Football is meant to offer an escape from everyday life. Ninety minutes to forget everything else that’s going on and worry instead about that underperforming left-back or this lazy bastard midfielder or that cheating sh*t of a referee.
The real world isn’t supposed to infiltrate this if at all possible. It’s one of the reasons lockdown football can feel so weird – especially, we discovered on Wednesday night and for reasons we can’t quite fathom, if the game is taking place in thick fog.
The absence of fans is a constant, jarring reminder that things aren’t normal.
And yet the world of transfer rumours is carrying merrily on like nothing has happened with breathless chat about which European super-club will stump up £100m to buy Erling Haaland this summer.
How about none of them? What about that? No, that won’t do. Everything we’ve seen from Haaland tells us he is a £100m player and that the very biggest clubs in Europe will soon engage in a frantic multi-million-pound bidding war to secure the Leeds-born striker (we’re determined to make that the default second mention for his entire career).
It makes sense. Facing the alternative – that of the six clubs he’s mentioned as possible signings at least three and arguably all six are either not in a position to spend £100m or in the habit of chucking that kind of money around – means allowing the deeply unpleasant real world to intrude not just on football but also on transfer rumours, which have always operated on a semi-fictionalised basis within the wider world of football like some kind of scripted reality show with yellow ties and war-chests and Harry Redknapps.
Talk of Haaland’s big move is now entering the realm of fantasy Fantasy Football. It’s a comfort blanket, but one made of pound notes that pretends football hasn’t lost money hand over fist for the last year like every other business apart from Amazon.
The Spanish giants surely can’t sign him, while Juventus would need a dramatic squad overhaul also requiring the sort of liquidity in the wider transfer market that seems unlikely right now.
That leaves the Premier League trio of Manchester United, Manchester City and Liverpool. Liverpool’s January business was not that of a club about to chuck £100m at a striker. City have spent eye-watering sums but never done this, and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has played the idea down whenever it’s mentioned, not that anybody lets that stop them.
The Premier League, alone among the big European leagues, did keep the transfer circus on the road last summer while everyone else tightened belts and relied on loans or selling to buy. But even that was based on reasonable assumptions that significant match-day revenue might return relatively early in the season.
It’s hard to see another summer of that kind of splurging anyway outside Chelsea.
If Haaland does want his move this summer, he might have to relax those restrictions and let Chelsea and PSG into the mix. Even then, the nine-figure fee seems unlikely to materialise. The real story here might be the remarkable possibility of both Haaland and Kylian Mbappe being to some extent or other on the market but both Barcelona and Real Madrid unable to get involved.
But that’s scary. It upsets our accepted order of things in a world already gone fully tits up.
Transfer rumours have never been a place for logic or coherent thinking. We’re not about to start now.