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By Sir Hardly Anyone
One of the prime tactics of many top clubs during the summer is not, as might seem to be the case, to buy the players that they want, but rather could be to work with journalists to mislead other clubs into buying the wrong players for them.
If ever there were a candidate for this sort of activity it was seen in the last window with the transfer of Mudryk. The ESPN website reported that Shakhtar chief executive Sergei Palkin had “claimed in an interview with The Athletic that [Arsenal] manager Mikel Arteta, technical director Edu and Arsenal’s Ukrainian defender Oleksandr Zinchenko called Mudryk ‘almost every day, every two days, every three days’.”
In January we found 66 players who were said to be coming to Arsenal and top of the list of course was Mykhaylo Mudryk with TBR and HITC each mentioning the transfer eight times in different articles. In all, we found 53 separate reports saying that Mudryk was coming to Arsenal. None of these that I have studied said anything to the effect that, “but of course there might be a gazumping along the way” or “Arsenal are still not offering what the selling club wants”. And certainly nothing, until the very end of the affair to say that he was going to Chelsea.
In reality, if Arsenal had been doing what the media suggested that would have been against international transfer regulations – negotiations and contacts are to be between clubs only and the allegation that Arsenal were in wholesale breach of these regulations, without any evidence being presented, was outrageous.
And yet Arsenal did not object to such allegations; nor did anyone else. Presumably, because everyone knew they were untrue. After all what would Arsenal be phoning Mudryk three times a day for?
Now put this on top of the fact that transfers don’t normally help the buying club (see for example What difference did last summer’s transfers make?) and we can see that by and large transfer rumours serve a couple of purposes, the most obvious of which is to act as a cover story for what is really going on.
The downside for any club presenting a false narrative as a cover is that such a tale can make the club look inept in that the club doesn’t get the player the journalists claim the club is after. But that narrative fails if the club subsequently does far better than the journalists predicted.
And this is the journalistic problem: Arsenal were widely predicted to come a modest fifth or sixth in the league but came second – and without having bought Mudryk.
After such a disaster by the media, the story needs to continue with something new – and one obvious way to do this is to present the story that Arsenal want Rice – who is now getting as much publicity as Mudryk did.
To see how wild and whacky this is all getting there is a piece in the Telegraph on Arsenal headed, “What they need”
Their answer is Midfield revolution, defensive versatility, and more firepower.
So let’s consider this. Take “more firepower” for example. Arsenal were the second-highest-scoring club in the league, and the only club to have four players scoring in double figures. Indeed Arsenal scored 13 goals more than Liverpool, the third-highest scorer in the league. and 18 more than Tottenham Hotspur whose centre-forward is so utterly beloved of football journalists.
Meanwhile, the latest story is that Arsenal have agreed to sign Kai Havertz from Chelsea for £65m, and are about to sign Jurrien Timber, Declan Rice, and Moises Caicedo. Havertz is a right-back who can also play centre-back. Caicedo would be a replacement for Thomas Partey if he leaves.
Kai Havertz is an attacking midfielder or forward who has played 91 times for Chelsea and scored 19 goals. He is 24. Eddie Nketiah is the same age has played 89 times for Arsenal and scored 14 goals.
The Mirror now suggests that “While the Gunners boss is incredibly happy to be landing a player of Havertz’s calibre, there are now rumours that the arrival of the Germany international will put a few noses out of joint. Specifically, Eddie Nketiah, who is reportedly fearful of what Havertz’s arrival means for his own playing time.”
That is a comment that suggests that footballers can’t tell newspaper tittle-tattle from reality even though they are in the middle of it. I find that hard to believe.
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