F365 Says: Prepare yourself for transfer panic mode

Daniel Storey

It might come some way down the list of reasons for enjoying the World Cup, but avoiding an entire summer of transfer rumour and counter-rumour would certainly be included. There’s only so many times you can read a story deliberately leaked by an agent as a calculated power play, or hear a player explain that “we’ll see what happens but I’m happy here”, without concluding that the entire thing is merely a cavalcade of PR with supporters cast as the desperate and gullible audience.

In the last two months, the most famous player in the world has left one superclub for another, a winger has moved to the third-best club in Spain for more than £60m, the third-most lucrative transfer ever between two English clubs has been completed and three central midfielders have joined different Premier League teams for fees of almost £150m combined.

Yet we have heard relatively little of Ronaldo, Lemar, Mahrez, Fred, Jorginho and Fabinho, at least in comparison to an odd-numbered summer. While the greatest circus on earth is taking place, everything happening outside the big top is forced into the role of sideshow. When there are 64 live matches to watch in 31 days, along with incessant daily reports from Gabriel Clarke that the mood in England’s camp is, yes, still happy and relaxed, that sideshow is rarely needed.

But you can only delay the inevitable; you can never avoid it completely. Twenty-five days after Nestor Pistana blew his final whistle in Moscow, the transfer window will end. What normally takes place over the course of an entire summer will now be squeezed into less than four weeks. Prepare for the cavalcade to rain down like a torrent.

Last September, the Premier League’s 20 clubs voted to cut short the summer transfer window and close it before the start of the season. Yet within that voting, there was disagreement. Fourteen votes in favour were needed to pass the motion, and 14 votes in favour is exactly what occurred. Five clubs – including Manchester City and Manchester United – vehemently disagreed, while Burnley abstained. Both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho, who are the most likely managers to be shopping for World Cup-based players, foresaw this potential scramble.

That is not to say that no business has been done. Arsenal have signed five players, Brighton six and West Ham seven, even if not all of those combined 18 will be expected to challenge for a first-team place immediately. But the flipside is that three clubs are yet to sign a player, while a further four have signed only one. Last summer, with only a 15-day, eight-participant Confederations Cup as an irritation, Premier League clubs signed 148 players. So far this summer, that figure has only reached 62.

Signing players late in a transfer window has long proved risky, particularly for those who arrive from different footballing cultures and have no experience of English football. The lack of full pre-season – plus World Cup fatigue, for those who participated – means that such signings are playing catch-up from day one. That’s mighty difficult to do. But clubs are now left with little choice.

One option would be to not buy players at all; this could simply be a comparatively quiet summer for transfer business. Arsene Wenger was (understandably) derided for using the word ‘cohesion’ as a euphemistic explanation for the lack of Arsenal signings in summer 2015 when Petr Cech was the only first-team arrival, but there is a middle ground between those two extremes.

What’s worse: no signings or bad signings? The speed at which the revolving doors at Premier League clubs turn give precious little time for an established squad of players to gel and click. Supporters have been hardwired by the bells-and-whistles bluster to believe that transfer activity is a – perhaps even the – best measure of a club’s strength.

It seems idealistic to think that there could be a transfer amnesty. If supporters have indeed been hardwired to view transfers as an increasingly valuable currency, they are also a tool of appeasement for clubs that insure against supporter angst. The concept of ‘winning the transfer window’ has now been established. With Premier League clubs having larger transfer budgets than ever before, and player agents all too aware of that, a quiet transfer window is now viewed in altogether negative terms. To answer the previous question: ‘bad signings’ is worse than ‘no signings’, but there are many supporters who would pick the opposite answer.

Paul Pogba’s future is not entirely certain. Gareth Bale still has one more transfer saga left in him in 2018. Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois are planning a Shawshank Redemption-style escape where they bury out of Cobham and surface again in Madrid’s Chamartin district. The entire construct of transfer window jargon is in limbo given that European clubs can buy Premier League players for two additional weeks: Slammed shut? Left ajar? One-way air vent?

Rather than measured calm, expect panic to be televised on 24-hour news channels cock-a-hoop that actual football has finished and the soap opera can recommence. As the excellent writers who covered the World Cup from Russia enjoy their break, the transfer tide is rolling in.

The next few weeks could be like the final task on Dale Winton’s Supermarket Sweep, when contestants go out with the best intentions of picking high-value items and keeping an eye out for special deals only to spend the last 15 seconds desperately flinging frozen chickens and ironing boards into a trolley from five paces while the studio audience gasps at how late capitalism is being deconstructed before their very eyes.

Time and tide and transfer rumours wait for no man. Adopt the brace position; the madness is about to take over.

Daniel Storey