June. The longest day, Royal Ascot, international rugby tours that extend an already punishing season and the summer football transfer window in full swing. This year, however, there have been deals done which suggest the concept of a transfer system in other sports may be accelerating into view as players and clubs seem less and less concerned about the full term of a contract.
My own personal experience of this is small but relevant. When the BBC and I decided that a voluntary redundancy package was a good idea for both parties in August 2012, I could have left straight away but it was agreed I would stay until March 2013. I wasn’t dropped (sic) or asked to train with the youth team in between, and my last day after 18 years was an emotionally challenging 12 hour, two show shift. My attitude never changed.
If we move that broad scenario into the world of sport, rugby and cricket have been games of honour. In the days of black and white television, Tom Graveney – who just happened to play 79 Tests for England – left Gloucestershire to join Worcestershire and spent the whole of the 1961 season in the second XI to serve a residency qualification, and it’s a Worcestershire player who highlights the 2017 market.
Tom Kohler-Cadmore is a young middle order batsman who made his Worcestershire debut as a teenager in 2014 after completing his education at Malvern College. He had sprung to prominence through Yorkshire’s age group system, who it then emerged had agreed to re-sign him at the end of this season, when his contract was due to expire. There was no suggestion of anything underhand, but Worcestershire’s disappointment was publically evident. Kohler Cadmore was left out of their next match, and within a week it had been “mutually agreed” that he could leave immediately. Only he will know what he might have contributed over the rest of the summer or if his brain was mentally already at Headingley
In a way Kohler Cadmore’s move illustrates how teams with greater financial muscle can flex it to make things happen. Yorkshire bought out the final year of David Willey’s deal at Northants, as did Surrey to take Mark Footitt from Derbyshire. The tip of an iceberg perhaps, but one which has also hit rugby union with some force since the domestic season finished.
Here the questions surrounded a Frenchman in England, and an Englishman in France. At Northampton, Louis Picamoles had an outstanding year after his move from Toulouse last summer. 12 months into a deal than ran until 2019, he is returning to his home land with Montpellier as the French Rugby Union look to offer central contracts to their top players. With more than 60 caps, Picamoles is firmly in that bracket.
Northampton were well compensated for the 31 year old’s departure, but it leaves a huge hole in their squad to fill. The same is true at Gloucester, although their man never arrived despite saying he would six months ago. The much trumpeted signing of Carl Fearns looked a big building block for the team in more ways than one, but the mortar began falling out when there was talk of Lyon, his current club, considerably raising the financial stakes to keep him. After much rumbling the seemingly inevitable outcome came. Gloucester get a capital windall as a sweetener, but Fearns stays where he is.
Reaction on social media has been provocative, one player suggesting that clubs escape the criticism aimed at Fearns when the boot is on the other foot and they decide to terminate a contract early. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander and all that. It has to be said, though, that the current regulations regarding player movement appear to be under increasing pressure.
The pattern in the professional era has been that a player who becomes a free agent at the end of an Aviva Premiership or Pro 12 season can be approached by interested parties from January 1st. Even if the agents are busy on behalf of their client before the negotiation window officially opens, the contract in almost all cases is for the following year, and I have seen numerous examples of a player who knows he is leaving a club for pastures new finishing the season as if nothing had changed. As with rugby’s respect of referees, the honouring of contracts has generally been a plank of integrity but you wonder if the extended timescale just doesn’t work any more. As the world spins faster, a transfer system that allows instant movement maybe cleaner for everyone.