Like all car-boot sales, football's transfer window is notorious for passing off counterfeit goods, shoddy second-hand items and unwanted presents as irresistible bargains. Mug punters, unwise or unwary, are fleeced without regret.
Joey Barton is the children's toy which doesn't meet EU safety standards. Andy Carroll is that unfeasibly expensive, utterly unwanted Teasmade alarm clock. Clint Dempsey is the cubic zirconia ring priced as a diamond.
David Bentley is the pair of diamante-studded hot pants that no-one would have the nerve to wear. Roque Santa Cruz is the Albanian DVD player that no-one can get to work. Michael Owen, bless him, is the threadbare teddy bear thrown in a skip on the way home. Once beloved, it has outlived its usefulness.
According to the Sale of Goods Act, 1979, everything, whether new or used, should be of satisfactory quality, accurately described and fit for purpose. Some hope, as another £486 million is thrown on the bonfire of vanities.
Victorians had fairground freakshows. Football fans have deadline day. It remains a theatre of the absurd, in which gurning adolescents torment hollow-eyed TV reporters like ghouls, massing outside the pub in that classic scene from Shaun of the Dead.
This year's nonsense even involved a member of a boy band in terminal decline. The poor wretch was so desperate for publicity he spent the day outside Spurs' training ground, delivering sound bites with the gravity of Harry Redknapp holding court through the window of Kevin Bond's Range Rover.
Football takes perverse pride in such empty rituals, but cannot continue to revel in its institutionalised ignorance. When a Chelsea team, given an £87m injection of new talent, is humiliated by an Atletico Madrid side that required only an £800,000 tweak, the writing is on the wall. The central issue was crystallised by a member of Chelsea's recruitment staff, who had better remain nameless. "If I want to buy an office printer, I can do my research and discover what I'm getting," he said. "I'll want a five-year warranty, something that will give me 50,000 full-colour prints before I need to think about replacing it.
"If I want to buy a £50 million footballer, I don't know what I'm getting until he walks through the door. Who is he? What's his character? Is he motivated by money, celebrity or his family? It's a gamble. You do your best to accumulate intelligence, but ultimately you rely on peer testimonials and gut instincts."
In any other industry, key appointments would undergo psychometric testing, to discover value systems and personal philosophies. References would be analysed with forensic rigour. In extreme cases, private detectives would be sent out, to rummage around in the shadows of a candidate's existence.
Some clubs do their due diligence – I was recently shown a 55-page dossier compiled on Sergio Aguero, before his move to Manchester City – but many others rely on haphazard methods and personal relationships that bear little scrutiny. The consequences are vivid.
Liverpool's plight tarnishes even a living legend, Kenny Dalglish. Whispers around Anfield suggest he ignored advice not to sign Carroll. Staff felt powerless to challenge his insistence on buying British, rather than global, talent. It suited everyone to blame Damien Comolli, whose fate was sealed because he overpaid, under pressure.
Brendan Rodgers, an essentially decent man, was compromised by his inheritance. Carroll and Charlie Adam were publicly demeaned, and departed. Jordan Henderson underwent the same ordeal, and stays, despite being undermined.
Football is addicted to the faux drama which makes an anti-hero out of Daniel Levy, a deal maker with a Napoleon complex. Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas accused the Tottenham chairman of frequently going back on his word, and ignoring written agreements, during all-night negotiating sessions. Yet, despite the obvious antipathy, he sold goalkeeper Hugo Lloris to Levy, for £12m. At the risk of sounding uncharitable, he took the money and ran.
Do not let Lance change history
"My name is Lance Armstrong. I am a cancer survivor. I'm a father of five. And yes, I won the Tour de France seven times." With that defiant introduction, to the World Cancer Congress in Montreal this week, cycling's crisis deepened. Armstrong is making a transparent attempt to change the narrative of his life, regardless of the consequences for the sport he is accused of betraying.
It's not about the bike any more. It never was. It is about him, and the challenge to the conscience of anyone who dares to doubt him.
Acolytes accept his denials of doping because they cannot reconcile the charity campaigner with the gangsterism of which he is accused.
He retains corporate support, and the North American media is in revisionist mood. One columnist even argued that Armstrong's status as a symbol of hope should offer immunity from prosecution.
A British commentator used a South African radio station to promote the conspiracy theory that shadowy "agents", acting on behalf of the US anti drugs agency, offered money to hostile witnesses. "It's a filthy business," he said, in a rare moment of clarity.
Any evidence against Armstrong must be placed in the public domain, immediately.
Cook must cull
Alastair Cook is a pretty regular guy, who occasionally drinks in my village pub with his mates in the Young Farmers Club. If Cook wishes to maintain the purity of the herd, Kevin Pietersen has no future in his England team.Reuse content