20 January 2009

This is sum unfriendly

Note: I began this last Tuesday and intended to finish it the following day, but I fell asleep and had the weirdest dream...I suppose it has some resonance with certain imaginary-footballer-related events of recent days.

So, have you been following it?

Have you been intrigued, enthralled, enraptured by the back page headlines grabbing you by the lapel and shaking you into thinking that some exotically-named hotshot is practically pining for your team's well-appointed out-of-town training facility?

Have some hot, hot, HOT transfer rumours set light to your house of football fandom in the last few months, only to be kept under control by the market's legislated inactivity, before someone went and opened the transfer window and whooshed it all up again into a backdraft of believability?

Have you been keeping your ear to the ground so much that a worm has made its way through your auditory canal and burrowed into your brain, causing you to imagine that your cash-strapped club's recently deceased great aunt has left it with the returns from a lifetime of careful but successful investment which, combined with the coppers it found while cleaning underneath the cushions (it's amazing how much rubbish you find under there -- discarded contracts, agents' receipts, arrears notices...), will be splurged on a striker who scored a couple of goals in the Bundesliga last year, has had a few injury problems, but for whom big things have been predicted, once, in a World Soccer profile in 2003?

It's funny to think back to when the international transfer window was introduced. One of the arguments against it was that we would be deprived of a vital part of our daily football conversation if the newspapers had no transactions to pass on. Such concern for our purveyors of hedged bets and imaginative reportage was woefully misplaced, though strangely touching. (What it was strangely touching I'm not quite sure.) It turns out that the window, as installed by Honest Sepp's Double Glazing -- check your wallet and knicker drawer -- is not quite as effective at keeping out the noxious fumes from the rumour rendering plant next door as had been expected.

(Okay, that's enough transfer-window-as-actual-window metaphors for now.)

Perhaps I shouldn't scoff. In fact, I really should declare my hand at this point -- people who live in shoddily-constructed glass houses shouldn't hurl meticulously-honed, award-winning invective, after all. Last summer, just when I thought I was over any naive residual faith in the healthy properties of the rumour mill's produce, I succumbed. For three months I gorged on gossip columns and aggregated tittle-tattle round-ups in the hope of...well, frankly, I don't know what I was hoping for. This shame lasted all the way up to the 31st of August, when I spent the hours before midnight repeatedly refreshing a deadline-day liveblog eager to be continually slapped in the face by a sequence of blockbuster deals, each more astonishing than the last. All I got in that department was Robinho's move to Eastlands. Steve Finnan signing for Espanyol was very interesting, but not quite what I was after. All in all, as the clock struck twelve, I felt like I had been stuffing my face with very cheap chocolate for six hours.

Robinho's move to Man City should have felt huge. And it did, for a while. But coming at the end of a summer of silly, silly conjecture, and after a few hours through the unstoppable spinning news cycle, it all seemed a bit meh.

And in January -- or to give it its proper title, as Austin Kelley does, "European transfer window" -- the madness is all the greater for being concentrated in a few short but oh-so-long weeks. The meh is greater, too. Tell me you're following every detail of Arsenal's impersonation of a desperate GI whose head is turned by Andrei Arshavin's "me love you long time" come-on and I will call you a lying git, with respect, sir/madam.

There's not just the whack-a-mole speculation to contend with, either. One must wrap one's head, with its furrowed brow and quizzical mouth and deep, dreamy eyes (speaking for myself), around the money issue. For me, it's not about tutting over the very fact that a footballer can be deemed more valuable than many financial institutions. It's not that this isn't one of our kooky li'l species' many, ahem, endearing eccentricities; but there are only so many times one can sigh at the follies of the free market ethic as applied to sport, like the person of vaguely leftist persuasion one is, before one realises that one has just renewed one's satellite subscription again. Besides, that horse probably bolted down the road to Middlesbrough with Alf Common.

My problem is in judging the worth of a player in currency form. When a conversation turns to whether Player A is really worth the £15 million that Club B has offered for him, or I hear some podcasters debate whether Player X should be earning 10 grand more per week than Player Y, my ears glaze over, or whatever the auricular equivalent is. If, in Hollywood, nobody knows anything, then in football, nobody knows anything. Boards lob bunches of banknotes around hoping they will hit someone who will be the key to a slightly higher finish in the table. Assessing it as if it were a logical system is, well, illogical.

As well as this, we're talking about very large amounts of wonga. I don't know about anyone else, but I find it difficult to take it all in. What does one make of a footballer having his annual salary increased from £3.5m to £4m? Allow me to demonstrate this situation algebraically:

S + S = S,

where S = a shitload of money.

I might find it easier to care if it all had to fit under a salary cap. But then again, have a look at this. Those aren't the NBA salary cap rules -- it's the simplified version of the NBA salary cap rules, and it's still more complicated than that loan agreement you didn't read properly and is the reason you're currently reading this over someone's shoulder at the public library. (Two Sport Is A TV Show readers in the same place? Say hi!)

What I should really do is just not read any of this stuff (or write a thousand words on it...) -- just close my ears until the window shuts whereupon I would simply inspect a list of the damage and get on with my life. But I'm nosey and weak-willed and won't be able to resist having the odd wee sneaky peek over the next few weeks. I know, I know, I'm terrible. Hey, we're all tools of the players' agencies anyway. There's a thought to finish on...

Panning-for-gold image by filo1000.


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