The game was up before transfer deadline day™ began in earnest in Germany: you know it's going to be the dampest of pretzels when the most exciting name on the DFL transfer list is Niko Kranjcar. The Croat's mysterious inclusion at lunchtime threw up the delicious possibility that Hamburger SV were maybe considering the installation of Harry Redknapp (with Felix Magath as director of football) but that nano-excitement waned a few hours later, when the realisation dawned that "top, top player" Kranjcar was of course Queens Park Rangers-bound, set to be signed for a third time by Harry. A t'riffic bit of business, no doubt.
In previous years, the shutting of the window has been so similarly nondescript that the whole phenomenon is yet to acquire its own proper German name, let alone a sense of occasion and tradition. But that is not to say that transfer deadline day™ doesn't have an impact. In fact, its popularity has been rising steadily, albeit for largely secret, largely unmentioned reasons that are quite different to those in the UK. It's chief and not-to-be-underestimated function in Germany is not unlike those played by Asterix comics, Benny Hill reruns and encounters with Her Majesty's subjects on the lash in a southern European tourist hellhole: reassuring confirmation that the English are (still) full-on, wrong-side-of-the-road-two-taps-on-the-sink bonkers.
The Bundesliga watched open-mouthed, with morbid fascination as leading clubs in the leading league of the world changed targets almost daily, pursued speculative bids that had little to no chance of succeeding and then embarked on their customary "last orders" scramble on Monday. The scenes after the final bell were pretty similar to those encountered by any frequenter of UK high streets after 11pm on a Saturday: a jumble of broken dreams, low-level crime – mostly muggings – and approximately 3.57 desperate, doomed hook-ups for every happily snogging, well-suited couple.
Now the (immensely self-satisfying) question going through every sensible, measured German's mind is just why the English love leaving it so late? Is it a basic misunderstanding of football business dynamics, the patently irrational hope that the best deals will be available shortly before the window slams shut? Macho-posturing has been mentioned in this context, but maybe a slavish adherence to the rules of engagement or the rather un-macho fear of being seen to break the rules are better explanations. No such procedural hang-ups exist in Spain, Italy or indeed good old Deutschland, where key transfers are often done by springtime, in blatant but also blatantly tolerated violation of the respective league's transfer regulations. Why waste time keeping up appearances when everybody's aware about the real game being played?
It's telling that recent calls for the transfer window to close before the Premier League restarts have found little to no echo overseas. Only the English seem to distrust their own passion for last-minute excess so much that they want to restrict themselves to an even tighter schedule. Two weeks' less speculation might make life easier for one or two managers but all it would do in the majority of cases is bring the binge-bidding forward. Imagine pubs kicking out punters an hour earlier. Will they drink less as a consequence?
In the more sober (and of course incredibly smug) confines of the Bundesliga, by contrast, the last few days demonstrated how the transfer period could be used to its fullest in its existing shape. Matchday four was dominated by two very different arrivals at two very different clubs who had come at very different times – but who have both made an instant impact.
Specimen A: Henrikh Mkhitaryan. The Armenian scored two goals in Borussia Dortmund's 2-1 win at Eintracht Frankfurt – the second one was a real beauty – and once again underlined the intelligent transfer dealings of the Jürgen Klopp-coached team. Despite some considerable pressure from their fans, who wanted an instant replacement for Mario Götze, and the manager, who insisted that new recruits should be in place by the time training started again at the beginning of July, the club calmly looked at half a dozen options before deciding on the elegant No10 from Shakhtar Donetsk. There were murky third- and fourth-party ownership issues as well as sizable competition but Dortmund got the deal done with minimal fuss over the course of 48 hours, for €25m-€27.5m, on 9 July. Signing the 24-year-old this early was crucial to Klopp's plans – the manager knows that new arrivals often take a few weeks to get used to his side's collective gameplan. Dortmund also couldn't afford to wait for various domino effects to kick in – they understood that the chance to get him was dependent on moving quickly.
Dortmund also made sure that Mkhitaryan would be schooled in Borussian ways by Mr Black and Yellow himself, Kevin Grosskreutz. Sharing rooms with the club's unofficial spokesman was probably the ultimate test of Mkhitaryan's adaptability. He passed with flying colours, by all accounts; even Grosskreutz's insistence on teaching him 20 classic clubs songs didn't make him doubt his decision to move to the Westfalenstadion. He knew he wanted to play for Dortmund ever since coming up against them with Shakhtar in spring, the player told with a broad smile, "they played so well that I thought: I want to play with them." Beats the usual "childhood dream" rhetoric, doesn't it? Klopp couldn't be happier, naturally. "He's even a bit nicer as a human being than as a player," said the manager, "that makes [working with him] very agreeable".
Will Jens Keller soon roll out similar compliments for Kevin-Prince Boateng, our specimen B? Maybe not. But then again, the Ghanian international wasn't signed for being a nice man, rather the opposite. Schalke had started the season poorly. They have quite a few injured players and were engulfed by a strange fog of lethargy. Worst of all, there was – and still is – a niggling sense that the manager, Keller, is too short of charisma and leadership qualities to power on a club that aims for the stars but often quickly resigns itself to its own, trophyless fate. Following on from the fairly embarrassing showing against Paok in the Champions League qualifier – the Royal Blues only squeezed through thanks to the inspired Julian Draxler – the sporting directorm, Horst Heldt, pressed the emergency button with the skull and bones logo. Boateng was flown into Gelsenkirchen on Friday morning and soon signed for a bargain €12m from Milan.
The 26-year-old was put straight into the side for the tricky home tie against Bayer Leverkusen, and the positive effect was immense. "It's as if the whole club has been changed," wrote Süddeutsche. Boateng's "bad boy" presence had indeed altered the equation completely. All of a sudden, S04 played with courage and verve, Leverkusen were swept aside. "Schalke needed power, dynamism, confidence and authority; a figure who scares the opposition," wrote WAZ. "All these things are delivered by Boateng." "We now have a real gangster gang," joked Felipe Santana, with reference to Boateng and the other tattoo-loving newcomer, Dennis Aogo (HSV).
It's hard to tell whether that love-in will survive his first red card or the next, inevitable managerial crisis at Schalke. But for the moment, getting Boateng in has at least allayed fears of a total meltdown over the coming weeks. His case wonderfully illustrates the importance of having the freedom to act in the transfer market after the season has started. Schalke got a perfectly good deal, to boot, even if they had to compromise a little when it came to Boateng's inner values. "Dortmund are my favourite club, I watch all of their games," the midfielder had told spox.com only a few weeks ago.
Results: Freiburg 1-1 Bayern, Gladbach 4-1 Bremen, Wolfsburg 2-0 Hertha, Nürnberg 0-1 Augsburg, Hamburger SV 4-0 Braunschweig, Schalke 2-0 Leverkusen, Hannover 4-1 Mainz, Stuttgart 6-2 Hoffenheim, Frankfurt 1-2 Dortmund.