The time is late August 2013 — the end of summer. Every football fan views this time of year with great anticipation mixed with healthy doses of dread and fear. It’s the height of what is known as “silly season,” and there are usually several questions to be answered, or ignored, depending on whom you support. It’s a time when fans can dream and dread major or even minor changes at their favorite club.
Is your team going to get that midfielder you’ve yearned for the past four years? Or will your team finally get that top striker to fill the gap left by players of years gone by, or that classy center back to plug that perennial leak in defense? What about that underachieving club or that former European superpower of yesteryear, with little more than “history,” now languishing in mid-table in its league? Will it finally get someone world-class again after years of mediocrity? And who are the oil-enriched clubs buying this time, and for how much more than they are actually worth?! And what about that player who’s been at your club for so long and never does anything, or is actually a detriment — will he finally get sold, you pray? The height of silly season has arrived, and it’s bigger and better than ever!
This phenomenon is most visible in Europe, home of the biggest leagues and the best players, and this year is set to be arguably the silliest, with transfer-fee records about to be broken in the final weeks. If you believe everything that is published on social media nowadays, deals are reached and confirmed and then collapse in a matter of days, hours or even minutes!
The transfer season chaos has also been amplified by the technological progress we have made as a society in recent years. As a teen in the early ’90s, I would have to wait for the daily newspaper, or perhaps read the teletext on evening news, to find out what has happened to my club and whether it had brought in any new players or sold any old ones. Nowadays, with Twitter, Facebook and interactive sports websites, there is a constant stream (and I mean that literally) of updates on what is and supposedly is going on behind the scenes of transfers, creating what are now called “transfer sagas.”
Every utterance from managers or player agents is posted online within seconds, and there are hundreds of sources close to players, their agents or club management with the sordid details. These so-called in-the-knows (ITKs, whether they be actual journalists, agents or faceless facades for bored 15-year-old kids with a fast Internet connection) who somehow have that bit of info that no one else has on every single deal happening, shout from their Twitter towers for all to hear that “they knew it first.” The semi-anonymity of the Internet has created a legion of these transfer “experts” using the time-honed methodology that if you throw enough mud, some will stick!
So a rumour was posted about a player targeted by your club, saying he’s looking for a house in that city, or following other players of that same club via social media? Time to go buy your jersey with his name on it . . . but hold on! There’s an update four hours later: he’s following players at other clubs nearby too — cancel that order while the ITK confirms some details! A player was sighted on holiday in a given country? It’s all but a done deal, so best get your tattoos now! A footballer was spotted vacationing with other players from different clubs? No, it’s not because they were teammates previously or on the same national team. It has to be transfer-related — he’s joining the other club !
It’s enough to drive supporters crazy, and it seems to do exactly that in some cases. Managers get the brunt of irate fan reactions when players are perceived to have been “lost” or deals are hijacked (or gazumped) by other clubs, and each clubs’ fans wonder how the others are able to get such a “simple deal” done while their club hems and haws, signing no one. These fans have been sitting idly at home for two months waiting for football to return, and transfer rumours become the surrogate for the actual game, so woe be unto clubs that don’t sign anyone whom the club “obviously needs” before the window closes, no matter whether your club won the league last season or finished next-to-last! Fans at some clubs yearn for shiny new toys, whether they’ve ever seen them play or not (usually based on real-life stats provided by games such as Football Manager): “Club X has new players, so why can’t we?!” There is a deep-rooted fear of your club stagnating and being left behind while others surge ahead with these new purchases.
The funny thing is that most football fans see this happen annually and know that player purchases are ultimately a roll of the dice by a club. No matter how good a player is, he might be garbage for your team; such is the nature of the game. Yet, still, they can’t resist the “drug” of silly season. No matter how good your team was last year, you want at least one new player to be excited and boast about to rival fans (and hope they don’t turn out to be rubbish)! They know the ITKs are, for the most part, really ITRs (in-the-rubbishers) but still read every tweet of theirs. The sports gossip pages are just that: gossip with hardly any facts. But it’s hard to break a habit, and with new ways of getting this high, it doesn’t seem like the madness will be slowing down anytime soon.
Personally, I can’t wait for the window to close on Sept. 2 this year so we can all focus on games. Until then, though, I’ll be hoping my club brings in that midfielder we’ve been waiting on for the past four years!!!