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Why do so many rumoured transfers not happen?

By Tony Attwood

It is amusing to look down the stories running on the news accumulator services which report on each day’s action on

a) who is Arsenal going to buy

b) who has Arsenal just missed out on

c) who are Arsenal going to lose because someone is making a bid

Just look at the headlines:

  • Arsenal sensational raid on Chelsea
  • Moyes secretly meets Rooney
  • Arsenal move for Torres
  • Is Higuain good enough
  • Arsenal bid for Grenier
  • Marouane Fellaini
  • Arsenal in for QPR goalkeeper.

Now we all know – and even those supporters who only read the sensational “Arsenal have missed out on signing the greatest player the universe has ever seen because Wenger was on holiday” type story, know – that 99.9% of these supposed transfers will never happen.  And that is not just for Arsenal – look at the rolling news sites for any of the larger clubs and you will see much the same going on.

But what has always interested me is where these stories come from.  Are they made up by sad and lonely young men sitting alone in their rooms, hopelessly waiting, watching and writing?  Or do they have a different point of origin?

I’ve written about this before, but since this year’s summer market seems even more crazed than last year’s I’m returning to the theme, and another look at the Vapour Transfer – a notion that has its origins in IT and which started to appear in football about five years ago.  It is now totally established, and indeed I suspect that this year the Vapour Transfer stories will exceed all others.

Origins of the Vapour Transfer

For IT companies like Microsoft and Apple, making things and selling them is never enough.  They like to go further with pre-ordering and pre-announcements in order to destabilise other companies that might be looking to enter the market (not to mention each other).  The aim is simple: the build up enough of an excitement so that even though there is no product to sell, people don’t buy your competitor’s product because they are caught up in the excitement.  In short you sell it before you’ve built it.

Football now has its own Vapourware.    It is the “rumour” (deliberately leaked) of a  suggestion that a player  might join a big club, when there is absolutely no possibility that he will join the club.  A “Vapour-transfer” in fact.

Now the Vapour Transfer can be used in all sorts of ways, and I will try and explain just three Vapour Transfers here.  And my point is: once you see the way in which Vapour Transfers work, suddenly the whole of the international transfer market becomes clear.

Vapour Transfer 1: The Distraction

For this example we’ll take the imaginary player Uglješa Kovačević, happily playing for the imaginary FK Frontosa Topola in the Serbian Vojvodina League East.   If the word is out that Arsenal have found him and are looking to buy him, then that might be the truth of the matter.  And indeed in this type of Vapour Transfer it is vital that the original story is at least believable.

(You can always tell the real Distraction Vapour Transfer from the mindless ramblings of a drunken journalist because at heart the Vapour Transfer might just be real.   Thus we all knew that the 26 June 2008  story by the Daily Mirror under the headline “Arsenal line up shock move for Peter Crouch” was gibberish because Crouch had none of the qualities that Wenger looks for in players.  Thus this was not a Vapour Transfer in any regard but a newspaper filling a blank page.)

If the Uglješa Kovačević story is a Vapour Transfer of the Distraction type it will be put out to the press to put Arsenal’s rivals off the true story which is (again using imaginary names) that Arsenal are getting very interested in Dragan Bošković from FCKA Budućnosta in Montenegro.

If it works, no one else realises during the secret negotiations that Mr Wenger sees something in young Dragan that no one else sees, so no rivals step in, the price remains reasonable and the deal is done and no football clubs are harmed in the process – unless someone is silly enough to go and buy Uglješa Kovačević merely on the basis that a rumour circulates that Arsenal were watching him.  (It happens ever summer.  Clubs buy players without fully checking the player out, simply because Arsenal or another big club were rumoured to be after him).

Vapour Transfer 2: The Deception

But supposing Real Manchester (an imaginary club) did all this hype about Uglješa Kovačević, when in fact there was no deal at all going on anywhere.  And supposing they didn’t just let it slip that one of their vast array of scouts is out there looking, but instead suggested that this young player is so good that their chief scout was “ordered” to “drop everything” and damn well get out to Serbia and start negotiating.

