The Secret Footballer.


Splashing the cash like crazy in the weird and wonderful world of football

The interesting thing about the current transfer market is the trickle down effect, writes The Secret Footballer.

Splashing the cash like crazy in the weird and wonderful world of football

What exactly is a crazy transfer market? In the world we live in, and especially the world footballers live in, all bets are off when it comes to defining crazy. The transfer market gets Sky more excited than a small war or the death of a minor royal. In that context, it’s crazy enough.

Look, crazy has a context. TV money is at record highs, so are season ticket sales and so is the global reach of all Premier League clubs. The Premier League is now attracting ordinary fans and deluded billionaires from all corners of the globe. Money is being vacuum packed and forced into what was recently a dowdy business run by fat chairmen who doubled as aldermen on local councils.

Man City have a tunnel club where you can pay to be spoon-fed caviar by a vestal virgin from Accrington. Or watch the players line up in the tunnel scratching their nuts before the game. Same thing apparently. Just 15k a season. At the new White Hart Lane, we will soon enjoy the long overdue facilites of a Cheese Room. Wensleydele anybody?

For those of us with mortgages etc the transfer system offers an alternative to the weather when it comes to small talk. £40 million for Oxlade Chamberlain? Oooh I know. I know.

Liverpool have bought a player with the speed of a startled racehorse but with the same positional sense and only a slightly better first touch. We’ll be talking about that long after we have forgotten what crazy old Arsene actually did with the money. (Answer: put it in a biscuit tin in a corner of his office, the keys to which they will pry from his cold dead fingers when he passes away and all the other clubs in the championship observe a minute’s silence and commentators note that once upon a time he seemed to be intellectually ABOVE football. Really. There are three values at play in any transfer. What the player is worth to the club who is buying him. What the player is worth to the club who is selling him. What the player is actually worth if this could actually be measured with objectivity and authority. Which it can’t.

So Barcelona put an escape clause value on Neymar? And PSG, which is basically a subsidiary of a small oil-rich state, happily paid that price. Too late for Barca to say they were only joking when they put that clause in the contract. Neymar to Paris met two-thirds of the criteria for not being crazy. PSG paid what they could afford. Barca got what they said they wanted. Objectively is he worth it? Well if PSG dominate France and come to dominate Europe will anybody care?

And the Fair Play rules? Football really doesn’t want to grow a major new club in a great world city, does it? Certainly not a major new club funded by the people bankrolling a forthcoming World Cup. Look how harshly Red Bull were dealt with for having two horses at the starting gate of the Champions League to see just how flexible football is about its own financial rules.

The interesting thing about the current transfer market is the trickle down effect. It’s easy to see how PSG delivering a truck load of minty fresh cash to Barcelona would make the proud Catalans forget how just the day before yesterday they were ‘mes que un club’ and not sullying their shirts with sponsors names and growing all their own players’ free range and organically in La Masia. Now they are running around telling the world that they have 200 million to spend and Real Madrid to catch up on in the Vulgar Excess Handicap.

All that makes sense. The flow of money from massive transfers is easy to trace at first. For us Spurs fans there is a roll call of names who we remember mainly for having been bought with the Gareth Bale windfall.

But when the top of the market overheats though, it’s not just shockingly young French players who suddenly become worth a fortune - will the French National teams insurers even allow Dembele, Mbappe and Pogba to travel on the same flight - but values further down the league are distorted.

Manchester United, having bought heavily in the Mino Raiola Superstore in recent years, see nothing amiss with flashing their loyalty card as they approach check-out with a big Lukaku in the trolley but that means Everton can spend 45 million on Gylfi Sigurdsson who is a proven player but not a player whose name you ever imagined appearing in a sentence containing the words ‘forty five million.’ All of which gives Paul Clement at Swansea a little bit of gold fever. He loses Llorente who can score and wants Bony who can’t score and still has a wad in his fist. Suddenly if you are a Sky sports reporter, the plum job on deadline day is to be stuck in Swansea staring at all the big cars driving past you into the training ground.

Of course if you can’t get the glamour gig at Swansea the obvious place you would want to be is Burnley who have found that just by being around the Premier League for a while means that clubs will pay huge money for their Michael Keanes and Andre Grays and you can trawl the waters of the Championship using cash as bait for strikers. What this does to the biosphere of the Championship is a University thesis.

Yesterday the big money, big name movements all had their own weird logic. There was a lot of fun. Benitez gnashing his teeth, Conte ripping his own hair extensions. Sakho and Mahrez flitting about the place like a couple of Peter Odemiwingies.

Next week everybody in football settles down again and at lunch there will be the occasional nostalgic chat about the days when football was about coaching players to make them better. Now that was crazy!

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