How the transfer window really works – and the January version has started already

“Making the Arsenal” – the book of Arsenal’s decline and rebirth

 Untold Arsenal on Twitter @UntoldArsenal


By Tony Attwood

During the summer when it was unclear to us mere mortals if Arsenal would get the transfers the club wanted, there was much comment among the blogworld to the effect that the supposed failure to bring in players quickly was due to gross incompetence.  As usual the implication was that if only the blog writer himself had been in charge we’d have had a team bubbling with the very best talent in the multiverse by 12.30am 1 July.

The situation, in the minds of the AAA is simple.  We want A, A will play for us, so we just make a big offer and pay big salaries.  (The fact that we have something like the third highest wages bill in the League is ignored).

But I don’t believe the modern transfer world is like this.   You have to note that during the whole year now newspapers publish stories about who was coming to the club, which are wrong in every regard.   And we sign players that sometimes are never headlined by the press.

Just for my own satisfaction I did a spot of asking around – asking the sort of people who know a little of such things – and came up with this scenario.  It is interesting, I believe, because I am not sure it has been published elsewhere – not least because it is far more complex than the simplistic approaches loved by some bloggers and many journalists.

Basically all transfers involve four sets of people

1: The buying club (in our case Arsenal)

2: The selling club

3: The player and his agent

4:  The speculators – blogs, TV, radio, papers…  These of course include those 100% on the side of the club as currently constituted (people like us), those who are endlessly critical but claim to be supporters (the AAA) and those who are against Arsenal as a full time professional occupation (most of the media).

To understand how we can attempt to get every player we want one has to take into account the activities of all four of these groups.

How the big clubs like Arsenal work.

Let’s imagine that the club wants player A.   What they do is declare that they want player B, let out a subtle hint to one or two in the football world that they really want player C while putting in a public offer for player D – an offer they know will be rejected.

As a result of this, the price of player B goes through the roof and the blogworld and journalists debate the issue, the owners of player D scream that the result is insulting, and the AAA run their story about how pathetic and stupid Arsenal is for not being able to buy a goalkeeper when we so obviously need one.   Meanwhile as the papers run that story, one clever clever journo picks up on player C, and starts going with that.  All of this is the origin of the daily “Linked with” stories as in “Arsenal have been linked with Bert Blogglesnap, the Luton Town goalkeeper.  In a shock move insiders report that Arsenal scouts have been watching under 15 trialist Blogglesnap…”

Apart from anything else this tends to keep the scouting team of the big benefactor clubs (BBC) busy as they go and watch one of the most incompetent young players the south of England has ever seen.

Sometimes for fun one stage is left out – particularly that of declaring the want for player B, with that story instead being slipped out supposedly in an unguarded moment.

There are also other variants – Barca’s bizarre psycho-genetics approach to Fabregas for example, declaring that the city is in his DNA.  Or the Chelsea panic approach of “it is moves, buy it”.  Or indeed the Man City approach of “if he’s expensive, buy him”.

The selling club

The moment any smaller club hear that Arsenal is possibly on the hunt for one of their players they go to Man C, PSG, or Chelsea – the BBC, and say “Arsenal are after him, he must be good, do you want him?”   They also double the price.

This of course feeds the media who go in for the story big time while the AAA run the story that Arsenal are misers and won’t pay proper transfer fees.  Journos talk of transfer madness.

However this move has the benefit of fooling other clubs who think Arsenal’s interest is elsewhere, allowing them to open very tentative negotiations with the club of the player they want, and the grounds that, “if a single word gets out, we are not buying and you can forget what is going to be a decent offer.”

Those clubs who don’t want to sell their best players are get uptight about the rumours of players B, C and D and the transfer rumour mill continues.

The player and his agent

On hearing any rumours the player and the agent get excited and up the player’s wage demands.  As the deal for B C and D falls away the AAA get worked up about Arsenal’s refusal to pay decent wages and how League Two awaits.

Meanwhile some of the players who are picked on by Arsenal as B C or D fodder really do want to move, and so they start agitating either for that move (if not to Arsenal then someone else).  This angers their current club, and causes dissension in the ranks, which is a good smoke screen for the activities in getting player A.   If the story about A does get out, he is told, “you deny it totally or else it is off”.  Meanwhile at least one of B, C and D does also deny it, because in their cases the stories are untrue.   The world is awash with denials.

