It doesn’t quite feel like it yet, but the 2017/18 Premier League season kicks off in less than 10 days. Why? Well, we are still well and truly stuck in the silliest of silly seasons: the pre-season transfer window.
Everyone is sick of it – or so they say – yet no one can quite take their eyes off this window of record-breaking mega-million deals, incredible player valuations and long-running “will-he-won’t-he?” transfer speculation. Heck, some of the rumours are even true!
For all that, nothing has been more fascinating than fan reaction to the whole drama. It’s as though pre-season has become a competition in itself – even more important than the season itself – with points to be earned for bragging rights based on fan perception of transfer activity. But is there any pleasing fans in pre-season? Seriously, what do fans really want?
Sure, we all want our teams to improve; get stronger for the season ahead, but it’s the details that bring out the devil in us all. In an ideal world, all clubs want to add good players and have them on board in time for pre-season training.
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Here’s the thing: good players tend to be in high demand; hence they tend to be expensive. Add in a long contract and an unwilling seller – nobody wants to lose a good player – and conditions are ripe for rapidly escalating fees, long drawn negotiations, uncertainty, and no end of speculation and rumour mongering.
Which are the very things that draw the ire of fans – no matter what the club does. So when Manchester City pay the £50m it took to convince Spurs to let Kyle Walker leave, they’ve paid too much…..yet, when Liverpool look to talk down Roma’s initial asking price for Mo Salah, they’re being cheap.
If the saga just runs and runs – think Naby Keita – well, then it’s just the club unnecessarily dragging its feet or it’s just some grand design to deceive the fans. Of course, a club could choose to do nothing – like Spurs – and….well, who knows what the heck to make of that?
And this is all grinding away in this Twitter era of per-second, “real time” updates, citizen “journalists” and fake news. It’s little wonder that two-week negotiations appear to have taken forever and the two-month transfer window just drags on and on.
On the flip side, there are the quick, easy, low profile deals. No problems, right? Wrong. Those also bring out the beast in fans. So when, for example, Liverpool lure a young promising striker in Dominic Solanke from Chelsea for next to nothing, to some fans, it’s a sure sign of the club’s “lack of ambition”. As though Liverpool now plan to place all its hopes for the new season on the shoulders of the 20-year-old. Andy Robertson from Hull? That’s a travesty – at least when compared to ambitious Manchester City “overpaying” £52m to bring Benjamin Mendy in from Monaco. Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.
Then there’s the all-consuming tribalism that seems to colour every football debate these days. But even that is not as predictable as you might expect. Generally speaking, fans talk up their club’s new signing (or rumoured target) – quoting stats ad nauseam – while writing off that of their rivals. But they also have no problem turning on their own if transfers aren’t forthcoming quickly enough, questioning the competence of club management, and comparing them to those rivals who seem to be doing so much more. You know, the grass is always greener on the other side.
Chelsea and Man United fans took things to a new, mind-bending level recently. Chelsea fans spent weeks extolling the virtues of Romelu Lukaku, all set to rejoin the club from Everton….until he opted for Man Utd instead and everyone suddenly remembered his “poor first touch”. At the same time, of course, United fans, convinced Alvaro Morata would soon be arriving at Old Trafford were happy to bring up his Champions League pedigree and exploits in Italy and Spain. But then, once Lukaku joins and Morata ends up at Chelsea, they are quick to remind you he was just a “bench warmer” at Real Madrid. All in the name of good banter, of course.
It’s the same self-serving tribalism that has Liverpool fans, on the one hand, slating Southampton’s owners for not to letting Virgil van Dijk out of his contract for a move to Anfield, while, on the other hand, losing their minds that their club owners might as much as consider a big money offer from Barcelona for star Brazilian Philippe Coutinho. You’d think being on the receiving end would shed some light on the difficulties their “incompetent” owners are also having convincing others to sell. One can only hope.
Respite is on its way, though. Arsenal host Leicester at the Emirates on Friday week to kick the season off, and we’ll finally have some competitive football to distract from the madness.
However, the transfer window remains open for another 20 days after that. That is 1,729,323.88 seconds.
That’s an eternity of updates.