That would be a much more sinister matter for it takes the minor misinformation which any club worth its salt should tumble and do nothing about, up to the level of selling a player whose qualities don’t exist.  It’s a con simply to use up the Real Manchester scouting resources.  Do it enough times and they won’t have a scout left trailing a real talent.  False trails are everywhere.

Vapour Transfer 3: The Destructive Expectation

And now, consider Robin van Nasri or Samir Persiei.  Supposing the story goes around that Juventus or Man City or Chelsea or PSG… want one of these players, even if that story is not true.

This of course is exactly the story that the media like.  They don’t have to do any work, because the story is fed to them.  No journalists on expensive trips to Serbia hunting down the player or the team.  Nothing.

But here’s the tip – you can always tell one of these tales because the papers have a code that they use to announce such a story.  And that code is… yes, you know, “Alert”, “Red Alaert”, “High Alert” and so on.  And because the bloggers tend to cut and paste a lot, they use the phrase too, not realising that it is the give-away line  “Man City have been put on red alert following the training ground fall out between Southampton boss and the Saints young super star Uglješa Kovačević – who has only one year left on his contract.”

The story breaks, and the player (who isn’t quite in tune with the fact that “red alert” is a codeword for “ain’t happening”) thinks about all the money he could make with a move.  His head is turned so he says, “I’m not signing a new contract.”  Remember at this stage Juve or Man C don’t actually want the player and have no thought of the player – but now the whole story is running.  The point is not to turn the club, but to turn the head of a young player who has potential.

Now also the Man City fans and Juve fans are excited by the press story (which remember has no truth) and so are expecting the signing.  And Southampton, who have done nothing wrong, suddenly find that a player in whom they have invested a fortune, is planning to leave when there was every expectation that he would stay.

So who benefits from this?  Several clubs actually.  Firstly, if we have the expectation that Southampton will do moderately well this season then any club that is expecting to have a hard time of it is interested in disrupting  Southampton, as they might then be dragged down into the relegation positions.  (After all a club that is going to have a poor season has no worries if three other clubs are going to have an even worse season).

Secondly, the manager of a big club that is supposed to be signing top players has a problem.  OK if he refuses to be drawn in, and the club win trophies, no one notices.  But if he refuses to deal and his club don’t win as much as expected, it will look bad – no matter what happens to the youngster. He will not only be criticised for not winning stuff, he’ll also be criticised for not signing this young man when he was there for the taking.  If the manager signs the youngster however he could well find that the youngster is nowhere near as good as he thought – and so he has wasted money.

As for Southampton, if they lose the player, their fans become dispirited, they are seen as being an early selling club, and they lose out on what could have been a big transfer fee in a few years time.

As I say, this is a re-run of last year’s article on the subject, but since all the news we are getting is of Vapour Transfers I thought I’d run this amended version again.  More on the topic anon.

The books…

The sites from the same team…

23 comments to Why do so many rumoured transfers not happen?

  • Bob A

    Like the blog but based on it would you like to give your opion who Arsenal
    1) Will buy
    2) who they may buy
    3) who they will not buy
    I appreciate it will only be an opion.

  • Donravies

    A good article – the only change I’d make is that it is not only the big clubs that suffer. The Saints are linked with every player up for transfer (or not as the case may be). We are apparently going head-to-head with teams like Liverpool, Spurs, Cardiff etc to get the signature of the bogus player. These trails of vapour actually lead to ill feeling between supporters. Liverpool fans come onto Saints’ forums and slag us off saying the player being talked about would never commit to a tuppeny halfpenny outfit like ours when they can go to the mighty reds etc. It’s all so unnecessary and very annoying.

  • @Swales1968

    Why do so many rumoured transfers not happen?

    Because a third of the stories are made up by the lazy journalists trying to fill column inches.

    One third are rumors put around by agents trying to force moves so they can earn a bit extra money.

    Of the remaining third half are made up by supporters on twitter & forums to see if they can get somebody to bite.

    That leaves a small amount of transfer stories that are true and I would hazard a guess that less than half of those actually turn into transfers

  • nicky

    Tony,
    Another wellworn phrase beloved by the hacks is about a player “long admired by Arsene Wenger”.

  • uk

    conspiracy theories about simple things. how about because the journalists can, because it sells, and because its fun? of course other factors are involved but im sure it isnt so complicated

  • Chris

    Why ? Because so many journalists and agents make transfer stories up !!

