All football transfers happen in stages and I have been struck repeatedly at how monotonous and regular this procession of media reports, rumours, and denials can be. They are so predictable and regular as to almost form a law of nature. It reminded me of those famous five stages of grief and bereavement of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
The first sign that a player is being sold is always the “official denial” by the selling club that they are prepared to sell, or even contemplate selling. Like Middlesbrough saying, adamantly, that Yukubu has not requested a transfer. Other famous denials include Manchester United denying that David Beckham was going to Real Madrid, or Southampton saying Gareth Bale was not for sale (he was).
A club saying a player is “not for sale” is the biggest lie of them all. All players are for sale, at the right price and at the right time.
Managers typically get very angry in the second stage of a transfer. This is usually when they get pestered by reporters endlessly needling them about it. Or it might be that they want to turn up the heat on the negotiating team.
Fans turn their anger towards the chairman for trying to sell their prize-possession. All around, rumours fly and heated debates rage. Rarely, a player himself gets angry, such as Gabriel Heinze getting angry because he cannot join Liverpool.
Behind the scenes, despite the public anger, the hard bargaining has normally started long before anyone else knows about it. The golden rule is: money talks, bullshit walks. Agents, like “super-agent” Pini Zahavi get involved and want their slice of the action, including up to €4.5m for selling Aiyegbeni Yukubu to Middlesbrough, reputedly. Other clubs get dragged into the sale, trying to drive up the price. It is all unseemly and chaotic, but with only one ultimate aim: maximum price for the seller, minimum price for the buyer.
This is the stage when the deal gets done, is made public, and reality begins to sink in for the fans and clubs alike. The reaction of fans of the sellers on hearing the news resembles the full five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance. But depression is the predominant feeling.
There comes a time when everyone gets over it. The deal has been done, the player has moved on, and other distractions fill the airwaves. Healing begins.