Has your team had another less-than-inspiring season? Do you feel despondent at the thought of another year of footballing agony as your beloved club misses out on Champions League qualification, sinks further down the league table, or decides to give your abject manager a contract extension? If so, why not try reading about how ‘Player X’ has “always dreamed of playing” at your club or why ‘Player Y’ has turned his nose up at a new contract in Spain or Italy, and bask in the warm glow of the transfer gossip columns.
They say it’s the hope that kills you, but as Brendan Rodgers once famously said, ‘you can’t live for a second without hope’. As football fans, we reside in a no-man’s-land between blind optimism and crippling fatalism, where every year could be our year yet at the same time promises to bring nothing but more disappointment as our hopes and fears are tied to the mast of the team we love. The summer is spent on tenterhooks as we await the harbingers of doom or glory, constantly refreshing Twitter feeds and Google searches to find out if our clubs have signed that player we hadn’t even heard of two weeks ago or the striker that promises to be the next Jamie Vardy having hit a goalscoring hot streak at Puddlemore United.
Karl Marx once described religion as the opium of the masses, a sedative that could be constantly administered to keep the common man in his place. Its footballing equivalent is surely the merry-go-round of familiar characters in the relentless transfer gossip industry. SEO and click-baiting aside, there is a cruelty in the way the mainstream media teases football fans in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place on the more salacious streets of Amsterdam.
Naturally, most of what is rumoured fails to transpire, although given the volume of speculation it is inevitable that some soothsayers will remind us all of their spurious predictions come the end of August. The lack of any evidence is a relatively small stumbling block as significance is placed instead on players’ social media activity and who is pictured at a kit launch, all the while regurgitating the same tired stories that filled the same pages 12 months previous. Sneijder to Manchester United anyone?
The crime of the rumour mill is not confined to reducing grown men to hyperventilating into paper bags at the sound of faulty fax machines, however – everyone can agree that the prospect of a genuinely world-class footballer strutting their stuff in your club’s colours is exhilarating in its promise, a footballing prelude to the kiss when all the world is anticipation and adrenaline – rather that it places too much importance on buying and spending, and with that, the instant gratification that is nothing more than buying an expensive pair of jeans or splashing out on an extravagant holiday.
Football is altogether more complex; and if this season has taught us anything then it should be that. ‘Big’ signings have mainly disappointed, previously unheralded stars have taken centre stage, and the financial underdogs (relatively speaking) have triumphed in the case of Leicester or exceeded expectations in the case of so many others. There is now a market inefficiency which means spending big doesn’t equate to, or certainly doesn’t guarantee, any tangible success. Memphis Depay, Pedro and others have all flattered to deceive as big signings who have failed to live up to their inflated price tags.
Why we get so worked up over specious transfer rumours is quickly becoming a mystery. In most cases it is not the quality of the player that excites so many, as most fans will grudgingly admit they haven’t seen the latest prospective signing play a full match before. The ‘statement of intent’ signing is also moot as most clubs can now afford to spend over the odds for new talent – West Ham’s repeated £31m bids for both Michy Batshuayi and Alexandre Lacazette showing how most clubs now tend to operate (although you do have to wonder if they found that exact change down the back of a sofa at the Olympic Stadium after moving in).
The reality – that football fans are slaves to mainstream media and the constant spewing of ‘news’ across social media platforms – is a difficult thought to bear, and one that no one is likely to admit. For like it or not, when your club is linked to a Brazilian wonderkid or Galactico outcast your heart skips a beat, and when they inevitably end up elsewhere the rejection is both personal and crushing.
Maybe we are the ones being spun here. But then, who can resist one more grinding through the mill at the expense of a single click? As we enter the latest transfer window, it is optimistic at best to think we will ever see it any other way, and unlikely that – deep down – we even want it to stop.
Michael Hayes, The GegenPress