Peter Odemwingie isn’t the only footballer who will look back on this week’s transfer deadline day as not the happiest. Indeed Maarten Stekelenburg’s wasted journey makes Odemwingie’s 125-mile drive down the M40 look like a quick jaunt round the corner.
The Dutch keeper had boarded a flight from Rome to London assuming that he was going to sign with Fulham. As far as he was aware as he eased his long legs into his business class seat, all that was required was a medical and a bit of paperwork and he would be turning out for Martin Jol in the Premier League by Saturday against Manchester United.
When he arrived at Heathrow, however, he was presented with some bad news. The deal was off. Simple as that. No point heading to Craven Cottage, just get straight back on the plane and return to Rome.
Luckily for him there were no Sky Sports News cameras in the vicinity to record his embarrassment. Or worse, to interview him leaning out of his car window referring to Fulham as “we” and saying how happy he was to have left Rome behind. So unlike Odemwingie he did not torch his bridge and could return back to Roma. Chastened, perhaps, unhappy, for sure. But at least he can walk down the local high street without being harangued as a traitor.
It seems a relatively straightforward thing, a football transfer. One club has a player another club wants, so they agree a price for him and then, provided the player is willing to go, agree terms with him. Simple. And during the transfer window they have a whole month to negotiate such niceties. Indeed, most clubs have been considering who they want for several weeks before the window opens.
Harry Redknapp yesterday revealed that he had spoken to Christopher Samba on the phone long before the window opened. Then he rapidly withdrew his remark when he realised that he was giving a little too much away about the process. After all, talking to a player on contract to another club without their permission is illegal.
But the point was made: clubs plan ahead. They know who they want and they go after them. Most Premier League clubs these days have extensive departments filled with experienced negotiators to organise deals. It is no longer a case of the manager picking up the phone and sorting things on the hoof.
Redknapp was not alone in being largely aloof from the intricacies of negotiation: managers these days don’t get embroiled in the small print and minutia of recruitment. If nothing else, partly to ensure no back handers are involved.
Which makes you wonder, then, why so many leave it until the very last moment. With a deadline being counted down in the corner of the Sky Sports News screen from the second the transfer season opens, why are they so often apparently caught by surprise, like the serving staff in the refreshment booths at Oxford United who always seemed wide-eyed with astonishment when half-time arrives?
Surely it is not beyond the wit of sophisticated modern corporations to organise things in a manner that does not threaten the blood pressure of my over-excited namesake at Sky on a twice yearly basis?
Seemingly it is. Way beyond them. In several cases yesterday, transfers did not go through because of the smallest of issues. Odemwingie was back at West Bromwich this morning (or rather is at home after being sent away from the training ground) because of a problem with Junior Hoilett, the make-weight in the deal.
Redknapp said it had all fallen through because West Brom wanted Hoilett in part exchange and the player was unwilling to go. Though, according to others, it was slightly more complicated than that: West Brom had indeed wanted Hoilett, but on loan, and with QPR still paying the majority of his wages. The Loftus Road club, anxious to reduce its crippling out-goings, baulked at that idea. So the whole deal stalled over fine print.
In Stekelenburg’s case the issue was even more obtuse. He has been warming Roma’s bench for most of the season, out of favour with the manager and unlikely in the near future to be standing between the posts in a first team game. But still the club needed cover. So while they were happy to see his poor form and massive wages head elsewhere, they did not wish to weaken their squad. So when they failed at the last moment in an attempt to recruit another stand-by keeper, he was called back.
The point is, at any time transfers are a complex juggling act, a game of poker in which clubs are anxious to have all their bases covered before they allow an asset to depart. With the window providing a deadline, the process of bluff and counter-bluff comes to the fore. Brinkmanship is all. Particularly in the mid season, when no-one wants to jeopardise their chances by weakening their position, what should be a simple process suddenly gets complicated. Very complicated.
Which means, inevitably, there is consequence. And certain parties get left with egg on their face. Or, in the case of the comical Peter Odemwingie, with the entire annual output of the British poultry industry smeared across his features.