Conspiracy, rants and resentment: Transfers are meant to be fun, not a toxic funnel for abuse

Transfers can improve a squad and uplift a fanbase, but the window is increasingly becoming a breeding ground for football's worst face

Melissa Reddy
Senior Football Correspondent
Monday 07 September 2020 10:47
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Latest football transfer news and rumours

It was simply 12 words, made up of 72 characters. Nothing more or less than a statement of fact, gathered and presented without any opinion.

“Newcastle’s £13.5m bid for Jamal Lewis has been accepted by Norwich City,” read the tweet.

There was an immediate overflow of reaction, the large swathe of which was divorced from reality.

Somehow, Liverpool who had already secured a cheaper back-up option to Andy Robertson, were wronged in this transfer tale.

Somehow, a 22-year-old’s career was being ruined - one batch pinning the blame on Norwich for declining a £10m offer from the Premier League champions a month ago, with the other crowd finger-pointing at Jurgen Klopp and Co for leading the left-back on and then leaving him in the lurch.

Norwich were accused of trying to fleece Liverpool by sticking a £20m valuation on the player. The Merseysiders were accused of being cheap.

The conversation on the social media platform quickly devolved into stereotypes about crime and poverty. Personal attacks, a few tinged with xenophobia and racism, would follow.

It’s wild how 12 words, made up of 72 characters on a very straightforward trade development can be met with such ranting and resentment, but it is now standard procedure. These days, football is not a matter of life and death, the transfer window is.

First, let’s deconstruct the Lewis situation. Liverpool were after an affordable full-back to deputise for Robertson and had a shortlist of four candidates. They proposed a £10m deal to Norwich for the Northern Ireland international. The recently relegated club were well within their rights to reject it and put forward their valuation of Lewis as a negotiation point.

Liverpool went into the market not wanting to overspend on the position and swiftly secured Konstantinos Tsimikas for £11.75m from Olympiakos. They had been in touch with the camps of all options (Sergio Reguilon and Lloyd Kelly were the other two names on the shortlist), which the Reds were up front about during talks with the players and clubs.

While Lewis would have liked to have linked up with the champions to sponge lessons off two of the best full-backs in the game, his ultimate objective was to secure regular minutes in the top flight to aid his advancement. The potential switch to Newcastle offers such an opportunity.

On Norwich acceding to less than what they quoted Liverpool - not by that much with extras, sell-on clauses and such to be factored in - the landscape has changed considerably over the last month.

They have more clarity on their own financial situation, but also that of others as well. While Chelsea have spent mega money in the window and a handful of other sizeable outlays have materialised like Nathan Ake’s move to Manchester City, these are exceptions rather than the state of play in Covid-19-shaped circumstances

Newcastle, meanwhile, are on the verge of getting in a really good player on a really good deal. It has been a normal transfer process that is close to an ending that benefits all involved.

But, nope, that can’t be a reality in transferville, a land of conspiracy and shouting ‘YOU DON’T KNOW ANYTHING’ to anyone who doesn’t tell you what you want to hear.

It's also a place of endless dissatisfaction. Too much can never be done. No new name is big enough to stop the desire of seeing another #playerannounced unveiling video.

Signed a £40m player? That’s cool, bro. Who’s next? Have a top player in your squad, but linked to another really good one in that position? Get rid and get him in!

A headline signing didn’t live up to unrealistic standards generated by the desperation to see him in your team’s shirt? Why the hell is he still in the squad eating up the wage bill when there are so many better options out there?

The culture encourages managers to ignore the potential they’re responsible for extracting to scout for an instant fix

Transfers are a tool to improve a squad and it is natural to be excited by them. Fun fact: journalists like them too as it offers fresh content, angles and there's an adrenaline rush involved in digging for information and getting it out there.

Intelligent clubs are increasingly investing in their recruitment departments - especially in terms of analytics - to arrive at the shrewdest decisions knowing the market can offer a significant source for improvement.

The obsession around signings, however, is in danger of overtaking the game itself. The belief that every flaw can be remedied in the window reduces the importance of work on the training pitches and depreciates the essence of good coaching.

The culture encourages managers to ignore the potential they’re responsible for extracting to scout for an instant fix. Young talent often becomes the greatest causality in the never-ending crusade for something new, something else, something more.

This also means you can have a dysfunctional structure and strategy, but temporarily mask it with mega buys (side-eyeing you Barcelona), happily rinsing and repeating.

Big-money transfer don’t always mask over the cracks

The thirst for teams to spend, spend, spend, to “win the transfer window” disregards circumstances, sustainability or holistic squad planning.

Each club’s situation and approach is different, but if the one you support is not financially flexing as hard as another - in the case of this summer, Chelsea - then WHERE IS THE AMBITION?

All of this fuels a toxic environment, with abuse as its oxygen and a twisting of words, facts and figures to suit whatever compulsive picture is being painted.

The expectation of continuous, concrete information when so many players and clubs are still unsure about outcomes teleports the mind to a comment from a sporting director last summer: “There are more people on Twitter that know about my plans than I do!”

We, the media, of course, are not blameless in all of this. Publications feed off the transfer addiction, supplying your next hit in exchange for your clicks. Rumour pages are the pride of traffic, while TV and radio coverage is dominated by talk of incomings and outgoings.

Snappy takes sure to promote 'engagement' are splashed across social platforms and the pundits that make the most ridiculous declarations are rewarded with the lion’s share of airtime.

There is pressure on journalists to produce transfer news and it would be easy to submit regular follow-ups that don’t say much. Given the excessive demand, it is harder to only write what you have sourced, can stand up and then advance the story when there is tangible further information.

But, this is not what you want to hear, so what do I know? And this is not Thiago so I’ll, as plenty will tell me to, ‘STFU.’

Enjoy the window! A phrase that is pretty much supplanting ‘enjoy the game’.

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