Transfer window Q&A: How will the summer market work?

With the coronavirus pandemic pushing back the start of the 2020-21 season until September, there are major changes to the transfer window as the current campaign runs into August.

The window was due to open in most leagues on July 1 and end on Aug. 31. So how will it work? And when will it close? FIFA has produced a lengthy document of temporary measures to cover issues arising from COVID-19.

It is important to note that these are guidelines for specific situations and each individual association will not apply all measures. Here, we run through what it all means.

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When will the summer transfer window officially open?

Right now, we don’t really know. It will be different across leagues and it is expected to open when the season finishes in each individual country.

That said, FIFA is allowing associations to open their window up to four weeks before the end of the 2019-20 campaign — though no major league has said it is considering this and FIFA states any player signed during this period will not be eligible to play until 2020-21. The extension allows a country to have a longer window when the gap between seasons is short, and as the wheels in the market move finances can circulate around clubs who need the cash flow.

France, which saw its season curtailed due to the coronavirus, has already opened its domestic window to help Ligue 1 clubs fill the financial void created by the pandemic, and give players the chance to find new clubs. However, the international transfer market remains closed for now. It is up to associations what kind of transfers it allows during its active window periods.

Similar is expected to be confirmed in the Bundesliga, with the season due to complete with the DFB Pokal final on July 4.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters has stated the window will not open until after the season finishes on July 26. La Liga present Javier Tebas said he expects the window to open at the end of July aligned with other leagues (its season ends on the weekend of July 18-19).

But Serie A has already announced its transfer window will only open on Sept. 1, with the end of the 2019-20 season technically set as Aug. 31. However, we are likely to see many deals being announced in advance once the Italian top-flight season concludes on Aug. 2.

How long will the transfer window last?

FIFA says it can be no longer than 12 weeks, noting that leagues that have had “all or part of an open registration period directly impacted by COVID-19” can request to move the window to new dates during the same season — which is what we will see in England, Italy and Spain.

The summer window could also be split into two parts of no more than 12 weeks — so perhaps six weeks starting now, and another six weeks to align with other leagues. However, one condition of this is the first registration period must not have opened. So with Ligue 1 opening its transfer window on June 8, this indicates it must still close by Sept. 1 — unless the official request had already been lodged and it can argue its registration period has been directly impacted.

At present, no other major European league has officially changed its transfer window dates, as set out in the worldwide registration calendar.

So when will the transfer window actually close?

Italy’s window will close on Monday, Oct. 5, and it is likely most leagues will fall roughly in line with this. Deadlines between Sept. 30 and Oct. 5 have been mooted for European leagues, with Friday, Oct. 2 mentioned by Tebas for Spain, and also in Germany.

This date is significant as it follows the usual process of a transfer deadline around two weeks before the Champions League begins. The 2020-21 group stage is pencilled in to start on Tuesday, Oct. 20.

With a 12-week transfer window, leagues could open around July 10 (subject to when a season ends) and close on Oct. 2.

When will clubs complete signings?

Clubs can already agree deals to sign players — for next season. For instance, on July 1 Hakim Ziyech will move from Ajax Amsterdam to Chelsea for €44 million. Also, Francisco Trincao had already agreed to join Barcelona from Braga in a €31m deal.

While FIFA cannot legally prevent deals being completed, it “strongly recommends that priority be given to the former club to complete its domestic season with its original squad.” In the case of Trincao, it has been agreed he will stay with Braga until the Portuguese season finishes on July 26.

Can clubs sign any players to play this season?

No. Even though the Dutch Eredivisie season was curtailed, which means Ziyech will become a Chelsea player on July 1, he cannot be registered.

This is also the case for any player who is out of contract on June 30. Free agents who are released at the end of the month, say from clubs in France, Germany or the Netherlands, can be signed but cannot play for their new club in July and August in the 2019-20 season. FIFA states that “the engagement of an out-of-contract player is permitted. The player shall only be eligible to participate in domestic competitions for their new club in the 2020/21 season.”

There is one provision that allows a player who is released as a result of COVID-19 to sign for a new club this season, but that player’s contract must state “at the end of the season” with no specific reference to any date, which is not how contracts in the major leagues work.

What about players out of contract or on loan?

FIFA has made “recommendations regarding the extension of expiring agreements and delay of new agreements,” namely that players should stay with the club that are at now until the 2019-20 season is complete. The same goes for players who are out on loan.

However, that is only a guideline and FIFA admits it is “has no authority … to unilaterally amend the terms and conditions of [employment] agreements.,” so it would need the player and both clubs to accept.

It means some players may return to their parent club on July 1 when the loan agreement expires, and others may not agree to play on for their club if their contract expires on June 30. FIFA has no control over this. For instance, Adam Lallana will continue to play for Liverpool beyond his contract expiry but Nathaniel Clyne will leave Anfield.

There’s also the example of William Saliba, who was on loan at Saint-Etienne from Arsenal. With the Ligue 1 season curtailed he will return to the Emirates. FIFA has created a provision whereby such players can be re-registered with their parent club. .

However, FIFA stresses that registration is “distinct from eligibility to be fielded in matches” and that each national association should “ensure that the sporting integrity of its domestic competitions is preserved.” As such, returning loan players would only be allowed to be registered in exceptional circumstances. The Premier League has indicated Saliba will not be able to play for the Gunners.

This also applies to players returning to Premier League clubs from loans in League One and League Two.

Players on loan at Championship clubs who do not have agreements extended into July cannot be re-registered at their parent club.

What about players in the Champions League and Europa League?

The plan is for both tournaments to play out through August, but players will remain with their current clubs and see out the season. Even if Chelsea complete a move for Timo Werner from RB Leipzig, who are in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, FIFA advises he should not officially move to Stamford Bridge until the German club’s engagements in Europe are over. Again, technically Chelsea could force the move through if the English transfer window were open but he could not play for the Blues. Players will also not be able to make signings to play in Europe in August.

Has anything else changed?

Yes. Usually players can only play for two clubs in one “season” — and a season begins in July. FIFA has temporarily changed this to three to account for a player who has played for another club in July and August to finish the 2019-20 campaign.

As an example, Trincao could play for Braga in July, Barcelona in the first half of the 2020-21 and then go on loan to another club in January. But Ziyech could not play for Chelsea in the first half of the new season, be sold to another club at the start of January, and move again at the end of January.

It also means a player can finish the 2019-20 season on loan at one club, play for their parent club in the first half of 2020-21, and then move to another team in January. An example here would be Dean Henderson of Manchester United, who is on loan at Sheffield United. He could play for the Blades, then for United at the start of next season before going out on a new loan for the second half.