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Does the picture above demonstrate how you react at times during the transfer silly season? If so, you’ve come to the right place. When transfer speculation starts to heat up, the experience can be just as frustrating as watching your team play well below its potential. Or even worse, being led on by someone you really like when, in the end, that person was toying with you throughout the entire process. What a waste of time eh?! Yet so often during high periods of transfer speculation, you’re led on a merry chase only to be left disappointed in the end. How can we better equip ourselves to help limit the frustration and be more aware of the bigger picture? Read on to find out!
Here are 15 reasons why transfer speculation and silly season is so incredibly complicated:
- Transfers are quite complex – The desire to hear about progress on a deal is understandable. However, it’s important to understand these deals are complicated and take time. You have multiple parties with vested interests involved such as the manager,chief executive,board, chairman, Director of Football (if applicable), advisers/agent(s), the player, sponsors, image rights holders and more, all weighing in on a transfer and the negotiations. Due to these factors it’s not uncommon for a deal to hit a snag or fall to the wayside. This isn’t even factoring in the time it can take to agree personal terms, agree on a fee or settle a release clause issue with tax.
- Media briefs – clubs, players, agents and others involved with transfers can brief the media when it suits them. The simplest answer as to why is to further their own ends, get their side of the story out there without necessarily attaching their name to it. It can also be an attempt to put pressure on the current situation to get the ball rolling or on the flipside, suggest an ultimatum which leads to negotiations coming to a screeching halt.
As Andy Mitten said in his united.no column, United thought by going public last summer on the club’s interest of Fabregas, it would start to accelerate the process of the Spaniard’s departure and unsettle the player. Unfortunately, it became a fruitless chase which delayed movement on other targets.
Mitten also hinted at how Fergie held his cards close to his chest as little info got out of Old Trafford towards the end of his reign but under Woodward’s stewardship, there have been many briefs of what’s going on or at least Ed’s version of it. It’s a method which can be used to plant stories in the papers.The following is an intriguing example of how easily it can be done (a Premier League Player in FFT article):”On one occasion, a team-mate of mine wanted a move. He picked a day when we had a day off, then tipped off a local journalist that he’d been made to train away from the first-team squad, with the kids. They made sure there was a photographer there in the bushes. He wasn’t even supposed to be in training at all but he came in specially, just for the photos! That story alerted a couple of people and a few days later he was beaming in the changing room, saying, “It worked: [top Premier League side] have been in for me.“
- Reliable journalists can contradict each other – Recently, Daniel Taylor from the Guardian reported Louis van Gaal was responsible for Manchester United’s pursuit of Kroos coming to a dead halt despite other reports saying the Dutchman gave the green light. Taylor is a respected journalist and one would presume his articles are well-sourced based on the level of detail he provides. Mitten goes a step further and opines the brief from United is an attempt to save face after Kroos turned United down. Both journalists are well-sourced so who’s right? It highlights the PR aspect of media briefs which calls into question the accuracy of what is being briefed and how different parties use the media to suggest certain parts about a transfer which may or may not be true.
- Cardstacking – Cardstacking is a principle which simply states the odds aren’t in your favor. In relation to transfer rumours, journalists work in the industry of reporting stories from their contacts/sources and are therefore closer to the story than we are as fans. So even if we feel they are lying, how can we know for certain? I’ll explain later why using the outcome of a transfer saga doesn’t mean they are.
- Stories with no quotes – A common line of reasoning is that if a story doesn’t contain quotes then it reduces the story’s validity and reliability. However, as fans we must realise for PR reasons, sources are more willing to reveal information off the record (“no quotes”), limiting any hint of the identity of the source. The journalist sometimes does such a good job blending the info from the source, their own research and their opinion, it becomes difficult to distinguish between what the source briefed and the journalist’s interpretation.
When Sir Alex had a go at Bob Cass because a headline linked him as the source of Cass’ story on Sneijder, it had to do with that very notion of failing to keep his identity private. Cass swore it wasn’t on him and that his editor chose to run with the headline but seemingly the damage had already been done. Hence, it painted an illustration of the sensitivity of these sagas and why sources would rather identity their name out of it.