  • ARSENAL 13

    Before I became an Untolder….

    There was a red alert (ESPN asia website reposting some english press news) as ARSENAL scouts were in Germany looking at Goetze. Most people were convinced that we would sign Goetze that year. I posted in reply, “Why would ARSENAL sign Goetze? When he is a guaranteed starter at Dortmund. Doesnt make sense and he is expensive for such a young player. I bet we are looking at someone else.”

    Well as expected, I was every ones fav. punching bag that day. I knew nothing (which was true) and stuff flying my way. There were even some people who were close to ARSENAL and knew whats going on within the club (IN ASIA….brilliant). But that day I was right…..We finally signed Eisfeld that year.

    Vapour reminds me of this….

    I doubt every red alerts…..even the Higuain one till the day we actually sign the player.

  • Stroller

    The ‘vapourware’ is made even worse though when our own players apparently start talking up these rumours. I notice that Wilshere is doing just that over Wayne Rooney, saying how great it would be to have him at Arsenal.

    Now does Wilshere know more than we do, and we are seriously in for Rooney? Even so, should Wilshere be talking to the media about it? (Remember how upset we all were when Barca players collectively did the same over Cesc).

    Or are the Wilshere ‘quotes’ also made up to fan the flames of the story? What can you believe these day?

  • alex

    Vapour also remind me that Higuain was coming to Arsenal and it was mentioned as done deal . What happen? I s that that also a vapour or what?

  • GoonerPete

    “Why do so many rumoured transfers not happen?”

    A. Because 99.9999999999% of them are completely made up.

    Now you can stop pondering this and enjoy your day 🙂

  • Bootoomee

    I have always believed that the transfer speculation game is rubbish. There is a saying in my mother tongue that the groom does not peep at his bride. When those in charge of signing players for the club have done the job we’ll be duly informed. Anything else is vapid nonsense.

    I am usually amused and annoyed at the same time whenever I read posts recommending players for the club. Transfer speculation game is one of the stupidest around.

  • chuchu

    stupid article again for what?

    now tell me this are you talking about this thing so that when wenger fail to buy any star player you can have this conspiracy theory to back him up?

  • greencardusa

    Excellent analysis of what has fast become a “transfer system”. I wonder if the irate “fans” that spew venom have something more at stake….betting perhaps and therefore something more to lose? Do betting/gambling agencies play a significant part in this system?

  • gouresh

    @stroller: I believe that jacks comments were “IF IT HAPPENED” so there’s a bit of difference.

  • uk

    lolz @chuchu, i actually think you’re on to simething. cos @untold, if arsenal dont sign a player, its wenger was never in for him, why would he? the player is no good. we always knew. but when he does sign, its, we always knew wenger would pleasantly surprise us, what an amazing signing,he ticks all the right boxes- silvestre

  • Pat

    For about the past year I’ve been trying to convince two young blokes I work with that most of the things sports journalists publish are made up to fill their papers.

    Maybe they’ll believe me one day.

    One of them’s an Arsenal fan, so I’ve referred him to Untold Arsenal. Maybe he’ll have a look. He’s at least started asking what Untold has been saying. I’ll have to prepare myself properly next time!

  • WalterBroeckx

    And Uk no matter who we sign you will never be satisfied and moan about all and anything

  • iniez

    Uk,
    Honest question. Do you think the media sometimes make up stories? Or do you think they’re pretty much honest all the time?

  • uk

    @iniez
    honest answer, they make up stories alL the time. bonus, untold does too.

  • uk

    @walter
    the only way to find out is to buy a great player, dont you think? everything else is conjecture

  • WalterBroeckx

    For me Arteta, Mertesacker, Podolski and Cazorla were great players at the moment we bought them. The latter not literally of course.

    What and who are great players for you?

  • uk

    lolz @arteta, podolski,mert and cazorla great players when we bought them. i’d go with bergkamp, campbell, arshavin,overmars when we bought them. though i might forgive you for saying podolski when we bought him. in todays world, i’d say gotze when bayern bought him, neymar when barca bought him, rvp when man utd got him, falcao wen monaco got him, messsi if and when anybody gets him