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The psychology of transfers; why common sense and rumour don’t tell it like it is

By Tony Attwood

I doubt that it was in lecture number one that I was told it, although it feels like it.  “There is no such thing as common sense,” said the lecturer who looked hardly any older than me.  But he was at the lectern and I was sitting in the lecture hall, so I made notes and listened.  And what he said influenced my total outlook on life for ever more (not to mention the social sciences).

The essence of the lecture was this.  You can see the world as common sense – something which anyone can understand because it is obvious.  Jump up, and you come down.  It’s obvious.  Steal another person’s money and he/she will be angry.  Common sense.  Stands to reason.

Except that as we come to understand more about life common sense doesn’t work.  Hit one guy and he hits me back.  Hit another and he says, “I forgive you,” and talks about Christ.  How does common sense explain that?  If I drive my car I know that on occasion I break the speed limit – and hence break the law.  I can be fined and my insurance can go up.  But I do it, even though I know that in so doing all that happens is that I reach the next traffic jam five minutes earlier than I would have done.  Common sense?

So what about football?  Consider this: in Nigeria, Plateau United Feeders scored 72 goals in the second half of their game against Akurba FC.   Police Machine, playing at the same time scored 61 second half goals against Babayaro FC. The Nigerian Football Federation has started an investigation and the teams have been suspended.

So what, if anything, have we learned?  Somehow the two clubs believed that they could get away with whatever match fixing was going on no matter how crazy the scores.   Common sense?   Hardly.  Looked at from a distance it is obvious that this sort of things could not but be allowed.  And yet that is what the clubs did.  How do you explain that?
To explain this you need a theory – a theory which shows you how people can be so carried away that they believe that they are immune to being caught.  Or that the authorities can’t touch them.

And what of the transfer market?  The same applies.  Most blogs and journalists apply common sense to explain the bids, the denials, the failures to sign, the last minute signings.  Many blogs adopt a simplistic approach – that somehow their club is run by simpletons who are so slow, so busy quaffing champagne and patting each other on the back that they fail to see someone else walking off with their player.

It is about as realistic an explanation as that of the owners of the Nigerian clubs who thought that 60 plus goals in the second half would be accepted by the authorities.

If you want to explain transfers, common sense doesn’t work, because the issues are complicated by each side wanting something similar while behaving in different ways.  By which I mean, everyone wants the best players for the lowest salary and cheapest amount of money.  But they know that their fans won’t be impressed by saying, “hey aren’t we clever – we got him on the cheap and we are only paying him a quarter of what he was paid before.”   Journalists, bloggers and supporters will all say, “clearly he can’t be any good.”  Not a good start, especially in an era when fans are increasingly turning on their own players if they don’t come up to the mark.

So the money paid is inflated – up to a point.  But bids which fail look silly too, so clubs hold back on announcements – and why not, because the gossip column do it for them.  And if not, what blogger can resist an email from a “source” saying, “if you reveal who I am you won’t get another story, stay quiet and…” and once set up the channel is open.

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In essence if you represent a buying club you don’t want the selling club to think you are desperate, so you feign interest in a number of other players.   You offer a modest price and say you can’t go higher.  You set up false deadlines which you know will never be met…

For goodness sake we all ought to recognise this – it is in the high street each day.  “Sale must end Tuesday!” it screams in the window of the store.  Why?  Well don’t ask, because there is no reason other than the fact that it is a ploy to get you to buy today from them and not next week from someone else.  There is a reason, but it is a reason that no one can state in public.

In a sense the real psychology of the transfer market is that everyone is playing a game, and everyone knows everyone is playing a game.  The clubs are playing games with each other and the players, the agents are playing games with their own players (hyping up the options, getting them to say they want to move) and with the clubs (“he’ll be on his way if you don’t up his salary now”), and even the players are playing games, although mostly just playing the part laid down by clubs and agents.  In short to understand the transfer window you need to understand game theory.

