by Matthew Wade

The Vidal “Transfer Saga” reminds us why the summer holidays are a good time to take a break from following club football too closely.

As a very part-time blogger and a slightly more regular member of the Daily Cannon family, I have the luxury of not currently having any ambitions towards being a full time writer for a sports website. This frees me from the endless grind for cheap accumulation of web ‘hits’ to desperately scrape every penny of advertising revenue out there. It also helps writing for a site that tries to avoid going down the ‘click bait’ route, and enjoys debunking nonsense more than squeezing every last unique page visitor possible out of every invented story.

But year on year, the internet is drowning in ever deeper waters of invented transfer nonsense. There has been no greater example of this in recent times than this summer’s tabloid cause célèbre:  Arturo Vidal from Juventus to Arsenal. Which SOMEHOW is STILL going! (largely due to the sterling efforts of Metro who seemingly can turn anything into a transfer rumour).

The endless spinning out of this one has been evil genius on a number of levels. Quite how there have been so many paragraphs dedicated to such an implausible transfer is mindblowing for so many reasons:

1) He has played the last few years almost exclusively as an attacking midfielder, the one position Arsenal are most over-subscribed in with proven talent.

2) He’s 28, and would cost at least £30m (despite recent rumours of £20m), which would be somewhat out of character for the manager even if he did represent a squad need. When it seems the budget this summer started in the region of £50m even before the arrival of Petr Cech, that doesn’t leave much wiggle room.

3) It is unlikely that a very highly paid player who is guaranteed first choice for perennial Serie A winners and Champions League narrow runners up would take only the most modest pay rise to battle for his place at a less successful club.

4) Juventus really don’t need the money, having had their most financially successful season in a decade. The other Italian team’s failing in Europe meant that Juve ended up with over 80 % of all of Italy’s Champion’s League TV money, on top of all that prize money. Also with Pirlo departing and uncertainty about Pogba, selling one of their most important midfielders for less than he’s worth doesn’t seem either sensible or in keeping with the club’s modus operandi. Particularly as he still has two years left on his contract.

5) On the first of July Vidal’s agent very publicly said “I’ve not had any contact with Arsenal.”

6) One of the main story originators on twitter later boasted that it was a hoax on the same day that the BBC’s David Ornstein confirmed that Arsenal had no interest in the player.

7) As recently as mid-May, VIdal said that he wanted to stay in Turin for life.

8) Even should he wish to depart, several news stories in the last fortnight are saying he has already signed for Real Madrid.

On the whole, these are fairly compelling reasons as to why this particular story shouldn’t have got a fraction of the oxygen that has been continually pumped its way, but yet certain publications want to ensure they’ve squeezed every last drop out of an initially unsubstantiated headline, as recently as Sunday evening.

But as we know, this is par for the course in recent years.

Think of all the stories you’ve read without a quote from anyone even vaguely connected to the situation, with the ever so edifying use of the word ‘understands’ as a way of justifying completely making things up. Imagine if it was used in any other context in life…”Matthew Wade ‘understands’ that the moon is made of green cheese, Shakespeare was really a re-animited mummy working for the Templars, and that gravity is a communist plot…”

Then there are all the articles that are basically just copy and paste jobs from blogs, and even worse, all those deliberately misleading link titles designed to entice the prospective reader.

We’ve all seen them:

Arsenal ROCKED by major transfer blow! = Someone almost good enough for our bench that the club has never had an interest in has signed for a mid table club.

Arsenal confirm exciting striker deal! = Club gives a 16 year old a 2 year pro contract.

Arsenal BLOW as wonderkid leaves! = Someone that not even Jeorge Bird has heard of leaves the u15s to go West Ham or similar.

This constant maximising dramatisation of essentially nothing stories gets lots of suckers (including myself at times) clicking on links in order to get the news first, but only leads to irritation.

