said Conte. "We've weakened ourselves and reinforced Milan."

TASK FORCE

World players' union FIFPro has gone further in its criticism of the transfer system and has set up a task force, that was due to meet for the first time on Monday, to propose reform.

FIFPro has called on players and clubs to respect contracts.

"There are many examples illustrating the fact that contracts and contractual stability are not taken too seriously in certain countries," it said.

"FIFPro's opinion is that once a contract has been signed both clubs and players have an obligation to comply with it until its termination date."

Platini is possibly the most high profile critic of the system.

"In my playing days players went on strike to be free...now I see they sign contracts (and) they don't play because they want to leave again," he said following a UEFA meeting in Monte Carlo last month.

"There is something unhealthy about that. I agree maybe this window is...too long."

The European Clubs Association (ECA) said it would be prepared to discuss the issue although the biggest stumbling block may be Champions League qualifying.

ECA president Karl-Heinz Rummenigge pointed out that clubs involved in qualifying matches in July or August would only be certain of their budget for the season once they knew whether or not they would be playing in the group stages.

Additionally, some seasons kick off much earlier than others, with play starting in mid-July in Switzerland but not until late August in Italy.

"We have to be very careful," said Rummenigge. "I understand the coaches but we have to find the best balance regarding the clubs."

One ambitious solution, suggested by Platini, would be to co-ordinate the start of European domestic seasons so that all begin on the same date.

"We will ask FIFA to have a look into what we propose and for all European leagues to start at the same time," said Platini in reference to world soccer's governing body.

In the meantime coaches can finally plan with their teams in the knowledge that none of their players will be heading for the exit door - at least until the whole circus starts all over again in January.

(Editing by Tony Jimenez)

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