Transfer Myths: How speculative has this summer been?

The 2019 summer transfer window has once again brought about a huge number of gossip-driven articles and columns linking just about every player on the planet to move from their current club to another destination. This is of course nothing new – journalists must make their living somehow over the quieter summer months – and a lot of the time sources close to clubs will indeed have good information to share. No one needs to be patronised and told that these sources need to be chosen carefully but the truth is they do vary greatly, and some are undoubtedly more in the know than others. If Arsenal hear about a new signing from the mouth of David Ornstein, a BBC journalist with apparently close connections to the club, they should be a lot more excited about the news than if it came from, for example, generic national broadcaster and Arsenal fan Piers Morgan or the club’s infamous media presence ‘Arsenal Fan TV’. We would never expect outrage-driven morning reporters or click-bait dependent YouTube ‘personalities’ to ever provide genuine information on such a level though, so the average sensible fan will turn traditional news publications first. Can they really be trusted on the matter though?

On the most part, the answer is yes. Even when a significant transfer, one too outrageous to be possibly true, begins to become public knowledge the sharing news sources will be proven correct. Cristiano Ronaldo moving from Real Madrid to Juventus seemed preposterous at first glance, a rumour surely driven for attention and clicks in the same way as the multiple reports every previous summer suggesting he would return to Manchester United. And yet just a few days later he was being presented at the Old Lady, arguably the highest profile transfer of the past few years, despite the incredulities thrown at the early reports. Before that there was Neymar (Barcelona to PSG) and his world record £200 million transfer fee, one that seemed like it could never possibly happen and had been made up in the most Fantasy Football world you could think of. Again, a few days later he was in the French capital and price valuations in the market have never been the same since. (I personally rubbished both these stories when I first heard them so really, what do I know?!)

What about the stories this summer then? Well for a start, we’ve heard a lot about Neymar’s apparent (and unsurprising) regret about his move to Paris and desire to rejoin Barcelona. The forward even threw a modern-day tantrum and failed to turn up to pre-season training, a sure-fire sign of wanting to leave. PSG have stated that they are open to selling, but could Barcelona realistically buy? Given that Paris would expect at least a recoup of their £200 million and Barcelona have already spent close to that figure to ensure they sign Frenkie De Jong and Antoinne Griezmann, it’s hard to imagine that they have the FFP scope to double that expenditure on one player. It’s a similar story for their bitter La Liga rivals Real Madrid, whose head coach Zinedine Zidane is reportedly desperate to buy Paul Pogba from Manchester United and sell Gareth Bale to just about anyone. It makes sense that Pogba is a target as he is a huge footballing brand and the classic Galactico style is to chase these players. Again though, signings such as Eden Hazard, Ferland Mendy and Luka Jovic have left Real with a big FFP question mark that can only be resolved by selling big earners such as Bale. A few days ago (at the time of writing) he seemed certain to move to the Chinese Super League on a £1m a week contract! Too ludicrous to be true?

Well, maybe. On the surface it’s a deal that makes total sense – it’s no secret that a transfer moving Bale out of the Spanish capital is wanted by both club and player, and that China is one of the few places where his incredible wage demands could be met (Jiangsu Suning were supposedly set to offer him £1m a week). Since the proposed transfer collapsed, Bale has either pulled out of or been left out of Real Madrid’s squad to play against his former club Tottenham in a pre-season friendly. Zidane said the forward wasn’t fit to play. What evidence is there to suggest the rumour is false then, if any? Well for a start, the £1m a week figure is, to put it bluntly, ludicrous. Unfortunately it is believable in this day and age of remarkable finances, especially the sorts that Chinese clubs can throw around, but it’s hard to see where Jiangsu Suning can get the revenue to pay a man £52 million a year. In 2015 their reported annual revenue was just £36 million, and whilst this will have increased since then it’s a wild jump to take it up enough to fit that level of expenditure into their overall financial structure. Only a day later, Suning made a move to sign 30-year-old Croatian forward Ivan Santini from Anderlecht. This move is significant because it filled the Chinese club’s quota of foreign players for the upcoming season, meaning that he effectively filled the void left by not signing Bale. Not only is Santini a notably lower key acquisition than Bale, but the deal happened very, very shortly after Bale’s proposed transfer collapsed (the Bale deal was off on 28th July, 2019 and the Santini deal was confirmed 29th July, 2019). Transfers don’t usually happen that fast, especially if they span two different continents, so it’s not unreasonable to raise an eyebrow as to whether the Bale transfer was really as close as was being reported.