- “Journos don’t know sh*t!” “You made it up!” “We were never interested!” – The aforementioned comments represent common reactions from fans when a deal goes south for their club. The last comment is quite amusing since it’s a claim which probably isn’t easy to back up. Let alone the fact it reads as an act of denial after closely following report after report on that specific deal. Even if the club was interested, it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Say you are interested in buying a XBOX One which is no longer in stock at a nearby store. You then decide the cost of driving to the nearest store which has it in stock + buying the XBOX One is outside your budget. Point being, you decided based on the circumstances, it wasn’t worth further pursuing your interest of buying a XBOX One.This happens with clubs when they are in competition with other clubs for a player’s signature. They realise despite their interest, it’s not the best option to continue the pursuit so they call off the chase.
So when it comes to whether a journalist knows something or not it’s more about the accuracy of the information that’s been given relevant to the deal. They may know some additional details which really aren’t that pertinent to the heart of the story or add any further understanding to what’s going on behind the scenes.
- Aggregation of old news – It’s not uncommon for news outlets or tabloids to repeat the same rumour with maybe a slight addendum which doesn’t add much to the overall story. Perhaps if it’s a slow news day, you’ll see an aggregation of all the recent transfer gossip yet it can seem new because the presentation of the information has changed. In addition, news outlets will run a story completely based on info printed in a paper from another country which could have been days old so is it really new information or recirculating what’s already been released? There was an example of Sport allegedly running a headline saying Manchester United had submitted a bid for Kroos. Yet the negotiations have supposedly ceased according to both parties so where is this coming from?
- Requesting info from journalists – If a journalist is contracted with a paper and he/she receives a new exclusive on a potential deal, most likely, the details of the exclusive will be released through the paper first before ever hitting social media. Sometimes, to drum up interest in their stories, journalists will drop a teaser on Twitter the day before the full story is set to be released. However, the general expectation should be if you’re asking a journalist on Twitter for new info on a transfer, chances are they can only give you info they’ve already reported. They get paid for these exclusives and other articles they write so it makes sense they don’t give exclusive information away for free . If one works for BBC or Sky, then the dynamic is different as they want to bring more immediate traffic to the news they report rather than focus on selling papers. Social media is one way of accomplishing this.
- Reliable journalists can get the outcome wrong but still have the right info/Transfers are volatile – When Willian was set to complete his medical and sign for Tottenham, who would have guessed Chelsea were going to come in at the last minute and secure his signature instead? Yet journalists who reported Willian to Tottenham was all but done got lambasted for getting it wrong. Yes based on the overall outcome, they were wrong. But the information they were given was clearly correct as Willian was set to join Tottenham. Unfortunately for Spurs fans, Chelsea had other plans and gazumped the move.
Manchester United fans may have wiped it from their memory but when the club was set to bring Lucas Moura in as a new signing, PSG came in offering more money to Moura’s agent which swung the deal in their favour. It was another promising target lost due to agent fees (Chelsea paid Hazard’s agent more than United were willing to match) summing up United fans’ frustrations in failing to sign a new winger. Another example of transfer volatility. What’s the moral of the story? It’s not done until all the I’s are dotted and all the T’s are crossed.
- Journalists don’t write the headline – Occasionally, I observe fans tweeting insults at a journalist for leading them on with the headline of the story. Journalists aren’t responsible for writing the headlines especially if they work for a big newspaper unless they themselves are the chief editor. It is left to the editor to produce an attention-grabbing headline to once again sell as many papers as possible. They wouldn’t write them like that if they didn’t appeal to us. Just some food for thought.
- “ITK”, “Official Agent”, “Sam Rhodes” accounts – It’s not very difficult to setup a twitter account called “MUFC_ITK”, with a bio describing how you have contacts close to the club and regularly tweet updates like you know something. Once you get your phraseology down, followers will flock. Sounds hard to believe but the likes of Indykaila (he works at KFC!!) take advantage of fans’ desperation to stay regularly updated on transfer news despite not knowing anything at all other than piggybacking off of other reports and making money off of it.
The real question is, if journalists and news outlets aren’t getting much from their sources/contacts, why should we think these other accounts are even close to knowing what’s going on?While it’s possible for some fans to know someone who works at a club, the story is still the same – they’re at the mercy of what their source reveals just like journalists and news outlets are who may also have additional benefit of cross-checking their info with multiple sources.
