Before, United fans knew that even if Fergie messed up, it was OK because Fergie was there to clear it up. Now, uncertainty. Nothing is the same. Sh*t just got real...
You simply cannot fail to smile when watching Paul Lambert do his Paternal Overseer thing with some actual skipping down the touchline. It's all just a little bit Disney...
Finally, it's here. Finally, we can stop pretending to be bothered about all the boring on-pitch stuff - you can take your victories, defeats, goals (good, bad and fluked), penalties (given and not), offsides (flagged and un-), dives, fouls, snark, snarl, spit and other nonsense and do one. The waiting is over, the four-and-a-half-month prologue is done, and we can get down to the real reason we're all here: the January transfer window.
Football, of course, was only invented to give the transfer window a purpose in life. The modern obsession - countdown clocks, Jim White bellowing into multiple telephones - can be traced back to the very origins of the game. Football365 can exclusively reveal that Ebenezer Cobb Morley, author of the first Laws of the Game, was merely trying to find a use for a large book of pre-printed receipts he'd received that Christmas from a well-meaning but slightly inexplicable uncle.
And so to Demba Ba. As a player, the less-amusingly named of Newcastle's (for the moment) Senegalese strikers isn't all that interesting. He's quick, he's strong, and he's very good at first getting into positions to kick the ball into the net, then kicking the ball into the net from those positions. He's everything you could really want in a striker, and slightly dull because of it. However, it's as a floating object in the transfer window that he really
becomes a helpful subject for whimsical profile writers struggling through a post-Christmas lull comes into his own.
According to most of those whose job it is to know such things, Ba has (or had) a release clause in his contract of around £7m. (If you've managed to somehow follow Premier League football without becoming aware of this, then congratulations and welcome to the internet.) By any standard you care to mention - other than 'the real world', which has no relevance to anything and it's insensitive of you to bring it up - this represents excellent value for money for any of the Premier League's cabal of Top Clubs, and yet, while he's been linked with moves away ever since he arrived, there are (or perhaps were) two major obstacles to any move.
First, his knee. Before joining Newcastle, Ba failed a medical at Stoke. While Tony Pulis's physical examinations differ from those of other clubs - prospective players are asked to eat seven pounds of raw beef, catch 15 clean lineouts, and headbutt a horse to death - it emerged that where most footballers have knee ligaments, cartilage and other important pieces of leg engineering, Ba has a dusty attic containing only dust, mouse droppings and a sealed box that may or may not contain a small kitten.
Then there's the questions of his representation. It was widely reported that Ba would be joining Arsenal as soon as the window cracked open. Ah, said the world, that makes sense. A natural goalscorer to round off all that passing, rotate with Olivier Giroud, and put Theo Walcott firmly in his place. Nice one, Arsène. Then, a couple of days later, it emerged that Chelsea had been negotiating with his representatives. Ah, said the world, that makes sense. An option alongside or instead of Fernando Torres; an FFP-friendly alternative to Radamel Falcao; a goal-scoring replacement for Daniel Sturridge. Nice one, Rafa.
Then that hit a snag as well. Mutterings of unrealistic demands emerged, along with the more entertaining suggestion that those people with whom Chelsea had been negotiating were not, in fact, the right people. According to Alan Pardew, "people who are representing him are not actually representing him", an evocative and confusing suggestion that raises the spectre of bogus officials going door to door, presenting smudged ID badges to baffled pensioners, who'd never realised just how useful a Senegalese number 9 could be around the house until that nice man from Newcastle came to take their credit card number. Now, even after Pardew has essentially confirmed the deal, it wouldn't be too much of a surprise for the whole thing to collapse in a heap of confusing percentages.
Essentially, Ba exists in two complimentary states of quantum uncertainty. Everybody knows how much he costs; nobody seems to know how to go about paying it. Everybody knows he's very good; nobody, thanks to Schrödinger's knee, knows how long it'll be until the patella creaks open and the dead cat falls out. In doing so, he helpfully encapsulates the madness of the modern transfer market. What should be the relatively simple business of transferring some paperwork in exchange for some promissory notes becomes a hellish entanglement of haggling with agents, representatives, hangers-on and passers-by. And what should be a relatively simple business of identifying a good player, and having him come and play well for you, is always, always, always a gamble.
Most footballers have an equivalent to Ba's knee; it may not be as obvious to a medical, but they're delicate creatures, and moving them to the wrong city or playing them in the wrong midfield can do just as much damage as an exploding kneecap. That's why transfers are more fun than the football. On the pitch, the big teams always win. When it comes to spending, though, they can be just as hilariously stupid as anyone else. Cue Torres joke.