There was a time when every player had their price, but not any more. That’s what they’d like us to believe, anyway…
“Player X is not for sale at any price,” is what football managers have said since the dawn of time. Of late the meaning behind such dismissals seems to have changed, however, and instead of just expressing a club’s desire to keep hold of their best players it is now increasingly a strategy to get as much money as possible for a prized asset.
When I got back to England for my summer holiday three of the Premier League’s best players were embroiled in will-they-won’t-they transfer sagas which all followed this basic principle.
Wayne Rooney was assumed to have been on the way out of Manchester United at the end of last season when he fell out with Sir Alex Ferguson (again) and missed the Scot’s last two games as manager. Even so, and despite making it clear that he wants away, at the time of writing he is still at the club and new boss David Moyes insists that will remain the case.
“Wayne Rooney is not for sale. He’s a Manchester United player and will remain a Manchester United player. Wayne won’t be sold by Manchester United,” the BBC reported him as saying.
The same scenario has been rumbling along just down the M62, with everyone’s favourite non-controversial striker Luis Suarez accusing his club of going back on a promise to let him leave if they didn’t qualify for the Champions League.
Those claims were disputed by Liverpool and owner John W. Henry claimed the player would be going nowhere.
“He won’t be sold even if a foreign club comes in because we do not have time to sign a suitable replacement,” he was quoted as saying in The Guardian. “It’s a football reason. It’s not about finances.”
That reasoning seems fairly sound, but seeing as Henry was speaking around a month before the transfer window closed it is debatable. Four weeks is plenty of time to make a signing, especially if you have £40 million to do so.
This is where Tottenham Hotspur, or more specifically Daniel Levy, come in.
The Spurs chairman is renowned for his obsession with squeezing every last penny from his club’s sales, which usually means deals aren’t concluded until the last moments of the transfer window. The rebuttal of Real Madrid’s world record £86 million bid for Gareth Bale is the latest, and most extreme, example which looks like following that pattern.
Such a policy can work in terms of garnering the highest fee possible, but, as Henry alluded to, it doesn’t give the manager any time to sign a replacement.
Of course, another thing to consider is that transfer deals are now followed in far closer detail, with journalists and newspapers constantly in need of new information at an almost hourly rate to satiate the desire of fans to get the absolute latest.
For Jonathan Wilson this, too, has impacted on the final stages of the transfer window as buying clubs feel the pressure to appease fans who are more readily and angrily bemoaning a lack of satisfactory activity.
“You see it on deadline day each window, people taking to Twitter and comments sections to berate their club for not being involved – when of course the truth is that, in the vast majority of cases, deals done on deadline day are hurried and not necessarily well-conceived,” he wrote in The Guardian.
“It’s basically a game of poker. You’re waiting for someone to panic and put in an extra £10 million,” was how former Manchester United defender Gary Neville put it on Monday Night Football.
The Fernando Torres-Andy Carroll disaster of 2011 was the ultimate example of that, with £85 million or so changing hands on deadline day for two strikers whose moves didn’t exactly work out.
Last-minute deals bring with them plenty of complications, then, and if the wantaway player isn’t sold that can also have repercussions on the non-selling team. Apologies are uttered, teammates’ and fans’ forgiveness is begged for, and then the problems invariably pop up again during the next window.
Bearing that in mind, would it not serve everybody better if the brinksmanship was left out of it and clubs just wrapped up their business earlier?