- Contacts and Enquiries – when a tabloid, news outlet, or journalist reports about a contact or enquiry from a club about a player, fans immediately get drawn to it. As I touched on with #1, transfers are complicated and can take a long time to come to an agreement. When an enquiry is made, it’s usually a club sounding out the selling club or player’s agent about the player’s availability. If the news comes back positive, then further contact may be established. Even if contact is made, it could merely be a follow up on a player’s situation which doesn’t lead anywhere or starts to put the move in motion. The possibilities are numerous! So the next time you see “contact” or “enquiry”, you’re better off not getting worked up about it. Most likely, the deal isn’t at an advanced stage at that point and when it’s a tabloid, it can be difficult to determine how accurate the information is.
- Invested parties look out for their own interests – Everyone from club executives to managers, players and agents are trying to cover for themselves. No one wants to look like the fall guy in the public arena. If lying or telling a half-truth to a journalist, makes them look better, they’ll use the opportunity to do it. And why not? Even if a player was close to joining to 3 different clubs, he may choose to only acknowledge the club he joins as the one he wanted to go to. Helps him look good in front of the fans. There are also examples of agents who convince their clients to join a club over another so they can get a higher cut even though joining the other club would be more ideal for the player.
- The paradox of public quotes – “He said he was happy to stay at the club, so he’s not going anywhere!”. As fans, we don’t have much to go by so it’s no surprise when we cling to what is said in public as justification for our views on a transfer saga. Transfers don’t really follow a set pattern. Sometimes the player means what he says, sometimes he doesn’t. It goes the same way for managers. Sir Alex said he wouldn’t sell Real Madrid “a virus” when C. Ronaldo was linked to the club. However, after Cristiano was sold after the following summer, more reports came out about an agreement between Sir Alex and Ronaldo at the end of the previous campaign (07/08). Ronaldo would agree to stay one more year ( 08/09 season) and Sir Alex would let him leave to Madrid that summer. Their public quotes throughout that season never gave the impression Ronaldo was set to leave. Ronaldo called Manchester his home and even interviewed himself before the CL final saying he was going to stay at Manchester United.
- Money talks – This phrase is used commonly when discussing transfers among fans. While money certainly plays a big factor in negotiations, it’s not the only one. Players have their own motivations and ambitions. Not all players are chiefly driven to sign for a club due to being offered more money. Sometimes the player wants a new club to get playing time or a chance to resurrect their career and may be willing to take a pay cut just to do so. Yet if the “money talks” principle held here, wouldn’t the player rather not move if he had to take a pay cut just to leave?
When Pep came calling for Thiago, even though he was offered more money at United, he went to follow his former coach whom he has a lot of trust in. You can find examples where money was the driving factor in a deal just as you can find counterexamples to this view. At the end of the day, each transfer has its own story comprised of various motives and driving factors in hopes of striking a successful deal with the other party.
Why spend all this time writing about these complexities? If we’re going to spend so much time, effort and emotion on transfer speculation, shouldn’t we be more aware of how the industry generally works? Is it really necessary to be so emotionally invested from one of Tancredi Palmeri’s “BOOM” tweets about transfer updates when we don’t know even know where he’s getting his information from?
Just recently Tancredi and a few other journalists reported Manchester United made a late bid on Fabregas. The news was followed up by James Ducker, Manchester United correspondent from the Times with this tweet. Let’s assume for academic purposes, Ducker got this info from Ed Woodward. While Ducker is highly respected and considered reliable, could Woodward be purposely putting him off the trail or just using him to quell the excitement? Maybe we aren’t in for Fabregas but did make a bid just to show the supporters we are chasing after top players. Or maybe it’s Fabregas’ agent, who is blatantly lying to speed up the deal between Chelsea and Barcelona. Unless, as fans, we have someone from the inside helping us to sort through the fog, it’s not easy to tell what exactly these revelations mean.
What’s clear is this time of year is a constant game of cat and mouse filled with rumours, conflicting reports, subliminal quotes, fake agents, fake journalists sprinkled with some deals which actually get completed. All we have is our conclusions but it’s important to remember how little we really know about what’s going on behind closed doors. Hopefully the numbered list above provided some insight as to why that is.
Thanks for reading!
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