It is the last seven days of the transfer window and so comes the bluster, the piety and the lies. But mostly it is the bloody piety. The strange compulsion on the part of clubs who have received an offer for one of their players to act as if it is the virtue of their nearest and dearest whom a rival has tried to buy, rather than simply their Belgian attacking midfielder.
Everton got the ball rolling with their “derisory and insulting” response to Manchester United’s offer for Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. Alan Pardew kept up the tradition by accusing Arsenal of lacking “respect and honour” for bidding for Yohan Cabaye on the day of Newcastle’s game against Manchester City, although the exact timing of that bid is a matter of dispute.
And so it goes on, an endless round of recriminations as if nothing like this has ever happened before. In fact, it has been going on for more than a century. This year is the 120th anniversary of the first ever three-figure transfer fee, the £100 that Aston Villa paid West Bromwich Albion for Willie Groves.
Doubtless on receipt of the first offer, the West Brom chairman furiously extinguished his pipe, postponed supper and immediately dictated a strongly-worded statement condemning Villa’s actions. And then quietly let it be known that he would take £100 and not a shilling less.
Asked about his bid for Fellaini and Baines, Moyes said that he understood the difficulty of Roberto Martinez’s situation. He reflected on how he, as Everton manager, had sold players in the past (Wayne Rooney in 2004 springs to mind) and added, not unreasonably, that while there was no disrespect intended to his former club, he was just trying to do his job.
“Everton are a great club and they are both excellent players. But the transfer window is open and we can make bids and you can say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, it’s as simple as that,” Moyes said. “You are allowed to bid.”
You Are Allowed To Bid. It does rather get to the heart of things. Perhaps they should run it on the ticker on Sky Sports News once a day to remind everyone where they stand, #YAATB. Of course, Moyes is having his stubbornness in the face of the Joleon Lescott sale, and to a lesser extent the current Rooney situation, thrown back at him. Although you might argue that on this occasion no one knows better than him what these two are worth to Everton.
It was Moyes who put the now expired £23.5m buy-out clause in Fellaini’s contract. Strangely, the expectation is that Moyes should pay it, despite the fact that no club has ever offered £23.5m for Fellaini. Perhaps it was precisely because he knew that no one would ever pay it that Moyes had it inserted in Fellaini’s contract in the first place.
Yes, it is late in the day to be coming in for a first offer on a club’s best players. But then Everton only have to say “No” in the same way that United did with Rooney. And of course, Martinez went to his former club Wigan Athletic to acquire Arouna Kone (£6m), Antolin Alcaraz (free) and Joel Robles (an undisclosed fee to Atletico Madrid estimated at around £1m for a player Wigan had on loan). From there the chain of transfers goes on.
Wigan signed Stephen Crainey from Blackpool where he turned down the offer of a new contract.
Blackpool bought the striker Steven Davies from Bristol City for £500,000. Bristol City signed Aden Flint from Swindon for £300,000. Swindon have not really splashed any cash yet but they have – for reasons best known to them – given Nile Ranger a contract.
It works this way. It always has. Had Chelsea been successful in signing Rooney from United then you could have added another layer at the top end. It happens to everyone.
In the summer of 2004, United were furious that two of their long-term targets Petr Cech and Arjen Robben joined Chelsea which was in no way connected with Peter Kenyon switching to the London club the previous September.
In the summer of 2002, the Leeds manager Terry Venables complained that Manchester United, who had paid £33m for his captain Rio Ferdinand, thought they were “entitled to everything”. Sir Alex Ferguson retorted: “We have every right to try to improve ourselves, despite what some people think.” In happier times Leeds had paid West Ham £18m for Ferdinand.
Manager passes on misery to manager, to paraphrase Philip Larkin (who would surely have been delighted with Hull’s first win of the season on Saturday). Except it is not really misery. Not when the manager in question is about to spend some of the fee pinching someone else’s best player and especially not for those few who have a contract entitling them to a cut of the profits on sales.
The transfer market is brutal. It is the ultimate expression of a club’s place in the hierarchy, and it manifests itself in the cartoon-treachery of the Brazilian Willian happily leaping off the Spurs doctor’s examination table and heading for Chelsea’s training ground. Poor old Willian, he was only obeying the old rules of money, status and that old chestnut, the chance to play Champions League football.
Enough with the hand-wringing. For clubs and their managers, a transfer is first about money and then the availability of a replacement. The rest is just PR. Everyone has a price and once the selling club are satisfied that the proverbial cherries have lined up on the fruit machine, you hear much less about honour and respect. And just in case anyone has forgotten: You Are Allowed To Bid.
Rene’s revelations leaves Fergie with less secrets
A revealing interview with Rene Meulensteen, Sir Alex Ferguson’s former coach, and briefly the Anzhi Makhachkala manager, in The Telegraph on Saturday.
He said that in Manchester United’s 2009 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona, Ferguson erred in not selecting Paul Scholes.
Two years later in the final at Wembley he said an argument between the players at half-time meant that staff could not get their message across. Steady on, Rene, keep going like this and Fergie will have nothing left for his book ...
Wenger’s sudden Flamini interest is puzzling
Five years have passed since Mathieu Flamini left Arsenal on a free transfer in acrimonious circumstances. Having established himself in the first team he thought he was worth more money than Arsenal were prepared to pay him.
Fair enough, these are the kind of tough decisions every player has to make. But why does Arsène Wenger feel the need to welcome him back? It is not as if it is Thierry Henry. That said, re-signing Flamini is probably the least of Arsenal’s transfer problems.