The media

While they are perfectly aware of the games played they have no choice but to run the false stories since they have given over a few pages to rumours and need to fill these.

Rumour stories are of course free.  No one does any investigation, no one pays for the news, it is all presented to the press and Sky Sports for nothing.

What’s more some of the stories become true, not because they were true at the start, but because all of this water muddying actually does cause unrest and so some players do get moves even though the whole story started as nothing more than make-believe.

But mostly because these are just made up tales the club’s are reported as being “tight lipped” in the conventional moronic journalese jargon.

The reverse play

Of course everyone does it, and that means clubs are out there doing it to Arsenal, and journalists themselves can start the story rolling with any made up tales they like.   This does happen less with Arsenal because most of Arsenal’s purchases are so obscure that the journalists have not only never heard of the player, and they have no story to make.

But papers can be caught out.  One example was the case of Masal Bugduv a 16 year old who supposedly played for Olimpia Balti in Moldova.  The Times was fed the story about this player and in January 2009 they dutifully ran this piece…

Moldova’s finest, the 16-year-old attacker has been strongly linked with a move to Arsenal, work permit permitting. And he’s been linked with plenty of other top clubs as well.

Except he didn’t exist.  He was made up utterly, in a ruse which showed just how the system of journo incompetence worked.  Worse, the Times rated the player in their top 50 shining stars in football.

Double worse, the Times then, on being shown to be a bunch of utter turnips, failed to admit their error and simply deleted the story from their web site.

Investigative journalism my arse.

Of course it is these scenarios that lead to the story that Arsenal have signed a goalkeeper from Argentina having only looked at the DVDs.   He arrives in Britain, and then they realise he is only five feet four inches tall, so they send him back and waste another couple of million.

Amazingly when that story went around a couple of years ago some people believed it, but all it was was another smokescreen – another way of putting out some nonsense to throw everyone off the scent.

Indeed even when Mr Wenger says, “no I am not signing a goalkeeper” the papers stoke the flames of discontent with more stories.  On 8 Feb 2010 the Daily Mail reported that Mr Wenger said he would “absolutely not” sign a keeper, which led them into a frenzy of reporting which keeper we would sign, in subsequent days.  In fact Mr Wenger did exactly what he said – no one was signed.  But that didn’t stop the paper running the bit about “Wenger has developed a worrying blindspot where goalkeepers are concerned”.  Absolutely the reverse in effect – his brilliance at signing the three young keepers we have is a unique achievement.

So it goes.  Koscielny and Vermaelen – if you had heard of them at all before Arsenal signed them, then you are either a supporter of their previous clubs, or an aficionado of French or Belgian football.   This signing of “unknowns” (which means unknown in England among the AAA and football journos) is hated by the AAA, and they work hard to denigrate the signing of unknowns.  Until of course the unknown turns out to be rather good.

Anyway, the work for the next transfer window has started.   A’s have been identified, while B, C and D stories are being prepared.   The merry go round is getting moving already.


Untold Arsenal – the (fairly) complete index

Untold Arsenal on Facebook here

20 Replies to “How the transfer window really works – and the January version has started already”

  1. How arsenal club works in transfer market.

    They know really, they need some good players for competing. But still all the players they need having high price and arsenal is not ready to pay.

    They wait wait wait and discuss. At last they will sign a player not proved, cheap, unknown and wait for prove him. At last once he proved, Arsenal will simply sell with high price.

    This is Arsenal business.

  2. I actually think you have it a bit wrong here.

    1. Firstly I dont think that most of the big clubs bother too much with deception. They send out scouts all over the world to watch games. The reason we are “sensationally linked” with a player all of a sudden is normally just because we have scouted that player, which is pretty standard procedure. All clubs do it. Arsenal, Utd, Chelsea and now City get those scouting missions reported on by the media (to whom I will get to later). And I really do not think a club like Arsenal, and certainly not a manager like AW, has EVER made a bid he didnt intend to have accepted. And I think you are wrong about the Barca, Chelsea and City approaches. It has been shown over and again that Barca were not the ones putting out “Cesc DNA” stories, but rather the Catalan media recycling stories continually that were sometimes from interviews conducted as many as three years ago. And what players would you say were examples of City and Chelsea’s buying policy? I think for the most part those clubs have bought pretty well. They have huge financial resources, once they identify a player they want they can spend virtually whatever they want to get him. I wish Arsenal could do that, but we can’t. They make mistakes just as Arsenal do, and just as every club does. Their mistakes are more expensive, which is good.

