The Vapour Transfer: how the mechanisms of football have been corrupted

By Tony Attwood

I wrote an article yesterday on The transfer market at the edge of collapse.  I want to continue the theme with an example from a completely different world – the IT industry.  But please stay with me even if IT bores you stupid – there’s a footballing point to this.

So, just for a moment, the lesson that we can learn from IT…

For companies like Microsoft and Apple, making things and selling them is never enough.  They like to go further with pre-ordering and pre-announcements.  The aim is  simple: the build up enough of an excitement so that when the product is released everyone buys it.   Windows 95, i-pad, i-phones… all perfect examples.  Sell it before you’ve built it.

But IT companies, like MPs with their expenses and like their chums the Bankers, they always get carried away.  They come up with a clever idea, and then just can’t stop getting carried away.

Thus it was that in one famous legal case Stanley Sporkin, a US judge within the District of  Columbia (who interestingly was general counsel to the CIA for a while, so he knows a thing or two about subversion) gave the legal opinion that Microsoft had  pre-announced software deliberately to disrupt their competitors.  He called Microsoft’s approach “a practice that is deceitful on its face and everybody in the business community knows it.”  He called the non-existent products they announced, “Vapourware”.

But even s0 eminent a judge saying this didn’t stop the idea of pre-announcements and Apple soon became the market leader in leading the market to products that didn’t exist.

All this is well-known and well publicised.  But what is generally ignored is that football 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.  (That’s my invented name – I quite like it).  (c) Tony.

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.

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 will 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.  It is “a practice that is deceitful on its face and everybody in the football community knows it.”

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 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 of 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”.  “Man City have been put on alert following the training ground fall out between Southampton boss Nigel Adkins and the Saints young super star Uglješa Kovačević – who has only one year left on his contract.”

The story breaks, and the player 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.

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 – which in the FFP days might not be so clever.

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.

To say that the cases of RVP and Nasri and Cesc were all cases of Destructive Expectation is too simple, because there is still more to this messy business. If there is a continuing interest in the theme on Untold I’ll come back with some more examples of Vapour Transfers, and the way in which clubs are now starting to double-bluff on the Vapour Transfer technique, shortly.

But for now, if you have been, thanks for reading.
If you think you know your Arsenal, it is time to think again.
In other news…

16 Replies to “The Vapour Transfer: how the mechanisms of football have been corrupted”

  1. In my fantasy, Sir Alex and Lord Arsene have made it up with each other, united by the common enemies of oil and gas sheiks perverting and polluting the league. Lord A knows that Citeh have a buyers market on RVP, just like they had with Na$ri and all the others. So Lord A persuades Sir A to invent an interest in RVP, to hump up the price. (We’ve all done it with our motors on eBay haven’t we).
    It is an extension of your theory about invented interest in players. But there is no proof, so I guess its just my fantasy.

  2. Tram, I am not taking this approach to the level of collusion between clubs, but it could be there.

    However collusion between a club and a newspaper, or a club and the agent of a player with another club, and a newspaper… well, you are moving onto part 3 of the series.

  3. Tony,
    Hope that Part 3 (chomping at the bit!) might possibly come near to hinting at which newspaper(s) or radio program(s) even might indulge in such tomfoolery. Eager to read the tea leaves, she wrote.

  4. Tony,
    The trouble with many of the “vapour-like” treatises you have produced over the years,is that many turn out to be alarmingly true to real life.
    Meanwhile, today, I am slowly recovering from being reminded of the ghastly Peter Crouch story (which I thought I’d conviently forgotten).

  5. Yes, part 3 goes on to suggest that the situation is very complex, because it is not just a big company taunting others (as with the Microsoft case) but lots of big companies, mixing it with players’ agents, other clubs and our old chums, the journalists.

  6. I still don’t know how all these people get hold of these inside info on transfers, even before the manager of a club knows that we are looking at a certain player. Nice article Tony.

  7. I suppose there is a type of deception that has agents of players who are young and have had some improvement in their performance over the previous season linked to an “Arsenal interest” on account of the club’s well justified reputation for being among the first to uncover budding football stars worldwide. Each transfer window, more than 100 young players (especially of the French variety) manage to be linked to the club!

  8. Isn’t is curious that IKT journalists and website like Caughtoffside (the deepest cesspool of unsubstantiated rumour-mongerers on the net) and other less visible but equally ignorant bloggers seem to invent ¨vapour rumours¨the moment that, like sharks sensing blood, a Club is ¨identified¨ by them to be facing some minor difficulty with a player(s) or financial issues unrelated to their survival?
    It is all ephemera, son et lumiere and smoke & mirrors ¨solidified¨ by a vulgar language of premature speculation, unprovable,irresponsible daydreaming and fantasy confabulations bandied about by unscrupulous, lazy and brain-dead media drones eager to justify their pitiful careers.
    Boy, that was some effort to excrete all that venom…but so cathartic!

  9. Then there is the destructive influence of news stories on transfer dealing in an attempt to portray club as not being able to compete or ambitious. They sabotaging transfer dealings to hold club back and turn fans against manager. Like the Robin Van Persie stories that club has valued him at £xxxx Millions and now today’s story of Mystery agent claims Juve have won race for Arsenal hit-man. What does this story do at this late stage? suddenly the clubs which Arsenal are negotiating with to buy a player off them decide to hold off for more money with the thought that Arsenal have already bags £xxxx millions so should be able to spend more. I.e. The news that Santi Cazorla is coming for a medical ends up being nothing and fans are left disappointed and believing club cannot compete, Job done.

  10. Kip em comin @ tony. Untold is way beyond untold. The best blog ever… U do more than just football. God bless the day I first came across untold….kip em coming…

  11. well we all know that media likes to create sensationalism. this prompts the general public to buy/view the particular media. and in this age of competetion the media that gets the story out first gets the highest no. of customers. the same thing goes on with the transfer market. creating sensationalism so that the public gets attached to the media, follows the media.

  12. I keep coming back to this site but im not sure whether it’s because im a creature of habit or whether it’s because most articles on here give me pause for thought. Probably both.

  13. I say guys, steady on. Couldn’t get my head through the door this morning.

    Anyway, part three soon – but there’s a little matter of the concluding moments to the referees’ analysis to deal with first.

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