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.
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