    2. Here I definately think you are wrong. I do not think that the selling clubs ever put out stories saying “x wants this player, how much will you pay for him”, rather I think that is done by a completely different set of sharks, covered in 3 below. Clubs simply set a price for the player based on market value. We had a price for both Cesc and Nasri. We hoped a bidding war would start, but certainly did not try and start one. And once again, Arsenal do not mind if word gets out they are looking for a player, as you state. On many occasions people have known we are looking at a player for weeks before a transfer has been completed as the price has been negotiated, with Arteta, Gervinho, Oxlande-Chamberlain all examples of that this summer. Chamakh was the same before that, as was Ramsey. In all those cases there was very public knowledge, sometimes with the selling club even slagging us off in public for being cheap. It did not change the fact that the transfers proceeded.

    3. No, the real people who do the “x wants this player, how much will you pay for him” stuff are the agents. They are the ones continually shipping around their players, their commodities. This is the most obvious one of all and I cannot believe you attributed this one to the selling club. IT IS THE AGENTS who are continually trying to see if interest is out there and using it to increase wage demands or just agitate for a move. I was at this point starting to get all a bit confused with all the player A,B,C, and D stuff you were doing. It seemed as thought you got stuck in a certain pattern with this article and started to try and find ways to fit that pattern into every step no matter if it made sense or not. That happens. I’ve had happen to my arguments on many occasions as well.

    4. I do agree that the media are the idiots in all this. Hearing from a “club insider” – i.e. the janitor, that an Arsenal scout was in the building and releasing a back-page spread the next day with the headline “Arsenal chase player X in sensational exclusive report”. As you say, it is complete and utter bollocks. The newspapers dont have to admit anything they print is wrong, because most if them release stories using the great sources “a club insider” or “un-named official” and those people do exist, they just dont have any idea what is going on. And it is here that agents have huge power as well. Agent X, who handles Player Y, can get a story in his local newspaper in Croatia that Arsenal and Liverpool have both scouted his player, which may be true, and within hours it is picked up on by the wires and on the back page of an English paper as a sensational story. It doesnt matter that the scouting report back to the club may be :this guy is absolute rubbish – dont waste a tenner on him” the players value is still increased by millions because of association. Snd some poor ucker will pay that money simply because he is to lazy to do his own homeword and relies solely on the fact that big clubs were supposedly after him.

    I just think you make the dealings between clubs more clandestine and spy-like than it is. Barca want Cesc, they put in an offer. We accept or refuse it. Barca put in 3 offers for Cesc in 15 months. They were virtually silent the rest of the time. It was the Catalan and English media that were in a frenzy about it all. We want Arteta, we put in a bid. We dont try and cover it up with stories about other bids. We just say “we want Arteta”. Everton give a price. We accept, refuse, or negotiate. Everton do the same. The deal goes through or it doesnt. For most clubs, transfer dealings are, and always have been, straightforward.

    It is the agents and media that try and make it seem more complicated than it is. One to increase value for their clients (and thereby themsleves), the other to, as you correctly say, sell papers or advertising.

  3. I think you will not be far of the truth on how transfers are done by Arsenal.

    On another note I think many of the players we have bought in the last transfer window are not just “players” but also have been supporters of Arsenal from their childhood. Or supporters of the way we play under Wenger.
    And I also noticed that Wenger and Arsenal buy players not just at first sight. No, they check and check again. Like with Vermaelen they even went to the training of the Belgium national team just to be sure that he had the right character end mental attitude.
    My thought is that if you want to know who Wenger wants to buy you must look at the names he has mentioned in the last transfer windows that haven’t been bought but who are watched on many occasions even right now.

    I love the fact that our clubs tries to spend wise and not just look at the football the player can play but also at the fact that he really likes Arsenal and has a good attitude. It doesn’t work out all the time because people can change but spare us from some twats like Balotelli and other fools.

  4. A very enjoyable read.

    It’s business and we can recognise these things no matter what business you happen to work in.

    You forgot one group of people…lawyers! The details will be in contracts; business contracts and T&Cs are a language and artform all of their own. The details of a contract can make or break a deal and they take time to agree.

  5. Over the years I’ve gone with, “If I’m hearing about it in the media then there’s no way we’re buying him.” Sometimes the opposite is true like with Chamakh, but this is extremely rare.

