We can all agree that deadline day, such as it is with the Sky Sports News hashtag and yellow socks, is not the height of dignity, or indeed entertainment. That’s been established as a fact, like the absence of decent Italian food in France, or decent food other than Italian in Italy. But criticism has gone a little too far.
Fans are being sneered at as hoi polloi for simply treating transfers as part of the game, and deriving some enjoyment from it. Some of the criticism is justified - some fans are being so reductive as to simply see football as real-life Football Manager, but they rarely are. There will be cases where this is true, but there will always be crassly stupid people in any sphere, so there’s no point shooting at especially stupid fish in an especially small pool - that’s as worthy as having a pop at Robbie Savage. Transfer deadline day gives fans the chance to dream of better football than they currently expect, dreams that are entirely understandable given the doggerel served up by most sides.
Take Manchester United, who probably had the most successful transfer window. Their changing approach or panic has been addressed elsewhere, so can be ignored here, but after one year of Moyes and evidently crumbling football under Alex Ferguson - hello, Ashley Young - it’s wrong to resent fans their hope after all the rumours. The more sensible fans wanted a central defender or proven central midfielder, the obvious problems for United.
But after suffering years of Wayne Rooney’s diminishing returns, they were correct to go from flaccid to turgid once news of Radamel Falcao’s arrival became a genuine story rather than Twitterb*ll*cks. For the neutral (not ABUs, who for a number of quite acceptable reasons might despise United), the arrival of one of the very best strikers in the world is undeniably exciting. That he came after looking set for Real Madrid makes it, like Andrew WK’s second album, even more so.
Similarly, there was a tension at Arsenal. Last season, Arsene Wenger pulled off a huge surprise by briefly embracing financial doping, like steroids issued under therapeutic exemption, in order to sign Mesut Ozil. Ozil, one of the finest midfielders around and now a World Cup winner, suddenly arrived at staid old Arsenal. Ümläüt prölïfërätïön suggested that the quality of football Arsenal had previously served up before his arrival wasn’t really satisfying fans at the Emirates. This was not about money, it was about potentially rapid and regular deployment of dopamine that is only created by sporting excellence.
This time, Wenger had set the fans up to expect more - with non-denials over Adrien Rabiot, and hints variously that he was open to signings, or otherwise not interested at all. Links to central defenders, William Carvalho and Carlos Bacca had Arsenal fans for another evening of expectation, that was met by the initially oddly underwhelming signature of Danny Welbeck
With Olivier Giroud’s injury, and Wenger’s appearance at a charity football game as a referee, the whole day logically led to anger at Wenger for failing to introduce defensive reinforcement, and ultimately relief at Welbeck’s arrival. This was all made more tense by the delay to the confirmation of the transfer. It’s entirely right that after scraping in at fourth place for so long, and with United stocking up in pursuit, that the night became excruciating for Gunners.
It’s not just at the top that fans can rightly pin their hopes on deadline day and the run-up. Harry Redknapp is not known for his coaching ability, but is for taking part in an often relatively successful churn of staff. With Loic Remy out to Chelsea, and his car-window brinkmanship of years gone by, fans would have hoped for last-minute bargains (or disasters) to carry them over the line - they will have had an odd night. They will know that reinforcements were vital to survival and the squad had taken a blow. Niko Kranjcar was quintessentially Redknapp, whereas Sandro looks an essentially sensible purchase that just happened to be in the final hours. His failure means that their striking strength now rests on Eduardo Vargas, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Bobby Zamora being receptive to the instructions of “f*cking run around a bit.”
There was also drama at Hull City. Steve Bruce is unfairly maligned as a manager because he looks like a downtrodden dairy-farmer in a tracksuit, but it is probably one of the brightest British managers in the Premier League, as his record increasingly suggests. The introduction of both Gaston Ramirez and Hatem Ben Arfa - signatures that appeared from nowhere - are more exciting due to the fact they appeared so suddenly and also because they hint at much higher ambitions than might have been expected. That’s not about money, that’s about wanting joy.
People might find the wish of fans to spend more money, always more money, slightly vulgar, but the British press always has a rising habit of treating a game sustained by working-class culture - and money - with sniffy middle-class snobbery, as if the middle-class does not do all it can to keep wealth for itself, or isn’t obsessed with money itself. But it is the fans wanting to spend who probably have it right.
Time after time, the highest spending clubs will produce better teams. Not, inevitably, but with a close enough tie to success that means fans aren’t just wanting to spend money to be the biggest spenders, but to have the best or better players, indulge in schadenfreude when they beat their rivals, and for a few brief minutes glimpse that which is rarely achieved - football brilliance by players at the club they support. Unless you’re Aston Villa, in which case your deadline day present is Tom Cleverley.
Alexander Netherton - On Twitter: @lxndrnthrtn
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