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Friday, Sept. 6, 2002


New transfer rule won't help rumor mill

LONDON -- The FIFA-imposed transfer window, which means Premiership clubs will not be able to sign any new players until Jan. 1, has brought different reactions from various parties.

Christopher Davies

The deadline of Aug. 31 saw a flurry of last-minute deals, the biggest being Robbie Keane's £7 million move from Leeds to Tottenham.

That meant the 22-year-old Republic of Ireland striker has been involved in deals totaling around $55 million.

Keane started with Wolves -- next stop Coventry, Inter Milan, Leeds and now Tottenham. Five increasingly lucrative contracts plus a significant signing-on fee, usually 10 percent, each time -- at the ripe old age of 22.

It is unlikely to over-concern Keane that clubs will not be able to reinforce their squads or how money from Premiership teams can keep Football League clubs solvent.

There can only be window-shopping until January when football opens for business again with the New Year sales. This has been the situation in most major European footballing countries and England has finally, if reluctantly, fallen in line with others.

But what is surely the most significant issue of the whole transfer windows matter seems to have been overlooked.

It is -- how are the tabloid newspapers going to fill their back pages without transfer tittle tattle or world exclusives? Incidentally, a world exclusive usually means either the story has been bought, so it should be a world exclusive, or that it is not true which makes it an ignominious world exclusive.

The phrase conjures up images of an inquiry at the Washington Post. "How come none of you guys got Joe Bloggs signing for Southampton then? It's a world exclusive in the Daily Rumor. All we have is the baseball strike and NFL previews. Where's the Bloggs story?"

Even in these days of space travel we have not yet seen an inter-galactic back page exclusive but it can only be a matter of time.

Rumors and gossip, such as who is selling which player to this or that club, are the lifeblood of the red-tops who like nothing better than "Liverpool is set to . . . " or "Newcastle is preparing a bid for . . . " stories. If someone is prepared to write it, someone somewhere will be prepared to print it.

So what will the tabs do now? There has been much collective scratching of heads on sports desks.

The back pages can hardly say "Liverpool is set to sign so-and-so on Jan. 1" three months ahead of the alleged deal while Newcastle's proposed bid can be meticulously prepared as it will have so much time in which to plan it.

For heaven's sake, we are not going to get actual news on the back pages of the popular press are we?

The Sunday papers face an even bigger dilemma. Many have 32- or 48-page sports (i.e. 90 percent football) supplements and there is a limit to how much can be devoted to match reports.

There has usually been a back-page transfer story plus two or three pages of similar who's-moving-where stuff inside.

Do these bureaucrats of FIFA not realize what they have done by tinkering with the very fabric of English life? How dare they interfere with our corn flakes and transfers which comprise our Sunday breakfast?

(An aside -- what is the collective noun for transfer stories? A swoop? A swoop of scoops sounds good enough).

It gets worse. What about the agents, the guys who provide so many of the transfer stories which they subsequently deny after their clients have become unsettled? "Not me, honest, no idea where the story came from."

And the cow jumped over the moon.

They will have little more to do for a couple of months than to count the money made on deals before the transfer window. That should keep them occupied though.

The agents or business managers to give them their PC title, have been doing a good job, it would appear.

A number of players in the first division have rejected moves to the Premiership because their current club pays them more than the would-be buyers.

Ipswich's Herman Hreidarsson, for example, would apparently have taken a $10,000 a week drop in wages had he signed with West Bromwich which the Icelander also felt was going to be relegated. The double-drop was too much so the Iceman did not goeth.

Supply and demand means players can dictate almost what they want in new contracts. Some insist on a clause that their maximum sell-on fee is low enough to attract interest. Others have a loyalty bonus built-in that starts after 12 months -- who said the days of loyalty were numbered?

One player who changed clubs 25 km apart and did not have to move asked for a $40,000 relocation fee.

The favorite word for many foreign players is "netto" -- their contract is negotiated in what salary they take home, not what they are paid before tax. Nice work if you can get it -- which many do.

But for some even the earth, it appears, is not enough. Darlington of the third division agreed to deal with ex-Newcastle striker Tino Asprilla.

The Colombian international was to be paid $17,000 a week rising to $25,000 if he stayed until the new stadium was opened in December. Asprilla would also get 20 percent of gate receipts over 4,000, a free bungalow and a flat for friends and family. Oh, and a free car.

Asprilla was presented to the Darlington fans before last week's game against Carlisle after his work permit had been arranged.

A few days later Asprilla did a runner. He had never put pen to paper -- an elementary mistake by chairman George Reynolds who said he felt like putting a blanket over his face and crying. Reynolds did not say what he felt like doing to Asprilla.

However, the best money/journalism story of the week involves an exclusive (not world) from the world of cricket.

A certain reporter had built up a reputation for looking at other writers' laptops before starting his own report. So at the last test match between England and India it was payback time.

One journalist wrote a spoof story about how cricket enthusiast and occasional Rolling Stone Mick Jagger was coming to the aid of Yorkshire, which was experiencing financial difficulties.

He (or rather Rudy Friday -- Ruby Tuesday, get it?) wrote in cliche-ridden style how Jumping Jack Cash was stumping up to bail out Yorkshire.

The bait was somehow taken and the next day there was an exclusive -- oh how it was an exclusive -- in a particular newspaper.

For one reporter the window of opportunity closed.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.

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