    In the case of renewed interest in players that failed to transfer at the last minutes of the previous window I’m less sceptical – but when people like Coyle start a bidding war then I instantly dismiss.

    When Tony Adams was putting his trained eye over Vermaelen and then saying he didn’t believe Vermaelen was what Arsenal need, an eyebrow was raised. I’m obviously very familiar with the tact and respect Adams has for players of the game and managers, especially more so because he had just finishd being an assistant coach at Portsmouth (and unknown to me at the time about to become a head coach in a country that sounds like something from the film Borat) – so hearing Adams quite disrespectful of a player who was not ony a club Captain but who was also playing in his position – I saw lots of fire and very little smoke. It seemed to me that Adams was warding of the interest of other clubs.

    In my eyes the Adams is a consummate Arsenal fan and I refused then to believe he’s another media whore like Wright and McLintock, and rightly so. Nope, I don’t think Merson and Charlie Nicholas is either – Merse loves Arsenal – he’s just isn’t the sharpest tool in the box.

  6. Interesting.
    I love the article, I love Paul Collins’ part-rebuttle and can see truths in both.
    Tony uses the expression “I did a spot of asking around”. Are we just to assume that he asked around the local pub or the press or the agents or Club A or B or where? This smacks a little of “insiders report”.
    Paul “thinks” a lot of his responses.
    Wow! That reads like a school report – sorry.
    But the Bugduv anecdote about media cock-ups is hilarious and shows how and from where most of our mis-information comes.
    I have to agree with you, Tony, I believe you’ve shown (roughly) how transfers work.
    But no manager manages to sign every player he goes after. Fortunately in Mr. Wenger we have one who keeps finding veritable unknown treasures (notwithstanding the occasional fools gold).
    And I foresee a reasonably quiet January transfer window for The Arsenal. The current squad starts to look very good.

  7. Bert Blogglesnap is my brother and a midfielder. I am the goalkeeper in question and to be honest didn’t think I was that bad!!

  8. Gooneraside – but isnt “I think” the best any of us can do? I have always maintained that we football fans are idiots when it comes to our teams. All of us. None of us know what we are talking about. It always reminds me of the great quote by JK Galbraith – one of the 3 or 4 greatest Economists of the 20th Century -, he said “there are two types of Economists – those that dont know what they are talking about, and the really dangerous ones – those that dont know that they dont know what they are talking about.” (very apt quote in todays climate methinks. Far too many people running around saying they know the answers to the global economic crisis)

    We speculate and try to fit in scenarios that work with our way of thinking (even the AAA’s do that).

    But I have just never seen a scenario like the one that Tony evokes above involving Player A,B,C, and D. Not only with Arsenal, but with any club in the world. If anyone can think of one concrete example where this happened I will of course revise my opinion. But I can think of none. The idea that a club would put in a transfer bid for a player they didnt want is to me ridiculous. What if the other club called the bluff and accepted the offer. In negotiation theory that strategy makes zero sense. If caught out your credibility, and therefore negotiation leverage, would be shot for years.

    Let’s face it, the only reason we, Arsenal, have to be quiet about our transfer dealings is because we dont have the money for all our dealings to become public knowledge. They stil become public sometimes anyway. In other cases, such as TV, it stays private. But that has as much to do with the fact that the club we were dealing with, Ajax, also likes to conduct transfer business that way. A deal was agreed quickly and efficiently and so it seemed like a huge surprise to all of us.

    But as I said, we are idiots. Why on earth would we have known otherwise?

  9. Its a crazy world out there! That Times hoax is hilarious.
    I am quite sure some of our transfers are operated in such ways.
    Must admit, I am very thankful we did not sign some of the players we were reportedly linked with over the summer, Alvarez has done sub nothing at Inter so far and as for Cahill – again so far, although I do think he will become a top defender.
    As for Mata, who knows what really went on. If I were to predict any Jan signing we have been linked to, it would be Mvila, if we can get him and depending on whether we do get Jack and Diaby back in reasonable time, also intrigued as to the Song contract renewal situation, but predicting signings is a mugs game anyway!
    I am pleased with our signings, great to have a few Gooners in our ranks these days, just wished we did not leave it so late for some, but as you point out, these are complex matters.

  10. Think some of Liverpool’s recent transfer tactics have been interesting, basically pick a UK player, assess his true worth and treble it!

