Saturday, September 3, 2011

Last Minute Shopping Rush Boosts UK Economy

Transfer Deadline Day and it could be your club........

The camera pans slowly on to the face of the maniacal white haired Scotsman. This looks serious, it could be a biggie. We pry our eyes away from the omnipresent yellow ticker for just one second and give the odious Jim White our full attention. He's played possum with us on many an occasion before but this time it'll be different. A British transfer record perhaps? Wesley Sneijder at Manchester Airport? What could it be? In the manner of a president solemnly addressing his citizens White carefully ruffles his sheets of paper, clears his throat, takes a deep breath and announces the news we've all been waiting for....”Reports just in.....our sources are telling us that........Burnley, yes Burnley.......have made a bid for Watford utitlity man....” his voice drifts away in the background as our hearts sink and we rebuke ourselves for being fooled again. How could we have been so gullible? This is a man who'd call a press conference for the opening of a pack of Hob Nobs and here we are in thrall to his every word on a bright Wednesday afternoon at the tail end of another disappointing summer. But it's transfer deadline day and even if there was a street party involving high kicking, high living samba dancers with liberal attitudes to clothing going on outside you still couldn't drag yourself away from the screen and that blasted yellow ticker.

Believe it or not there was a time when the wonder that is transfer deadline day didn't actually exist. Clubs were free to sign players all year round and did so at their leisure whether it was August 31st or a murky winter's evening slapbang in the middle of the season. But as ever the powers that be decided that this perfectly functioning state of affairs just wouldn't do and so in their infinite wisdom they did what they always do and tampered with it. The summer transfer window and it's cousin the shorter, but no less dramatic, winter transfer window were brought into effect at the turn of the century much to the bemusement of all involved in the game and with it came the advent of what we now know as transfer deadline day or TDD for short (how have Sky not adopted that acronym? It just rolls off the tongue!). At first managers tentatively utilised the window unsure of its mechanics not wishing to break any unforeseen, obscure rule or regulation. They did their utmost to ensure that all business was finalised well in advance of the closing date leaving only the moronic, the desperate and Harry Redknapp frantically scrambling for players at the very last. Oh how they laughed at the idea that this new fangled restriction would hamper their chances of success, “I've got a squad full to the brim with talent and by jove they'll last me all season you just wait and see”.

Fast forward a couple of months and an ashen faced Premier League manager stalks off the training ground having seen his inexperienced but precocious left back left in a crumpled heap by that lumbering ape of a centre forward who in all honesty should have retired at least two years ago. The gaffer storms into his office silently beckoning his first team coach inside as he does so. “Young Robinson has just done his metatarsal in training, do you know what that means?” The first team coach knows this is a rhetorical question but answers it just to fill the deadening silence filling the room. “We've got no fit left backs at the club Boss”. His superior barely hears him however as he is in the process of making a phone call, a desperate plea for help as it turns out. “Hello is this the FA?”..........”Can I speak to the chairman please?”...............”Well can I leave a message then?”...............”Ok, could you just ask if there's any possibility, any whatsover, that I could perhaps be given clemency to sign a player outside of the transfer window?”...........”Yes, yes I know all that but just ask him...please?”...................................”Why not?”....................”What the hell would you know you're just a secretary!!!”................”NO I WILL NOT LOWER MY VOICE, DO YOU REALISE I'VE GOT NO FIT LEFT BACKS AT MY CLUB, WELL? DO YOU?!?!?!.....And so it begins.