We understand why it happens. Football, particularly the Premier League, now generates more interest than politics, films, theatre and art put together as a global phenomenon. When you have people in rural Africa having their football shirt as second only to their mobile phone as a luxury item, others in the US and Oceania routinely getting up at the early hours to catch their team, and others spending thousands of pounds every year going to games, the demand for news can’t be ignored. And where there is demand, there is money to be made. And when there is money to be made, professional ethics can get a little shaky in most industries…

Of course, many fans these days are a little more media savvy, and can tell if there is any fire to go with all the smoke blown from wannabe ‘journalists’ rears. But this doesn’t apply to all. Some really will think that we’ve lost the next Messi, signed the new Ronaldo or be enraged at the club’s incompetence at being beaten to the punch by West Brom on a star signing.

The thing is, quite apart from the wasting of a few minutes of time from the lives of obsessive fans (guilty as charged) in the shameless pursuit of web traffic and the subsequent advertising revenue, there is another side to this type of pseudo-journalism.

Every invented long running transfer saga bears the consequence of creating false narratives for supporters of either club to become emotionally invested in. This can have unforseen effects. Whether it is the breakdown of a relationship between a player and the fans of the club he represents, or that of the club and its supporters, a few well placed stories can sour things quickly.

When the club was mired in uncertainty after the loss of RVP and Alex Song, pretty much every bullshit ‘Arsenal miss out on…‘ story was greeted by wailing and gnashing of teeth by sections of the self-identifying Wenger Out Brigade. Kevin Mirallas, Nuri Sahin, Jack Rodwell, Shinji Kagawa, Junior Hoilett and Moussa Dembele were all reported as targets the club had missed out on due to ‘dithering’, along with many others. While the sense of disappointment about the state of play at the time was justified, some fans were tearing their hair out about players that it is incredibly unlikely the club would have even looked at. But Arsenal’s failure was the story of the summer, as was their need to make signings, so every outlet filled their column inches with unsubstantiated  speculation. The more disgruntled  fans took the club’s failure to sign any of these players (usually attacking midfielders) as a reflection of the manager and board’s incompetence. Of course it turns out that none of them were good enough for Arsenal.

Only 3 years ago people wanted us to sign this guy (Junior Hoilet - Creative Commons)
Only 3 years ago people wanted us to sign this guy (Junior Hoilet – Creative Commons)

Equally we’ve all seen examples of players taking abuse from  their fans when it is rumoured they want out. Of course this is nothing like a transfer request level of bile  or a 20 year old Jamaican not signing a new contract (Sterling’s booing by the Irish fans in the recent international friendly for not committing to Liverpool was almost as funny as his utter bemusement). Thankfully fans here aren’t so keen to take on the part of jilted lover until actually jilted (compared to Italy in particular), but one doesn’t have to go back too far for examples of players being turned on by supporters. As football is something of a modern tribal religion, complete with a place of worship, the level of angst each set of believers feels can be almost as disproportionate as that of zealots of a more traditional nature. The advent of social media, and twitter in particular, has allowed us to see just how much this is the case, as people’s capacity for pointless, irrational public rage seems to have increased proportionally with their awareness of just how small their lives are in a cosmic sense.

For those fully invested, it’s always worth remembering that Arsenal keep one of the tightest ships in world football when it comes to incoming transfers, so unless all the most reputable newspapers and news sources are running with a story, you can generally assume it’s either agents touting their clients around or someone trying to sell advertising or newspapers . Unless it’s a young relatively unknown kid, in which case anything is possible! As Ivan Gazidis said at the kit launch, 90% of Arsenal transfer rumours are rubbish.

With the Copa America and the Women’s World Cup, there has been lots of great football to keep us in the mood, and the signing of Cech has generated excitement for next year. Personally, I love Wimbledon and The Ashes, so I’m going to get a continued sporting fix, but I know for others its football or nothing. If this applies to you, find things to do help you enjoy the nothing, because with 8 weeks until the end of the transfer window, there is going to be an endless supply of invented nonsense between now and then. Try to re-discover that lovely 1980s and 90s mindset of pre-internet fandom, where you didn’t know about a transfer until it was all over the back pages or on the news. And if you can’t do that, go on holiday – somewhere without internet cafes!

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