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Reloading your own way

That’s it; the season is officially over. The Ravens’ 34-31 Super Bowl victory over the Niners on Sunday evening means more than that the Vince Lombardi trophy is heading to Baltimore. It means football fans now face a seven-month drought before a ball is next thrown or kicked in anger.

Stadium lights across the United States will be flickering off — just like they already did in the Superdome — and both professional and college players will be hoping for a little respite before serious training ramps back up again.

But don’t be fooled, it’s not quite over. In just three weeks the NFL Scouting Combine will be here, and in just a couple of months, the NFL Draft takes place. Sports coverage will still include a healthy dose of football analysis and speculation as everyone puzzles over the prized players for sale.

In case you don’t often look much further than gridiron, something equally as important happened elsewhere in the world of sports last week. On Thursday, the January transfer window slammed shut, setting in stone the team lineups in the various English soccer leagues until the end of the season — around Europe, the other major leagues followed suit just a few days later.

The near juxtaposition of the end of the transfer window and opening of draft season highlights two very different philosophies and two contrasting approaches to nurturing fresh talent in sports.

Put simply, the NFL Draft gives first choice to the very worst teams from the previous year. The result is that the most exciting and promising talent from college will likely face a frustrating first season in the pros, though it also does make it more likely that these players might get considerable game time. And while changes to the revenue-sharing system now reduce the funds available to struggling teams, the salary cap still helps ensure that the contracts of these big players-to-be won’t literally break the bank.

In comparison, the soccer transfer window makes little attempt to level the playing field. Though clubs in the Premier League do share TV money equally, the most successful team each year wins a prize of around $25 million, 20 times that given to the worst. The cruel, interconnected nature of English soccer exacerbates the inequality too, dumping the bottom three teams in the Premier League into the division below and replacing them with clubs that are usually much poorer. And when it comes to signing new or existing talent, money talks; often the smaller teams must wait patiently until the bigger fish have snapped up the juiciest prospects.

Outside of the transfer window, the big clubs boast the resources and finances to attract the most skilled young kids, training them in their soccer academies and ensuring they are already integrated into their team even before they must legally consider actually paying them.

It seems slightly ironic that a country known for its dedication to the capitalist cause is home to a league with a deeply communist approach to sharing out money and talent, and vice versa that a country proud of its socialist tendencies boasts such a rampantly free-market attitude to sports.

Finding agreement from either side of the Atlantic on which system is best is impossible though. However much they might moan and complain about the outcomes, both sets of fans often hold a deep affinity with their own system. The NFL Draft has a whole culture and ritual surrounding it, and likewise January — or July/August, when the window for preseason transfers is open — just wouldn’t be the same without the looming transfer deadline day, no matter how unfair the result always is for any team not owned by an oil sheikh.

The simple, but rather unsatisfying, truth is that these two systems are inherently tied to the very foundations of either sport. Replace revenue sharing, the salary cap and the draft in the NFL with a free-market transfer window and the smallest teams would wither and almost die, just about holding on simply as a consequence of their protected franchise status, but without any hope of a brighter future.

And with hundreds of professional and amateur teams in English soccer, connected through promotion and relegation, it becomes unthinkable that the most exciting talent would be sent down to play for the smallest clubs. As much as I might hate to admit it, star striker Robin van Persie deserves to be at Premier League leaders Manchester United far more than at League Two side Accrington Stanley — who are they? Exactly.

The Stanford Daily is in final negotiations of the transfer of Tom Taylor to Accrington Stanley for $1.99 and three dirty socks. To give Tom advice on the housing market in Lancashire, email him at tom.taylor@stanford.edu and follow him on Twitter @DailyTomTaylor.