This is why the League One transfer market has started slowly as Sunderland and their rivals approach a key period
Who will blink first?
That’s the question shrouding the transfer market at present.
It’s been a quiet start to the window on the whole, and is somewhat reminiscent of last summer where business wasn’t completed until late in the day.
Back then, COVID-19 was cited as the reason for the delay. That is still partly the case now, but there are a number of factors that have led to a slow trickle of deals rather than a busy flurry to begin the trading period.
Clubs, players and agents are keeping their cards close to their chests during another trading period which is clouded by varying degrees of uncertainty – but someone will have to blink soon.
The vast majority of League One clubs, including Sunderland, are set to return to pre-season within the next fortnight and would hope to have some new recruits in place by that point.
So with preparations set to begin imminently, will it be the players or the clubs who blink first?
Where the clubs stand
While there is a degree of clarity for clubs this summer compared to this time last year, there are still some financial uncertainties that will naturally have a knock-on effect for transfer business.
The vast majority of sides have only been able to welcome supporters to a handful of fixtures, if that, during the 2020/21 season and it remains to be seen whether the 2021/22 campaign will begin in front of full stadia as is the EFL’s aim.
Ticketing, commercial and retail income has been hit across the board and budgets have naturally been reduced as a result.
There is also the threat of fresh financial controls coming into League One that will need to be considered by clubs.
Currently, sides are working on the basis that the league will be governed by the Salary Cost Management Protocol regulations that limit player spending to 60 per cent of turnover.
But the EFL have made no secret of their desire to introduce more stringent spending controls in the future – although it remains to be seen whether any such regulations will be introduced in time for the 2021/22 campaign.
League One clubs are also set to work under a new squad cap next season, which could see some clubs needing to move players on before they can fully complete their summer recruitment.
There are lots of things for clubs to weigh-up and, with every penny counting during these uncertain times, it’s perhaps little surprise that clubs are resisting the urge to dive into the transfer market with both feet.
The exceptions to the rule
There are, of course, exceptions to that rule and some sides have already sealed multiple incoming deals.
Indeed, there has also been talk of wages in the region of £10,000 being offered in the third tier this summer.
It’s worth noting, though, that the clubs who have been extremely busy in League One are those where a major rebuild is required. Wigan Athletic, Fleetwood Town and Ipswich Town are all set for transformative summers and – while the same could be said for Sunderland – their squad rebuild may not be on the same scale.
At Ipswich, Paul Cook is looking to completely overhaul his squad with some suggestions that only ten per cent of the club’s playing squad from last season will be retained. Wigan, meanwhile, are looking to put together a strong team after a tumultuous season.
It’s also worth remembering that both of those clubs are under new ownership and may have been keen to make an early statement of intent in the market.
Again, the same could be said of Sunderland – but Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and the club’s executive team are steadfast in their desire to take a methodical approach to recruitment.
They will look to sign the right players, rather than the ones available now.
A bloated free agent market
The number of free agents is once again set to reach four figures this summer, with the vast number of one-year contracts handed out last summer reflected in the bloating of the free agent market.
Theoretically, that should hand some degree of power to the clubs given the sheer volume of players available.
But in reality, players in demand know their desirable position within the market. As such, they can charge a premium for their services.
With pre-season approaching, though, a big choice approaches.
Either clubs will have to sanction the spending to meet the demands of the players, or the players will have to be open to a degree of negotiation.
Who will blink first?
The dominoes will soon fall
Once one blinks, more will follow.
As is always the case in the transfer window, once one domino is nudged then more will inevitably follow.
The next week will be a crucial period for both clubs and players, as pre-season draws rapidly nearer and worry begins to set in.
It’s important to note that not all clubs will be panicking, though. Sunderland’s approach has been one of structure and planning, and Louis-Dreyfus has long pledged not to panic.
But some panic elsewhere along the transfer chain may just set the wheels in motion and spring the League One market as a whole into action.
Then we’ll start to see the volume of incomings and outgoings that fans across the division are expecting this summer.