  11. Tony’s report was a tongue-in-cheek article and shouldn’t be taken too seriously folks. His insider sources were a parody of the tabloid media faux-sources so often used to hide their total ignorance. ¨It is reported that¨ or ¨we are lead to believe that¨ or ¨our paper has been informed that¨ and so on, ad nauseam.
    All we know and can ever know for sure is that w ,Gazidis and the Board play everything Arsenal very close to the vest after years of dealing with the media hacks, agents,lawyers,scouts, selling and buying clubs and our credulous fanbase.
    AAA’s , AKB’s, the media in general and all the real players in the transfer game, inluding the players themselves can be insipid, idiotic prematurely speculative wankers given the right circumstances. We are always one rumour away from total meltdown or sublime joy, just like the stock markets.

  12. Having read Tony’s article (well padded!) and the comments of Paul Collins, I lean very firmly towards the latter. I found it difficult to accept the buying and selling jiggery pokery Tony has set out, although, with advancing years, I get increasingly cynical about the business side of practically ANY professional sport.

  13. @ gooneraside.

    the major difference being that this is a blog, almost the epitome of opinion. and they are paid journalists, many of them with ‘degrees’

  14. @ gooner s

    i agree! i think the lawyers, both the club’s lawyers and the players, hold transfers up, and are possibly the cause for many transfers that have failed to go through.


    im not sure a club would bid for a player they dont want. but i can certainly see them sniffing around, somewhat publicly, for a player they might like but arent necessarily after, while dealing with other players quietly. seems to me, some clubs more than others try to use the media as a tool.

    i also think that clubs are often negotiating with many different players and clubs when they only want one player at the end of the day. for instance club A decides they need a new striker. they identify a number of players they are interested in, B, C, D. they are then actively trying to negotiate for all of these players. when the club feels it has got the most preferable option, they make their move for player C.


    havent we all figured it out that we cant trust the media. they produce their rubbish, and we see it for what it is. its irritating at best but i dont think it actually affects what clubs are after which players. managers, directors, chairmen dont buy players because they read about them in the papers…i mean if that were true someone would surely have bought that Moldovan wunderkid…but seriously clubs have scouts plus networks of former players, coaches, etc etc. i would like to think those people have a little say, since they are on the payroll….but you never know these days!

  15. Yes Paul, I agree completely. Thinking is all we can do (except for those specifically concerned with any specific transfer deal). I didn’t disagree with you, just mentioned that it’s all guesswork.
    Domhuaille, I did consider tongue in cheek, but wasn’t sure. Tont may elucidate.
    Brian Blogglesnap, you were always crap – bent almost as if made of aluminium (excuse spelling).

  16. Pardon me for misnaming you, Tony. Hail to thee blithe spirit, tont thou never wert.

  17. @ Gooneraside, I am glad to see that your still about.

    @ Tony I agree with you about what is going on in the modern transfer situation. In recent times agent leakages have become a bit of a problem for Arsenal.
    It’s as if clubs like Man C, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid have put it out there in the ether to agents that before your player signs on at Arsenal, you should check to see if they are interested. I honestly thought Jerome Boateng and Dzeko were destined to end up at Arsenal, but we got hijacked a long the way. But I knew Scott Dann was a ruse and the Joey Barton transfer rumours were a filthy slur against the club. Buying players that are Gooners or have a healthy respect for the club has been a massive help in getting good players to sign on recently.
    It is amazing how in recent times, because new players haven’t had big price tags or come with big reputations, how they have been denigrated and dismissed by the media and some ‘supporters’. I remember reading articles about how rubbish Koscielny was about 15 mins after we had signed him because he didn’t look like a defender and was from a second rate league, some even angrily argued that Arsene should no longer be allowed to make the transfer decisions any more. I think these people are shameless and more times than not, end up with egg on their face. The sad truth is that Arsenal players are rarely given grace periods to adapt and grow, which I think is a factor in how cautiously Arsene introduces new players into the squad. There is precious little goodwill towards a player trying to do his best, before the slating starts and mocking nicknames get banded about.

  18. There’s one extra difference that Wenger brings to the party which is that he has no pet journos that he goes out to dinner with in order to feed stories.
    He is renowned for treating all journos the same and giving them all the same stories. This is much to their annoyance and is totally contrary to how the well known media favourites operate.
    Again they can’t handle this particular way that Arsenal/Arsene has of communicating and it’s interpreted as incompetence because it doesn’t fit the usual pattern.

Comments are closed.