Cases like this do appear to have been common this summer. As usual there has been a wealth of reports linking Manchester United to various players, with two of the most prominent being yet to happen in Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes. The Maguire saga has had an incredible amount of noise surrounding it, with the player again deciding to apparently miss training (Leicester declaring him ill) and fees of around £90 million being thrown around. Bruno Fernandes would be an excellent signing for United, but recently Sky have ironically reported that Portuguese media reports have been exaggerating the interest that the Manchester side have in the midfielder (the near daily sharing of said reports by Sky and the BBC may have contributed to that exaggeration). We’ve heard Wilfried Zaha’s name mentioned alongside transfers to Arsenal and Everton, even though both clubs have moved for similar style players (Arsenal have moved for Nicolas Pepe and Everton have targeted Moise Kean, though both these are yet to be finalised) and Arsenal only have a £45 million transfer budget (if you happen to believe that one anyway). Everton themselves came out with an official statement saying there was no bid tabled, after it was widely reported that it had been. Not the best look for the media there.

There’s enough good journalism and information out there for a decent discussion on what’s going on in the off season. But it’s important to root out what this good information actually is. For example, if you follow BBC Sport on Twitter, you would surely think you’re in safe hands given that they are the national broadcaster and pride themselves on impartial news reporting. On the day of writing the article (31st July 2019) you will have read that Manchester United are reportedly interested in Barcelona defender Samuel Umtiti. Strange that they would be after him if they are so publicly after Maguire, but surely significant if the BBC are running it.

Except they’re not, the article linked in the tweet takes you to a ‘gossip column’ where the real article linking Umtiti is from French website le10sport.com, in a short, quoteless, sourceless article where they simply claim to have scooped Manchester City’s interest in the French defender and have added United to the list. Not so convincing. In that same column the top two shared articles rather contradict each other by firstly saying that PSG have blocked Neymar’s return to Barcelona, only for the next source to claim officials from the two clubs are set to meet to discuss the deal. Which is it? What’s more than that but we have links to stories from the Daily Mail and the Daily Star, publications you would probably take with a generous pinch of salt for your everyday news and therefore should probably be cautious about for your football stories as well.

It’s a society of clickbait, views, trends, ‘fake news’ and all the sorts of gossipy fads that make actual reporting very difficult. Some of the transfer stories this summer have been palpably rubbish. Some have probably been correctly reported, but in a very bad way. I’m sure Barcelona would probably love to have Neymar, if they sell Malcolm, Phillipe Coutinho, Ivan Rakitic, Ousmane Dembele and whichever other players give them sufficient FFP funds, and therefore I doubt the conversation has really gone too far. I have no doubt that Real Madrid would love to have Paul Pogba, if they sell Gareth Bale, Marco Asensio, James Rodriguez and whichever other players give them… you can see where this is going. Bruno Fernandes is a perfect fit for Manchester United, but have they really taken it as far as is suggested? Scouts at Everton almost certainly recommended a pacy, tricky Premier League forward like Wilfried Zaha, but clearly Marcel Brands went elsewhere despite what the papers said. Basically put, your club probably is interested in whichever Player X they’re being linked with, but probably not as much as you’ve been told.

What have you made of the summer window? Let us know in the comments below!

featured image credit skysports