We emerge blinking into the sunlight, with Sky Sports News still gibbering away to itself in the background. Transfer deadline day, the weirdest day in the entire football calendar, is over and now, perhaps, things can start getting back to normal. There is nothing edifying about this day. There is no outlet for those concerned to behave with a great deal dignity and it has come to feel in recent years as if, for all of the chaos that it seems to throw all clubs into for twenty-four hours or so, the clubs, managers and players are willing participants in this particular circus. We don’t need to ask what the press gets out of it, of course. It seems difficult to imagine that Sky Sports News has a busier day of the year, and the online minute-by-minute updates are doubtlessly furiously refreshed by viewers – the Guardian’s ran to three lengthy web pages, and a sign of their success can be seen in that these three attracted over two thousand comments between them from readers, in one day.
Add players agents and fax machine manufacturers to the list of the day’s beneficiaries – football seems destined to become last industry to be truly in thrall to these nasally whining relics of 1980s communications – and it is easy to see that there are people that get something from it all, but what about the clubs? It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that transfer deadline day resembles Marks & Spencer at three o’clock in the afternoon on Christmas Eve. Most of the good stuff has gone and there unlikely to be many bargains to be had, but something has to be bought, so bought it damn well will be, even if there are few guarantees that it will work properly and might even be the wrong size. At least with M&S, though, unwanted gifts can be returned if purchased in haste. Football managers have no such option. If that brand new Owen Hargreaves that Manchester City have bought to decorate their substitutes bench turns out to be as defective as the one that Manchester United bought four years ago, they are stuck with him. It may be a good job, in that respect, that they can comfortably afford to weather any losses that signing him may incur for them.
None of this, of course, is to say that transfer deadline day isn’t interesting, if you can manage to tune the white noise out. Only in England could Joe Cole’s decision to trade Liverpool for Lille be regarded as a “gamble” or a “brave move”. If this particular transfer is interesting, this is mostly because it breaks somewhat with the insular and conservative stereotype of the English footballer. If Cole can finally get the clear run without injury that he seems to have spent most of his career waiting for, then he has a reasonable chance of being a success in France. Liverpool was the wrong club at the wrong time for him. Maybe he’ll be more lucky this time around. Also curious is the case of Yossi Benayoun, whose signature for Arsenal came somewhat out of left-field last night, and means that Benayoun will, once he takes the pitch for his new club, have played for Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool, a CV record that few other players have matched.
If the eyes of a majority were to be trained anywhere specific yesterday, it was likely to be in the general direction of The Emirates Stadium. The uneasiness that had pock-marked the very start to Arsenal’s pre-season had, of course, come to a piercing crescendo with last weekend’s tearing of a new hole at the hands of Manchester United. The pressure was building upon Arsene Wenger to start waggling his cheque book in the direction of any vaguely unhappy looking players, and he did this yesterday with a mixed bag of deadline day signings. On top of Benayoun, Wenger has added Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker, both distinguished players in their own right, and this seems to have satisfied the club’s supporters for now, which is a start, although the extent to which a substantial difference to the team will be made by these acquisitions is, of course, unknown at present. It wasn’t only Arsenal, though, that were involved, though. In a bid to try and make some osrt of sense of the chaos and carnage of it all, some hacks have this morning been trying to work out who the “winners” and “losers” of it all are. Stoke City and Queens Park Rangers seem a popular choice as “winners”, but we won’t find out until next May, and by then most of this will likely have been forgotten.
Transfer deadline day, though, seldom feels as if it is about the clubs and it doesn’t impact upon the overwhelming majority of players, either. It is a day that has picked up a media-driven momentum entirely of its own accord. There seemed to be times yesterday when it rather felt as if SSN might even be mocking its audience. Anchorman Jim White is appropriately hyperbolic and bombastic for such a day. Even his arrival at the studio was covered live by Sky Sports News, an act which was either the most self-important piece of broadcasting ever made or a superb satire on the ridiculousness of the entire day. Perhaps the wider audience is all in on the joke. This would seem the most likely rationale for such a decision, but anyone spending more than five minutes looking at Twitter yesterday could be forgiven for believing that a majority of people had become wrapped up in the apparent importance of it all.
Maybe Owen Hargreaves will score the winning goal in the Champions League for Manchester City against Manchester United at the end of the season. Perhaps Craig Bellamy will score twenty goals from midfield to take Liverpool to their first league championship since 1990. On the whole, though, what seems more likely is that the Premier League will stay very much as it would have been had this great circus not danced its way across our television screens yesterday. The importance that has become attached to it all has become a runaway train, perhaps the most modern phenomenon in football and a signifier in many different ways of how the game is, for all the occasional signs of sanity that we see, continuing to eat itself. Perhaps it is a twenty-first century replacement for the rituals of the past that have been ground away to almost being an irrelevance, like singing “Abide With Me” before the start of the FA Cup final. Still, at least it’s over now until January, and yes, I am aware that by writing this in the first place I am probably as much a part of the culture surrounding it as anybody else. You’d have to agree that it’s pretty difficult to ignore, though.
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