Heart of football: Transfer frenzy fills pockets not souls

Heart of football: Transfer frenzy fills pockets not souls
PHOTO: AFP

While we sleep, somebody somewhere is trading a footballer.

It has happened well over 5,000 times this summer transfer season in Europe and, until that window officially shuts at 6pm British Standard Time on Tuesday, there will be club owners as addicted to buying and selling as men throwing money at a casino wheel.

The players - the chips in this financial game - are in a luxurious kind of limbo.

Kevin de Bruyne, rejected by Chelsea 18 months ago, was reported early yesterday morning to be at an airport in Germany en route to Manchester City.

The fee negotiated between City and Wolfsburg was reported to be £54 million (S$117 million), and the wages are said to be beyond de Bruyne's wildest dreams.

Once concluded, the player who was reckoned to be the fittest playmaker in the Bundesliga will be expected to give Man City the energy on the right side that the team's other big purchase, the £49 million Raheem Sterling, provides on the other flank.

Sterling and de Bruyne providing from the wings, David Silva mesmerising defences from just behind the central striker, and Sergio Aguero capitalising as the top scorer in the the English Premier League.

Europe, here we come.

Man City were last season prevented from signing beyond their credible income by Uefa's so-called Financial Fair Play limitation. Now that rule has proved unworkable, they are spending money from the Gulf State like there is no tomorrow.

It is some turnaround for de Bruyne. He was one of those Belgians recruited by Chelsea as youths, but when Jose Mourinho returned to the club, he demanded more work, more tracking back to help out in defence, than was in de Bruyne's soul.

The young Belgian let slip that he feared he was "losing my joy". Chelsea got rid of him, by selling him in the January window last year to Wolfsburg. The fee was £18 million, roughly one third of the sell-on figure today.

Chelsea eventually paid a reported £23.3 million to replace de Bruyne with the Colombian winger Juan Cuadrado, who has just been released on loan to Juventus.

While we are on the subject of the Blues, there is another prospectively outstanding player whom Chelsea have been courting all summer long.

The attempts to persuade Everton to part with defender John Stones have gone up in four bids - £20 million, then £25 million, then £30 million and finally £38 million.

Stones was persuaded to put in a written transfer request, triggering hate mail and threats by Everton fans on him and his home.

The player is 21. He reads that he could treble, even quadruple his salary by swopping Evertonian blue for Chelsea blue.

His manager, Roberto Martinez, spent every press conference insisting that Stones was not for sale. Finally, the Everton chairman Bill Kenwright issued a written statement that Stones remains, and will remain, Everton's player.

The media is sceptical. We have grown accustomed to this being "a players' market", and that if the buying clubs are persistent enough, and once the agents have unsettled the players enough, they will move.

The clock ticks. Sunday isn't Tuesday, and all the speculation that Chelsea are negotiating instead for somebody else, might be regarded as window dressing until a photo call reveals a new defender who isn't John Stones.

This frenzy of reporting is a typical summer's last weekend of the window scenario.

The rumours are fueled by clubs dropping hints, off camera, in journalists' ears, by agents trying to put their players' names in the frame, and by the whole game of charades encouraged by this seasonal mess of having a cut off point that allows transfers long after the season has already started.

Yes, the dilemma of Stones makes it difficult for him to concentrate on giving his best. Yes, Everton are risking having a disaffected player, almost a captive worker, on their hands once the window closes.

But that is no different to Manchester United's goalkeeper, David de Gea, sitting in the stands while United and Real Madrid haggle over what sum is acceptable for the move he wants and Real, as is their custom, ignore the rule that one club should not seek to entice a player in contract to someone else.

United tried, and failed, to cut a deal to get Real's defender Sergio Ramos in part exchange. Now they are trying to get Gareth Bale in return for letting de Gea go. Bale hasn't said he wants out, but reports say that £65 million, plus de Gea, could do the trick.

Meanwhile, Tottenham yesterday closed in on a £21.9 million deal for Bayer Leverkusen's Son Heung Min. It was interpreted as an acceptance that West Bromwich Albion will not let their striker Saido Berahino go to Spurs.

But Tony Pulis, the West Brom manager, has complained that the bid has messed with Berahino's head. In another analogy, Pulis denigrates the market as treating players like pieces of meat.

The meat traders are everywhere. And the players, poor souls, are in the market of a glorious uncertainty that might well mess with their heads, but makes their bank balances pretty healthy.

stsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on August 30, 2015.
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