The transfer window, curse and damn it to Hell, has provided what I am sure is a most welcome opportunity for some of the clubs more vocal critics to seize the day, and use it as a suitably whippy stick to liberally beat the club with as punishment for its continuing transfer failings.
With Exhibit A being the summer transfer window.
Remember it? The one that saw us bring in seven new players.
Was it the ‘disaster’ that some claim it to be? I don’t think so myself. It wasn’t perfect, we all know that. But rest assured, it wasn’t just the fans who saw a pressing need for a centre-back to be amongst those incoming. It didn’t happen in the end. But that wasn’t for the want of trying.
Napoli defender Kalidou Koulibaly has recently admitted to the French media that Norwich offered his club around €15,000,000 for his services last summer (at a little over £11,000,000; it would have broken the Canaries transfer record with considerable ease) only for Napoli, after much prevaricating, to eventually turn the offer down.
And this was despite both Koulibaly and his agent indicating that the potential move was one that was of interest to them.
So, was the eventual breakdown of said deal down to any failings on the part of Norwich City?
Lets take a look at another example. Andrea Rannochia of Inter Milan. We offered Inter a reported fee of just over £7million for him, which Inter accepted only for the player to, as we are led to understand, turn down the opportunity to even talk to the Canaries.
Which is, of course, his perogative. And you have to respect him for being clear on the matter. Before moving on.
But, again, the question can be asked: is the collapse of that move due to inadequacies at our club?
As with the proposed move for Koulibaly, some will inevitably say that it is, and how. After news of Rannochia’s negative response to our offer first came to light, my attention was drawn to an online comment which threw the blame completely and utterly at David McNally, adding that, if “…he and the club had any ambition, they’d pay the player whatever it took to get him here.”
So, bearing in mind that Rannochia may – in all probability – be reluctant to uplift himself and his family to another country at this stage of his career, might it not just have crossed that detractors mind that, in this instance, money doesn’t come into it? That we could offer him £100,000 a week- and he still wouldn’t want to come here?
Now I love Italy. But I wouldn’t go to live and work there for even double what I earn for anyone. And whats more, I’m not – unlike Rannochia – a multi-millionaire already.
Buying and selling players isn’t easy any more. In fact, the whole transfer market industry is so riddled with agents, third-parties and assorted hangers on, I’m surprised that whole aspect of the football industry hasn’t been examined in detail by those who suspect the game still hides more dark secrets than just those that have been sourced to FIFA in recent years.
But it isn’t and, in all probability, won’t be. Despite numerous examples that suggest that, it’s not as easy as Alex Neil knocking on David McNally’s door and saying, “I want that one”.
The science of football transfers used to be easy. Manager ‘A’ would ring up manager ‘B’ and ask him about one of his players. “Is he available?”
If the answer was no then that was it with both the interest and offer staying between the two men in question. No-one else never heard about it, least of all the fans.
A lovely story came out relating to Kevin Keelan a little while ago, one that I heard from fellow MFW columnist Mick Dennis. It concerned Tommy Docherty who, at the time, was manager of Manchester United. He’d come to the conclusion that one of the positions in his team that needed strenghthening was that of goalkeeper with established number one Alex Stepney under little to no threat in that position by the claims of either Ray Mountford or Paddy Roche.
Docherty therefore got on the phone to John Bond at Carrow Road, with the conversation (with apologies to David Peace) going something like this:
Doc: “Hello Bondy, how’s it going son? Listen, your man Keelan, I’ve always liked the look of him. How would he fancy coming up here and playing for me? Old Trafford would be a great stage for him, he’s a showman, he’d love it and our fans would love him. Don’t you think he deserves the oportunity?”
Bondy: “Well Tom, I’ll be honest, I don’t want to lose Kevin, he’s still a vital player for us. But I hear what you’re saying and I’ll have a word with the lad. Keep it all to yourself Tom and give me a call back in a few days”
Which is exactly what Docherty did. Bond had, in the meantime, said absolutely nothing about his call or United’s interest in Keelan to anyone, least of all the man himself.
Doc: “Bondy, it’s Tom. Nice result for you on Saturday. Have you had a chance to have a wee word with Keelan about our interest in him? My board are happy to pay a fee for him, though it wouldn’t be too high. I’m sure we can sort something out”.