Once the dawning realisation that the squads they were equipped with come the end of each respective window were the ones they'd be left to face battle with for the duration the managers promptly changed tack. Like a bunch of guilt ridden husbands who'd forgotten their wives birthdays they hastily snapped up any old item from the shelves not even stopping to check it's sell by date or whether it had been previously mishandled. All rational was lost as players were bought, traded and loaned with abandon and some of us were even moved to feel a slight tinge of sympathy for these pampered millionaires whose futures were being toyed with before our very eyes. Whilst the managers, players and most importantly the paymasters were desperately unhappy with this new state of affairs for everyone else it was an absolute hoot. Us supporters got more drama condensed into these manic few days than many of us would witness over the forthcoming season. Print journalists merrrily spun ever more fanciful tales with little possibility of reproach, a strike rate of one accurate story out of twenty was considered informed reporting during this fevered time. Those in the Sky Sports News studios had an absolute ball and the scramble to see the roster for the closing week of August saw Vicky Gomarsall almost trampled to death by the over eager Mike Wedderburn. But as is the case in most walks of life the ones who benefited most were those who deserved it the least.

To be a football agent during the closing days of a transfer window must be like entering a nightclub, surveying the scene, and realising that you're the only bloke amongst scores of 'up for it' women, everyone wants a piece of you. Most Premier League managers will tell you that agents are the scourge of the game and most view them as a necessary evil which must be negotiated when procuring the services of a player. But come TDD these footballing pariahs are in high demand, no longer are their dubious activities questioned by a single soul as even the very top bosses bite their tongue and dial the number filed under 'meddling tosser' in their phones. Of course agents lap this up and take great pleasure in playing clubs off against each other in the hope of acquiring even more unwarranted cash for they and their client. But it's not just the agents who play hard ball, club chairmen wholeheartedly get in on the sordid act and hike prices up to ridiculous levels in the hope of ensnaring a manager at the end of his tether after several dozen rebuttals. Instead of tying up all their business in the early months of summer and heading off to sun themselves in foreign lands managers choose to play a dangerous game of russian roulette leaving themselves open to the possibility of waking up on September 1st with nothing more than a dead phone battery and a second rate Venezualan winger that they don't even remember signing.

But the question asked more than any other during this time is why leave it till the last day? Yes we know there's the possibility of last minute bargains aplenty, the chance that stubbornly hard headed chairmen might suddenly relent and that wantaway stars may have an unexpected change of heart and committ their future to the club, but really would it not just save a lot of hassle if everyone was a bit more up front with each other. Take the recently closed transfer window for example. It was clear to any follower of the game that Luka Modric wanted out of White Hart Lane but because he's quite a respectable little chap he didn't want to cause too much of a fuss in doing so. Now the decent thing to do for the Croatian would have been to say 'Ok Chelsea you can have him but only if you give us £40million up front, right now'. Reports suggest that at the very death a fee rumoured to be similar to that was tabled by Abramovich but by then it was far too late to put together a deal of such magnitude. So instead Spurs are left with a clearly unhappy player who will most likely be off next summer for a price guaranteed to be less than that offered this time around, Chelsea having been unable to procure their number one target have ended up with the enigmatic Raul Merieles, and in the process dented Liverpool's squad with insufficient time to get a replacement, and the only ones coming out of with any real satisfaction are yes you've guessed it, the agents. Oh and Jim White of course.

Love it or loathe it the current system of transfer windows look set to stay for the forseeable future. We will continue to spend entire summers listening to ongoing sagas and being duped into believing that come the end of August all will be okay. Even those who don't foresee any actitivy for their club will still wake up on TDD and secretly think that yes today's the day, that bid for Messi is finally going to happen and by midnight tonight he will be ours. It makes no economic sense whatsoever to have a deadline for clubs to finalise all their business but since when did anything about football make any sense? What it does do is make dreamers of us all and keep us hoping against all hope, throughout each and every window, that our beloved team will be the ones in the centre of the maelstrom come the final minutes. As long as there is TDD there will be hundreds of thousands of football fans glued to the screens more in hope than belief, but really is that much different to the experience of watching an actual game? Delusion is part of every football supporters armoury and for that reason alone we enjoy this crazed skirmish. Maybe one day transfer windows will be abolished and we'll look back on those frenzied last days with a hint of nostalgia but no matter how misty eyed we get about transfer deadlines past none of us will ever get quite so emotional as Jim White who, annoying as he may be, is the undisputed King of TDD and will in all likelihood end up being the first man to spontaneously combust live on air some time in the not too distant future.

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