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Psychology of the transfer window

It is January again, and for professional football (soccer) this month presents one of two opportunities for clubs to buy and sell players. Clubs in the UK have 31 days (1st-31st January) to complete the signing or sale of individual players. These 31 days present significant opportunity and risk to football clubs, managers, players and supporters alike.

For managers there is a need to identify who they might like to sign, while at the same time considering whether these individuals can/will successfully integrate into the existing squad and ‘hit the ground running’ in terms of performance. I am always surprised by the relatively limited degree of psychological profiling that takes place when new players are signed. You can sign the best player in the world, but if they can’t adapt quickly to their new environment and the new team it might be a waste of money (at least in the short term). The degree of upheaval in the new player’s life is an important consideration when they move clubs. Everyone is different, and some people respond to change well, but a general rule of thumb is the greater the level of change the greater the likelihood of there being challenges in adapting, which could result in lower levels of performance. A player who move to a different club in the same city should stand a better chance of adapting quickly compared to a player moving to a club in another country. Knowing this fact, clubs could start to look at the degree of support required to help the player through the transition. Indeed, psychological profiling as part of the transfer process could enable further individualization of the support provided, which could increase the likelihood of a new player hitting the ground running, and then maintaining levels of performance through to the end of the season.

There is also the uncertainty for the manager regarding whether they will lose any of their players during the transfer window. This is illustrated well by the current situation for Aston Villa regarding in-form striker Tammy Abrahams. News over the weekend suggests that the player will be recalled from his loan spell at the club to go out on loan to Premier League club Wolverhampton Wanderers. This turn of events leaves Aston Villa in the position of trying to replace a well-integrated in-form player with someone else, who may or may not adapt quickly to a new role at the club, or the promotion of a striker from the bench who has not been playing much due to Abrahams being at the club.

Another challenge for players (and to a lesser extent supporters) during this period is the significant number of rumours that surface during this time. Rumours are pieces of information passed from one person to another without either of them knowing if the information is true or false. These rumours can have a destabilising effect on individuals that can impact upon their mental state and ultimately their performance. The lack of certainty regarding where you will be playing by the end of the transfer window can have significant stress-inducing effects, so clear information for both players and supporters is important.

The most effective teams take all of these factors into account when planning for the transfer window and the impact that players leaving and arriving can have upon the individual player, the team and the broader club – including the supporters. The greater the awareness of the psychological impact of transfers the greater the likelihood of new signings being a success.

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