It’s That Time Of Year

We have a deeply romanticized picture of football transfers. Directors jet from city to city. Malevolent agents knock over little children playing in local parks. Harry Redknapp dashes across the countryside, checkbook in hand, his greedy eyes fixed on another “smashing” player.

Sir Alex Ferguson likes to remind the media about his famous mid-‘90s bicycle ride through Paris in hot pursuit of Eric Cantona, who had been considering retirement. Fergie obviously takes pride in this exploit, even though, at 70, he would be hard pressed to replicate it. Journalists constantly use this tale as “evidence” of the vaunted Manchester United Spirit, the never-say-die attitude that — with the help of, arguably, the Premier League’s two greatest foreign imports, savvy marketing and a once-in-a-lifetime generation of players – is the foundation stone on which Ferguson’s Old Trafford edifice rests.

But most of what we think we know about football transfers is made-up. For instance – to borrow from Mr. Ferguson once again – Dimitar Berbatov almost certainly did not hide under a blanket in the back of Fergie’s mini-van on transfer deadline day in 2008. And, contrary to what Sky Sports News might tell you, “noteworthy” developments are very rare indeed in the world of football transfers.

Not that we, chief beneficiaries of the contrived sports entertainment that the Premier League seems to have become, care a jot about The Truth. Lies don’t detract from the fun.

Already, the peddlers of half-truths, quarter truths and enticing bullshit have begun to flex their muscles.

Take Manchester United – transfer window wimps for the last couple of seasons, but now supposedly “on the brink” of poaching their usual quota of promising youngsters from honest, less commercialized footballing establishments. Ferguson’s chief scouts, and even the man himself, have reportedly made several trips to watch Eden Hazard, the Belgian whiz-kid who makes Joe Cole look good.

Some deals have actually happened. Champions League finalists Chelsea wrapped up the signing of Marko Marin, a player who, despite looking less like footballer than like an extra from a Lord of the Rings film, should help revitalize Di Matteo’s aging squad. Marin has impressed for both Werder Bremen and Joachim Lowe’s German national team over the last two seasons and, coming from the fast-paced Bundesliga, he should have no trouble adjusting to the Premier League.

And then there’s Lukas “I only score at World Cups” Podolski, Arsenal’s latest scalp. A Van Persie-Podolski strike partnership sounds enticing, but whether the Dutch half of that tandem will even play for Arsenal next season is unclear. According to numerous sources, contract negotiations between Arsenal and Van Perise are “stalling” – perhaps RvP is holding out for more money, or maybe he’s gone into  hiding to avoid the monster that is Gary Caldwell.

Whether or not Van Persie stays, Arsenal will sell Marouane Chamakh this summer, much to the relief of exactly no Premier League goalkeepers. When Wenger signed Chamakh in 2009, all the media talk was about an Arsenal plan B, a player who could head as well as pass. Unfortunately, the Moroccan, to use a common transfer platitude, “just hasn’t worked out”.

Speaking of things not working out, Wolverhampton Wanderers look set to be stripped of their Premier League assets. Kevin Doyle, Steven Fletcher and Matt Jarvis should fetch healthy sums this summer – all three are internationals. In goal, Wayne Hennessey’s unfortunate injury ruined his hopes of another year of top-flight football. He’ll have to fight his way back into the Promised Land.

And, of course, I have forgotten to mention Swansea. Every year, a Premier League team plays above itself, and reaches startling, unprecedented heights. Sometimes, like Blackpool, that team is relegated anyway, but this year the league’s surprise package secured survival with room to spare. Unfortunately, in the Premier League, success usually leads to a summer exodus — Swansea will struggle to stave off the herds of greedy suitors sure to congregate outside their stadium. They will have to deal with the annoying behavior of discontented players, whose “transfer requests”, as Jonathan Liew once noted, “are often described as ‘shock’ and are always ‘handed in’ (never ‘texted’, ‘faxed’, or ‘shouted across the dressing room in French’)”.

After the futures of the Joe Allens, Scott Sinclairs and Leon Brittons of this world are sorted, the watching public will, as one, switch its attention to the Iberian Peninsula, where Real Madrid will welcome a new set of Galacticos and Barcelona will continue to undermine their “homegrown” mantra by purchasing a few more baubles for Tito Vilanova’s Christmas tree. In the capital, the word “Diez” will be thrown around quite a lot, as will the words “demand”, “squabble” and “dressing room unrest”. The summer transfer window just wouldn’t be the same without you, Florentino.

Back in the mid-90s – you know, when only Newcastle threw away titles – a certain Mr. Bosman further enhanced the transfer excitement. Free agency. Yum. This summer, Didier Drogba is the Premier League’s most prominent free agent. According to the rumor mill –a mysterious contraption powered by Twitter but bereft of wheat, wind, or textile products – Drogs is off to China to hook up with ex-teammate and fellow Moscow flop Nicolas Anelka.

Reportedly, Anelka plans to motorcycle Drogba from the Ivoirian’s London home all the way to Shanghai. After all, it is the silly season.


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