Bondy: “Tom, hello. Yes, I’ve had a few words with Cat. He’s flattered mate, very flattered but says that, at this time, he doesn’t want to move on and would rather stay here. He thanks you very much for your interest and you know, had it been a few years ago, well, maybe…but it’s a no Tom, I’m sorry mate”.
Doc: “Ah well, I had to ask. It’s a pity but we move on. Cheers Bondy, see you soon”.
And that was that. Bond hadn’t wanted to lose Keelan and chose to keep the interest in him to himself, turning down the offer by saying that the player, who had never been told about the call or United’s offer, wasn’t interested.
And Docherty accepted that.
Needless to say, its the sort of scenario that couldn’t possibly play out today. But this was long, long before the transfer market became an industry within the game in its own right rather than a periphral part of it.
If, however, Bond, or any other manager at around that time, took a call from a colleague interested in one of his players one that, yes, he was prepared to sell and that, by the way, the asking price was ‘x’ then things started to move very quickly indeed.
If that price was deemed acceptable by the buying club, then a bid was made. The player in question would then be told about it and instructed to get in touch with the interested manager which he would do, by phone, in his current manager’s office.
“How much are you on there lad?” the interested manager would say.
“£200 a week”.
“We’ll pay you £250 a week”.
I know that looks simplistic but that’s because it was, more often than not, as simple and straightforward as that. When Norwich signed Roger Gibbins from Oxford United in the summer of 1976, neither he or his club had absolutely no inkling of John Bond’s interest in him on 1st June. Yet, by teatime on 2nd June, he was a Norwich City player, with the first that I, and most Norwich fans, knew of it being when we picked up the following days EDP to see a picture of him alongside John Bond.
It was pretty much the same with respect to Bond’s pursuit of Martin Peters. With that particular story in mind, I heartily recommend you get yourself a copy of MFW’s very own Rick Waghorn’s book 12 Canary Greats, in which Peters himself describes the move as happening in much the same way as you might in going out to buy a new pair of shoes.
“John (Bond) came in very close to the transfer deadline, we had a meeting and it was done and dusted.”
As simple as that. For a man who had not only won the World Cup less than a decade earlier, but had scored in the final.
Four decades or so on and both the game and the transfer market has, of course, not just changed out of all recognition, it has also changed out of anything that we could ever hope to recognise in the first place.
In its present form it doesn’t do the game, clubs or players any good at all. But it wouldn’t be so firmly locked, loaded and in place if it wasn’t for the benefit of someone. But it isn’t for those who matter.
I’ve heard the argument about how it prevents wealthy clubs from stockpiling players else just going out and signing someone whenever they want. But does it?
Look at Chelsea and Manchester City. Can anyone argue that they are not stockpiling players at the moment?
Chelsea are the footballing equivalent of the old woman who lived in a shoe – they have so many players, they don’t know what to do with them all.
They’ve currently got 33 players out on loan to clubs throughout Europe whilst Manchester City have loaned out 25. Two clubs, 58 unwanted players. Yes, unwanted – how many of them will make even 20 senior appearances for their parent clubs? Less than 10 per cent of them I’d confidently predict.
If that’s not stockpiling footballers, then I don’t know what is.
This is the market that we have to operate in. One that sees many clubs with little to no incentive to sell players and, as far as a lot of players are concerned, little to no incentive to move either.
Inter will do a Chelsea and just loan Rannochia out somewhere – given the choice of selling him to use or loaning him to someone else, sure, they’d rather take the money and run. But if Rannochia toddles off to Bologna or somewhere similar until June, what is it to them?
The square root of bugger all probably.
So yes, we’re up against it. It’s no longer a case of merely identifying who you want and going out there to get him anymore. Far from it. The obstacles that have to be leapt over before an interested club even has the chance to talk to a prospective new signing (or far more likely, his agent) are long, laborious and complex.
Robbie Brady is evidence of that. He is, of course, not that anyone will have forgotten, one of the players that we did, in the end, manage to sign over the summer.
We wanted him. And he wanted to come here. He admitted to that in the interview he gave for the club’s programme last weekend, saying that “…as soon as Norwich said they wanted me…there was nothing going to stop me from coming back to play in the Premier League”.
If only the transfer window was as straightforward.