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If there was a Guide to Management in a Transfer Window it would surely be based on Sun Tzu's The Art of War. This week alone the message of the book seems particularly apt after Samir Nasri joined Manchester City amid suggestions that a bit of tapping up might have taken place. Yet as everybody knows, when two clubs are pushing and pulling over a player the battle has been won before it was ever fought.


With sarcasm lacing their voices, a few football acquaintances contacted me this week to express their surprise at Arsène Wenger's brazen admission that Nasri was well aware of how many zeros were awaiting him at Manchester City when he was still an Arsenal player. Quite naturally this led the media to conclude that the player must have been tapped up. "I am a realist," said Wenger, "so I have no illusions about that, I think it is part of the modern life of a professional football player."


The reason Wenger is so candid is because, if Nasri has been tapped up, then so have I and almost every other player that has been transferred in the last 10 years. The phrase "tapping up" has become a dirty one over the last few seasons; it is in the public consciousness as something that is dishonest and underhand. Yet ask any board of directors in the FTSE 100 as to how they go about choosing a new CEO and they do exactly the same thing as football clubs. They just call it headhunting.


It is naive to think that contacting a top club and casually inquiring as to whether or not they'd like to sell a couple of their best players would yield anything other than a foul-mouthed rebuff. And, by the same token, would I trust anybody at a football club to tell me that another club wanted to buy me if I was performing well? Not a chance.


You need an agent to drive a deal otherwise nothing would ever get done. It is also worth remembering that this is a two-way street. Clubs turn quickly from gamekeeper to poacher when they are replacing departed players, and when it comes to shifting their dead wood they know that the most effective way to do so is for an outside agent to make calls to their contacts at other clubs.


My manager told me that between the end of the season and the end of the transfer window he receives up to 30 calls a day from agents offering him players, and very often players that he knows to be contracted at other clubs.


In my case I knew I was moving in the window but that did not stop both the buying club and the selling club trying to run the clock down in the hope that the price would go up or go down depending on which side of the boardroom table you happened to be sitting on. In the end the selling club blinked first. Because of that we got the usual fun and games with the notorious last-minute hitch – my new employers tried on the age-old tactic of unnecessarily leaving things until the last possible moment, meaning that the final contract was faxed over with roughly half an hour to spare in the hope that I would sign it hurriedly and fax it back.


The contract was missing all of the previously agreed bonuses and, if I had put pen to paper, I would have been worse off than when I started. This is such a common practice when time is short that I am almost embarrassed to mention it, yet a few players have had their fingers burned over the years because their agents missed a trick.


Once everything is agreed it is a race to get to the club to perform a medical. Sometimes the logistics of getting from, say, the north-east to London on deadline day make undergoing a medical almost impossible. You don't need Sky's "live" shots of Big Ben to realise that you won't get there in time. When this happens the buying club arranges for a doctor local to the player either to open his surgery or to meet him at his house.


Cesc Fábregas's medical at Barcelona was, of course, extremely thorough but at that price the club will check everything they possibly can, especially as they had time on their side. On deadline day, however, managers are desperate to get bodies through the door and short-cuts are taken. I had a club doctor say to me: "OK, you've had a hamstring injury, so let's check the flexion of the semitendinosus and biceps femoris." I touched my toes five times and went home.


As the deadline draws closer, Sky does its best to ramp up the excitement by posting its reporters around the country and finding some stragglers to hang around and dance in front of the camera. In fairness to the reporters there must be few things worse than standing around outside a stadium or training ground, especially in January, waiting for something that probably won't happen.


The players, though, really get into the swing of it and, as the signings are announced, the group chats go in to overdrive. "He's gone where? But he's rubbish …" or the most common: "He must have the Carlsberg agent." Yes, we're a jealous bunch at times.


A few players will be clinging on to the hope that something materialises at the last minute and occasionally something unexpected does transpire when clubs miss out on a succession of targets. At this late stage, however, the chances of speaking to a manager to get the lowdown on the club can be slim. And even if you do get the opportunity to have a chat with your new boss, the experience can be far from illuminating. As one manager once said to me: "We're delighted you've signed and I'll see you at training tomorrow. I've got to go, there's another call coming through." Welcome to the club.


Thought this was an interesting article, and an especially relevant one to us now that we are being accused of 'tapping up' players left right and centre...

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Where's that article from?


guardian sport, columns called "secret footballer" offers some good insights a lot of the time into whats actually going on behind all the shit the pundits come out with about what players actually do/think

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Where's that article from?


guardian sport, columns called "secret footballer" offers some good insights a lot of the time into whats actually going on behind all the shit the pundits come out with about what players actually do/think

Cheers man. I'm normally a Times man, so I've never heard of it.

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Is this right?



Aye we have signed a right footed left back and a keeper that we did not need. Mind he cost buttons so I suppose it fits Ashley's style. Just need a decent striker. If you are looking at the numbers side of it, our squad has gone from a skeleton to a tramp in a threadbare coat. Still Santon is better than fuck all and I did not expect FCB to get anyone in at all.

It still keeps the FCB in a hearty supply of pies with the interest off the transfer profits. Bastard.

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