By Sir Hardly Anyone
It is looking as if we might have annoyed the Daily Mirror just a little bit with our years of reporting the summer transfer windows, showing that the accuracy rate of media predictions of who Arsenal are going to sign, ranges from one percent to a record four and a half percent (achieved last summer). Which is to say over 95 of every 100 predictions each summer has been wrong.
And so the debate has always been – is this inaccuracy concerning who Arsenal are going to sign due to the gross ineptitude of the club, or the fact that over 95% of all transfer rumours are simply made up by journalists?
We’ve always argued the latter, and that raises the question, is it just Arsenal that gets this treatment by the media, or do other clubs get the same level of wholly inaccurate rumours. Our suspicion is the latter, but that the media do particularly go overboard on blaming Arsenal.
The problem here is that it does take a bit of time to track each and every transfer rumour just for Arsenal. To start comparing Arsenal’s treatment in the media in this regard with that of the rest of the Premier League is beyond us – not least because it needs to continue day by day without a break across a four month period (May to August). But we are hoping to try with one other club this coming summer just to see.
Anyway, our accusation that lazy journalists avoid doing any work by making up transfer rumours and then blaming the club for being too slow or inept when the transfers don’t happen, may have rattled the cage of the Daily Mirror because they have just come out with “Arsenal’s failed transfer XI from Ronaldo to Ibrahimovic as Gunners miss out on Vlahovic”
Which suggests that maybe we ought to come out with “Daily Mirror’s failed transfer predictions”. But on the other hand that would look rather petty.
However Reach plc which owns the Mirror and Football London also owns two other prime sources of rumour: the Daily Express and The Star – plus multiple regional outlets such as the Birmingham Mail and Nottingham Post.
Which is ok, except when one cites another from the same group as a source of a story, that gets a bit murky. Rather like my left hand blaming my right hand for a spelling mistake.
But beyond perfidious newspapers, it surely is obvious that transfers are complex affairs. First, the manager identifies a position in which he feels the club could do with an upgrade because either the present incumbent is fading or injured or else there is a different style and approach evolving in the team, or maybe a different style or approach could be made to evolve if a couple of different players were brought in.
Now that point already suggests why transfers might not work, because the focus initially is not on an individual player who is wanted for the team, but rather there is a particular role that needs upgrading or covering, as the side and its tactics evolve.
Take for example Arteta’s 2020/21 project of turning Arsenal from being the team that got more yellow cards than anyone else, into a side that got fewer than anyone else. That approach was based on a dramatic cut in tackling in order to take power away from PGMO referees and return it to the players. But one can’t just say to players “stop tackling” for there still needs to be a way to defend. That in turn needs a certain type of player and it may be there are just a handful at the right level for each position.
In such a scenario (which really isn’t that complex) the video scouts might come up with a dozen players across the world for each position.
Now in the unlikely scenario in which each transfer rumour that the Mirror, Express, Star, and Football London publishes is actually based on something like a video scout’s report, rather than it being simply made up, in each case there might be this whole range of players who Arsenal are said to be after, for each position.
So enquiries are made club to club as the rulebook demands concerning a multiplicity of players who might meet the particular requirements (for example a right back of PL standard who gets the ball without tackling).
Now we have already noted in recent articles what goes on here: there is a bit of negotiation initially club to club, and thereafter when permission is gained by the buying club to approach the player.
Incidentally, this is where Newcastle’s new “expert” (but in fact inexperienced) negotiating team are said to have screwed up badly, going in with low offers in order to suggest that just because they are rolling in it, doesn’t mean they are going to spend money stupidly.
But the selling clubs saw this for what it was and in return doubled the price of each player. In effect, both sides took a position to suggest they were no easy touch, and when that happens in negotiation the gap between the sides gets far too big for compromise.
This situation then affected the whole market. Player x doesn’t get sold to Ordinary United because Newcastle might just be in for him, and his price will go up. No one buys him, while the media continues to pump out its tales (of which we know 95.5% are fantasy).
As a result of all this, the number of transfers becomes very small. According to the Guardian website this Sunday lunchtime, the paid-for transfers per club in the Premier League this month are
Zero: Arsenal, Brentford, Burnley, Leicester, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United, Norwich, Southampton **, Tottenham, West Ham. (55%)
One: Aston Villa, Brighton, Chelsea*, Crystal Palace*, Leeds* (25%)
Two: Everton, Newcastle (10%)
Three: Wolverhampton (5%)
Five: Watford *** (5%)
*Fee assumed but not confirmed by club.
** Player transferred without a fee.
*** Watford have spent £17m, but between five players meaning an average of £3.4m each.
It looks like the market is quite dysfunctional, and we’ll continue to consider this in the next piece. But in doing so, we might keep in mind the rather frightening fact that Of last year’s top spending clubs, only one has reached a higher league position this season.