So Real Madrid say that Arsenal have not put in an offer for Gonzalo Higuaín.  Maybe not, because maybe it was all a ploy by Arsenal to divert attention from the real target.  Or maybe it is a ploy by Real Madrid to excuse the fact that they have not bought the star centre forward that their fans demand.  Or maybe it was put out by an agent claiming to act for the club.  (Remember that quite often when a club tries to buy a player there are ten agents out there each saying that the selling club will only negotiate through them).  Or maybe Arsenal and Real Mad are in discussion and are edging closer, but to get a bit of good publicity Real Mad state what is technically true, but which is highly misleading.

The people who are for the most part duped by this are a) the players who have no idea if they are coming or going and if going where to, and b) the supporters who, reading the nonsense pumped out by journalists and blogs are duped into believing that something is going on when it ain’t.

Consider the story that Arsenal have made a bid of £30 million for Suarez.  It disappeared from several newspaper web sites as fast as it appeared to be replaced by a story that the player’s agent had urgently rushed into discussion with Liverpool FC.  Could it be that for once the agent was caught on the hop and that Arsenal and Liverpool cooked up the ploy between them in order to bash Real Mad?

“Arsenal desperately need to sign a striker,” announced one blog – but hang on, Arsenal scored only two goals less last season than the season before with wonderman RVP.   And as we all know, players take a year to adjust to a new league and its new speed, contact and the like.  “Desperately” smacks of desperation on the part of the blogger.

I could go on and on, but it is all getting a bit silly.  Has Arsenal actually made a formal bid for Higuaín?  Maybe so, maybe not – but if not why not?  Did they forget?  Did the offer get lost in the post?  Did someone at Arsenal just fail to remember that you are supposed to contact the club and do club to club discussions first?  If you believe any of that well, words fail me…

Or were they proceeding in an orderly manner while letting journalists get very excited  We all know that Arsenal have been in discussions with the player, and that the player wants to come to Arsenal, and what is going on is the usual haggling that you get with Real Madrid.   As put it before the transfer window even opened, “Gonzalo Higuain has confirmed he will be leaving Madrid after seven successful seasons in Spain. The Argentina forward has revealed he wants a “change of air” in time for the next campaign and Juventus remain favourites to sign the South American. Arsenal are also interested and Higuain has spoken enthusiastically about both teams. Madrid are yet to receive an official offer, but Juve’s long-standing interest means Turin remains the most likely destination for the popular striker.”

Problem is, after that was written, Juve started being investigated once again by the authorities.

The fact is that blogs and newspapers (including this blog) want readers, without spending too much money on serious thinking and honest research.  Taking things at face value and relying on common sense is the cheapest form of journalism.  Unfortunately it is not particularly accurate.


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16 comments to The psychology of transfers; why common sense and rumour don’t tell it like it is

  • abubakar

    Hello,arsenal will not sign any world class player they have already sign the player they want the franch player they manage to get on free transfer

  • steve

    Great article. Most realistic and sensible read I have had in some time. 🙂

  • Mike

    Very well written… Helped me cope a lot with silly transfer rumors.
    Thank you

  • Adam

    There must be countless ways in which a transfer can happen.

    Some inconsistencies that I noticed that lead to numerous agents being involved in transfers are the rules themselves. Maximum 2 year representation contract between agent & player, yet a player can sign a five year contract with a club which that agent can earn from but no longer represents the player.

    Plus an agent can represent all parties involved or you could have 3 agents (maybe more) involved in one transfer, one for each club and one or more for the player.

    Clubs have to pay an agent in a lump sum for his/her services whereas a player can agree to pay over the length of contract, how does that work out if he is transferred and signs a new contract does the old agent get paid off or renegotiate, is there provisions for this?

    I think this industry is still very much unregulated and needs oversight, FIFA are now sitting on a reserve of £1.4Billion, more pressure is needed to get them to act, but we know they won’t.

