A new year approaches and that means one thing: out with the old and in with the new. January, and the opening of the transfer window, sparks a frenzy of movement in the football world as managers, chairmen, agents and players get to work on securing the moves that may come to shape the rest of the season. So what are our hopes and fears for this transfer window?
Of course, it's the James Constable situation that is causing the most nightmares for Oxford fans. Before the closure of the transfer window at the end of August, Constable's Oxford career was in doubt, with new rumours about his future at the club surfacing on what seemed like an hourly basis. Oxford rejected a bid for Constable from Luton Town midway through August, which appeared to end their interest for the time being. Perhaps more concerning was the attention of League One outfit Bournemouth, who had a bid accepted but were unable to agree terms with the player. A failed bid to bring Constable to Dean Court on loan appeared to end their interest and they have since signed Wes Thomas from Crawley. The worst-case scenario is the possibility of a move to local rivals Swindon Town. Paolo Di Canio has made no secret of his admiration for Constable and has already confirmed that he will be on the lookout for a proven goalscorer in the transfer window, and may have big money to offer if the rumoured sale of winger Matt Ritchie goes ahead. With the window looming, the rumour mill has already begun turning and this next month could prove to be an uncomfortable one as Constable's Oxford United future is called into question once again.
Another issue that we hope to see resolved this January is that of West Ham wonderkid Rob Hall. Most Oxford fans would dearly love to see him return to the club for the remainder of the season, but with Hall being recalled by West Ham just days after his loan was renewed last week, this may be little more than a pipe dream. This would be a major blow, as Hall has been the one successful loan player at the club in a season of disappointing loanees.
It appears clear that the one area of the squad that most needs strengthening in January is our attacking options, with big summer signings Jon-Paul Pittman and Deane Smalley having so far failed to make an impact at Oxford. If we lose Constable and are unable to secure the services of young Hall then Wilder may be faced with the unenviable task of rebuilding our attacking line midway through the season. With money typically tight there is little room for further errors.
Our ability to bring in fresh faces will be determined by our ability to shift unwanted players from the wage bill, with many returning from their loan periods at the start of the month. Though Matt Green is already set to join Mansfield permanently, Ben Purkiss (currently injured), Simon Clist and Steve Kinniburgh may prove more difficult to move on – Kinnibrugh and Purkiss have already returned from their respective loans, while it seems unlikely that Hereford will retain the services of Simon Clist. In the case of Jon-Paul Pittman, Crawley have reportedly considered signing him permanently in January, but more recent revelations that they are failing to abide by the league's wage cap may scupper that deal.
The upper half of League Two is currently incredibly tight, with just three points separating seventh-place Swindon from eleventh-placed Rotherham. It already appears as if Swindon will have plenty of money to spend in January, Paul Sturrock is looking to freshen up Southend's promotion push with some new faces, and Rotherham also aim to make use of the transfer window. Other potential playoff candidates are perhaps in a more similar position to ourselves, with Gillingham already at the top end of their budget and Port Vale struggling with serious financial problems. Both Cheltenham and Shrewsbury are looking to the loan market during the window, while Torquay are taking a rather different route and are opting for maximum stability. The decisions made during the next month could prove to be pivotal in the second half of the season. The sides that can put together a god run of form between now and the end of the season will be the ones who occupy the coveted playoff spots at the end of the season.
Personally, I will be glad once the unsettling January transfer window is behind us and we can focus our full attention on events on the pitch.