For someone as pathetically devoted to football literature, rumour, analysis and comment as myself, I should be loving this time of year.
The time when the merest whisper of a mega money “swoop” — wouldn’t it be great to see a caped Mark Hughes/Harry Redknapp/Rafa Benitez actually swoop when signing his latest transfer target by the way?- can lead to hours, hell, days of frenzied debate on message boards, in offices, via texts, on Sky Sports News (yawn) and in the papers.
I’m sure half of the rumours start with a simple taxi driver tale- “I had that Scott Parker in here yesterday, dropped him off straight at Carrington, tight bastard never even tipped me”– but we love them anyway. Or do we?
This January the transfer window, and the rumours/stories that come with it, have reached a new level of outrageousness. It would be easy to simply blame Manchester City and their new owners for this, which is what most rags seem to be doing en masse at the moment, but a high portion of the blame must lie with both the media outlets who are peddling these half truths, what ifs and well-informed links, and the everyday football fan who crumbles into a pile of orgasmic transfer-induced panic whenever someone mentions the Manchester City word.
On Friday last week, I received a text from a fellow Liverpool fan, a work mate of mine with whom I had spent the day laughing at the prospect of Kaka’ rolling up at Eastlands to find Darius Vassell in his dressing room speck. The text simply read “Gerrard to City- 65m. Can’t believe it”. Now this lad is not the most die hard Liverpool fan I know, nor the most knowledgeable, but still his blind acceptance of what was clearly a ridiculous story left me with a tinge of sadness. I didn’t expect much of him, but I expected more.
Of course he folded under further questioning, revealing that it was simply a taxi-driver-style story from a “good source” who claimed that Mr Gerrard had received plenty of incentive to swap the Red half of Merseyside for the Money-coloured half of Manchester, and of course had actually spoken to the man himself and been told “it’s defo on the cards”
Now I know Manchester City and their representatives stunned the world last week when they stormed into the San Siro in a blacked out Hummer whilst playing 2Pac records at full blast to announce “How much for this Kaka’ fella then?”, but that does not give tabloids, broadsheets, radio stations, experts (loose term) and fans alike the license to simply pluck from thin air the next host of big names “expected” to roll up at City. Does it? Nor does it give genuine football fans the right to ignore all sense of logic when discussing said rumours.
The tabloids are the worst offenders of course, and I did chuckle at the clever hack from the Daily Star who must have been so pleased with himself after breaking the news of Kaka’s City switch to his loyal readers. £45m he claimed. £45m! That wouldn’t even get you Wilson Palacios’ toenail clippings in the current climate surely? The Mirror saw that £45m and raised it to £91m, before the big guns got involved and all of a sudden we were talking a quarter of a billion pounds. For a footballer.
Not content with dropping that bombshell on us, City then provided me with perhaps the most surreal moment of football humour I have ever experienced. No it wasn’t Richard Dunne’s bemused reaction to a richly deserved red card against Wigan on Saturday, but the following sentence, which appeared on the BBC’s website.
“Hamburg say they have “reached agreement” with Manchester City over a fee for midfielder Nigel de Jong. De Jong, 24, has a clause in his contract that would allow him to leave in the summer for £1.8m. However, German media have speculated that City may be willing to pay as much as £18m to sign him in January.”
Now I am no expert, despite my arrogant tone, but surely even men as rich as those behind the Manchester City revolution can see why that statement is funny and ridiculous in equal measures? If they can’t then there is hope for us all, even Vassell. Leaving aside the fact that City already have two fine young central midfielders in Vincent Kompany & Michael Johnson, the idea of paying ten times over the odds for a player, just to have him for an extra five months, beggars belief. Although when you hear that they are ready to offer Johnson plus cash to sign Scott Parker, you would probably rather have a second look at this De Jong deal!
Because that is the funny thing about City, on one extreme their buying policy is wild and wacky, lets get Robinho, lets get Kaka, lets get Pele! But then quietly, on the other hand, they are looking into making some pretty astute signings too.
Kompany was a fine acquisition, and is one I would tip to move to centre half and become captain of the club, with Dunne enduring a torrid season and Micah Richards’ growth as a player undoubtedly being stunted in the past eighteen months. Pablo Zabaleta has been up and down since his arrival, but is an Argentine international with his best years ahead of him and can operate in a number of positions, Wayne Bridge is the second best left back England has, and the fourth best in the league if you ask me, Shaun Wright-Phillips may have come back from Chelsea with his tail between his legs, but is a good option on the flanks and a fans favourite, and even the much-maligned Jo is a damn good talent, although whether he will be given the chance to show it at this club is a question I am surprised Hughes hasn’t been asked more.
Yes these players cost big money (Jo in particular was crazily priced, even at the time), but they do have a logical feel to them. Zabaleta to replace Corluka at right back, Kompany to replace the creaking Didi Hamann in the holding role, Bridge to replace…well, no one really…at left back, Wright-Phillips to replace my mate Vassell on the right. Hughes was building a team.
Now he seems to be bulk-buying, as if come May there will be a Player-Crunch, where willing footballers simply cannot be found any more. Craig Bellamy is a quality footballer, West Ham’s best whenever I have seen them this season, but he is 5ft 8in and has a history of injuries, £14m is a good deal for the Hammers, whichever way you dress it up. De Jong is a quality footballer, versatile enough to operate at full back or in midfield, and with plenty of Holland caps to his name, but £18m in January or a tenth of that in July?
Will Nigel De Jong make that much of a difference to this side? He would certainly make more than Scott Parker, who has somehow managed to work his apparent value up to and beyond the £10m mark, if tabloids are to be believed (and they aren’t, but run with me on this one). Parker is an honest, workaday player. He had plenty of talent in his younger years, but a desire to get stuck in more has stifled any creativity in his locker, his passing is far from dynamic and, in Johnson, I feel City have a far more promising talent within their own ranks.
Likewise Roque Santa Cruz, a player who lets not forget never managed to hit double figures in his time at Bayern Munich (albeit injury interrupted). City have, for my money, one of the most exciting young forwards in Europe in Daniel Sturridge, and it would certainly be sad to see his development stunted by yet another big money forward- Benjani, Jo, Robinho, Bojinov, Caicedo, Bellamy…..where will the obstacles end for Sturridge, who has the potential to be as good as he wants, I am sure?
Now the moral debate is one which I purposefully steer clear of when it comes to football, and money. Mainly because I truly do not know where I stand on it. On one hand yes they are only earning what clubs are willing to pay, but then when you have nurses and doctors earning a fraction……oh just leave it will you, it’s old and boring. But when viewed from a purely footballing perspective, this Kaka’ transfer is still ludicrous, in just about every way possible.
“I belong to Jesus” read Kaka’s t-shirt after Milan’s 2007 Champions League final victory over Liverpool in Athens. It is an iconic image, but may well now be tainted by further inspection revealing that in small print beneath those letters were the words “But for a few million I could be tempted to be an Atheist”. Because that is effectively what he would be doing upon leaving Milan for Manchester.
City are ambitious, they have some good players and I quite like Mark Hughes in a strange kind of way, but Milan are an institution of European football, capable of giving any player the most comfortable and luxurious of lifestyles. Kaka’ does not need extra money, he does not need cultural enlightenment (although I believe the lad is a curious soul when it comes to culture and travel), nor does he need to roll into an imbalanced side battling in the lower half of the Premier League. And whilst the sight of the elegant Brazilian terrorising Premiership defences in the near future does hold a certain appeal, I can’t help feeling that football would lose a lot of credibility should this deal come off. Save us Ricky, please.
This article was written before Kaka’s official refusal to move away from Milan.