Cliches about Cliches: The Wrong Way to Cover the Summer Transfer Window

Last month, Rory Smith, a writer for ESPNFC, published an article titled “Cracking the Transfer Window Code.” higuainSmith bills the piece as “a public service announcement” that will “help us pick our way through the endless night of summer,” then makes a few tired jokes about British tabloids (don’t believe everything you read, kids) and the transfer-window vernacular (United remains hopeful, despite rumors that want-away striker Wayne Rooney has set his heart on a move to Chelsea).

The football media comprises two main groups: the mischievous news outlets that report transfer gossip as if it were fact, and the “serious” sites that run Jonathan Wilson articles and care about things like, you know, ethics. Most of the year, the serious sites are the only ones worth visiting: they feature stories about tactical trends and neurotic South American coaches, while the tabloids explore the minutiae of Cristiano Ronaldo’s love life.

In the summer, it’s a totally different story. Brian Phillips once noted that “for all that soccer turns on discrete, actual events…its appeal also depends on its role as a kind of vast public daydream.” In short, the silly season is supposed to be silly – we like it that way. The beauty of the summer transfer window lies not in the reality of Gonzalo Higuain’s negotiations with Arsenal – a slow, tedious process that almost certainly won’t bear fruit (according to reports, Napoli is about to hijack the deal) – but in the vast public daydream in which Higuain scores a hat trick at White Hart Lane, Arsenal wins the Premier League, and Ryan Shawcross injures himself in a freak gardening accident. The same goes for Zlatan Ibrahimovich’s possible move to Real Madrid, Chelsea’s cheeky bid for Rooney, and United’s efforts to sign Cesc Fabregas: these stories are more interesting as vague fantasies than as actual business transactions involving cynical agents and greedy footballers.

The Guardian employs smart football journalists, but during the offseason it wastes a lot of column inches mocking the sheer, undiluted ridiculousness of the transfer market. The paper’s website features a “rumor mill” section (essentially a summary of everything that the tabloids are reporting) in which writers who think they’re above it all deploy some of the same clichés about transfer-window clichés that punctuate Smith’s article. The Sun’s doctored pictures (Rooney in a Chelsea jersey, Fabregas in a United jersey) are fun in a way that The Guardian’s condescension just isn’t.

The summer transfer window isn’t some grand puzzle that readers couldn’t possibly understand on their own. It’s the world’s greatest circus.

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