    Interesting read that posses more questions.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Check the products well before purchasing .Horsetrading –

    Little Larry attended a horse auction with his father. He watched as his father moved from horse to horse, running his hands up and down the horse’s legs and rump, and chest.
    After a few minutes, Larry asked, “Dad, why are you doing that?”
    His father replied, “Because when I’m buying horses, I have to make sure that they are healthy and in good shape before I buy.”
    Larry, looking worried, said, “Dad, I think the Milkman wants to buy Mom …….”

  • Clown shoes

    Wasted air time… would anyone tell any public forum of any kind their intentions when bidding for or negotiating in form of Business deal?

    The answer is a clear no.

    You don’t run to the Daily Mail or equivelant toilet paper to notify your competition which players you are after or in discussions with.

    so if you expect to gain “solid” infromation from a rag that has spent the last 5 – 8 years insulting your manager and proactively selling your players to other clubs – you need you head checking.

  • Nelson Wong

    Again, transferes are like selling/ buying of a house or car to the clubs. Only problem is that house and cars do not have a mind of their own and players have.

    Anyway, most football fans just want entertainment and gossip and don’t look at it in a way that makes sense.

    They think they make sense but those are only personal perception.

  • andy bishop

    Who truly knows what is going on with Higuain…..two clubs and the player…the rest is pure speculation. Common sense goes out the window when we all try to second guess and think we know what is going to happen. Thank god we have experienced negotiators at the club not throwing its money around just to please those fans that have lost the plot and want to sign any 30 million pound player that’s available. Arsenal have always left their dealings late and tried not to overpay for any player…whats changed this year?..nothing… except the media have jumped upon our “70 million” to spend. Question the wisdom of Gazides public remarks..what was the motivation for saying that at a time Arsene is re negotiating his contract. That’s a far more interesting common sense discussion

  • blacksheep63

    Gareth Barry? Really? That is all

  • Rupert Cook

    Common sense tells me that when I actually see a player on the field of play playing for Arsenal then he’s an Arsenal player.

    @Clown Shoes, has the Daily Mail really been slagging off Wenger for the last five to eight years? I find it hard to believe but what I find harder to believe is that you actually read the paper that thoroughly for the last five to eight years. My condolences.

    Isn’t it the Mail that runs a column by that misery Peter Hitchens, a man who seems to think England was some crime-free paradise before 1962? I really don’t know why that man bothers breathing, common sense tells me he should kill himself.

  • Bootoomee

    Clown shoes,

    Now, that is common sense! Sadly, some fans are addicted to the crap and will take the words of any rag as gospel because they usually give them the needed excuse to moan.

    If it is a high calibre player (meaning the ones they’ve been told to love because they cost £30 million or more) they salivate and threaten Wenger with fire and brimstones if it does not come to fruition.

    If it is a young or unknown player, they rant and curse and swear on Arsenal never winning anything.

    By the way, the bottomline of the whole nonsense: TROPHIES!!!

  • Dec

    That’s a very insensitive remark at the end of your comment Rupert. Try thinking like an adult for once and get some perspective. Too many people do just that and it’s not something to be flippant about.

  • WalterBroeckx

    About the Barry rumours. Apparently we have a made big bid for Bender from Germany. But Leverkusen didn’t want to sell as they lost already two of their best players. So maybe having Barry as a backup for Arteta might not be a completely bad idea.
    I’m a big fan of Arteta but he isn’t getting any younger and one day his legs may give way and then we could do with a kind of experienced replacement. But I rate Arteta much higher than Barry

  • LRV

    For me, I just laugh or smile whenever I read the rumours. Arsenal will announce to us via whoever they buy when it is done; not before.

  • para

    I wish i could go to sleep until Saturday 17th August 2013.
    Then i can wake up to watch the first match of the season, and get to know our team, who are going to strike fear into the hearts of all other teams this season.

  • Rupert Cook

    @Dec Peter Hitchens is a rather poisonous and bitter person, at least that’s the way he seems to wish to be perceived. I have no qualms about saying what I said as it is a flippant remark as you pointed out. A sense of perspective may be needed here.

    And yes people kill themselves, what I say on here is hardly going to make any difference to that. Oh and one of my friends committed suicide last year so I do have some personal experience of such actions.