Canary chief executive Neil Doncaster this afternoon found himself firmly in the supporters' sights as he sifted through some of 250 questions posted online on an hour-long webchat hosted by the club's official site.
Inevitably given events of recent weeks, two names figured large – Dickson Etuhu and Robert Earnshaw . That and their respective get-out clauses of ?1.5 million and ?3.5 million respectively.
Richard Chilver led the Dickson charge asking: “One, why was Dickson allowed to negotiate an escape clause when he was playing for Preston reserves and hardly in a strong negotiating position?
“Two, if Dickson was so admired by Peter Grant and he knew of this escape clause why was a new contract only offered to him last weekend when it was too late?”
Doncaster's response followed familiar lines – if with one extra revelation: that the Canaries had Southampton and Harry Redknapp for company when they tried to pluck the Preston powerhouse out of Billy Davies' hands.
“Unfortunately, Dickson was in a stronger negotiating position when he came to Carrow Road than many suspect,” said Doncaster.
“The fact was that his agent was in talks with Harry Redknapp, then at Southampton, who were happy to meet Dickson's demands and to agree to the buy-out clause.
“In those circumstances we had a stark choice: either to buy Dickson with a ?1.5 million buy-out clause in his contract, or to lose him to Southampton.
“The Board, the manager and the executive team discussed the issue and agreed unanimously on the pragmatic course of action – to sign Dickson with the clause in his contract.
“As to the second part of your question, we had been in talks with Dickson's representatives for some while prior to last weekend.
“Dickson's representatives showed no appetite to agree to a new deal – given events of last weekend perhaps that is not a surprise.”
Which, for me, gets nearer to the hub of this whole debate. Because the most pertinent comment of a clearly troubled week for the Carrow Road club came not from Doncaster who – whether he likes it or not – will always be viewed in certain quarters as merely spinning a story to suit the club line, but from a Drayton sports shop owner who doubles as Danny Mills' agent, Neil Featherby.
Quoted in this morning's Eastern Daily Press, Mills' Mr Ten Per Cent said: “Buy-out clauses have changed the face of football. You can't have lower league sides holding back a player's career by demanding over-inflated transfer fees.”
Featherby told the paper, buy-out clauses went: “right down to the non-league scene”.
His remarks are particularly valid for a number of reasons – not least in that it is probably going to be about as 'spin-less' as you are going to get. Of course, he'll have his own 'Sportlink Promotions' interests at heart, but there is no immediate reason for him to be 'spinning' in Doncaster's defence.
But the point is important – because Featherby's revelation comes from the other side of the fence; from the men in the shadows who have barely got a mention in the whole Earnshaw/Etuhu debate, the agents.
Why is it in an agent's particular interest to make sure that his star clients – and, indeed, his League One and Two clients – have a get-out clause in his contract?
Because it keeps them in money; it keeps the market active; fluid; prosperous.
“You can't have lower league sides holding back a player's career by demanding over-inflated transfer fees…” was his quote.
But, nine times out ten, it's not just a player's career that an “over-inflated” transfer fee is holding back – it's that of his agent's; sure, he'll make money in negotiating a new and better deal with the same club, but it is relative peanuts compared to the money – and the network brownie points – an agent can make via a transfer.
Take Dickson. Minus a get-out clause, would he have really, really felt that Norwich was “holding back” his career by hanging out for, say, ?3 million?
Nah, not Dickson. He'd still be centre stage, top end of the Championship; still be knocking about with his mates Hucks and Crofty; still the apple of the gaffer's eye. For another year in Norfolk – particularly if the manager had topped up his wages again – Etuhu could have lived with being a Norwich player.
Probably, quite easily.
Who couldn't have lived that easily with a laid-back Dickson staying put will have been his agents; there's the real 'restraint of trade'; there's the real people who are choking at the bit to get someone away on a 'cut-price' deal; they are the people for whom a 'get-out' clause is absolutely heaven-sent. The agents. It's the grease that oils their wheels.
Little wonder that Harry Redknapp wasn't about to bat an eye-lid over snapping up Etuhu with a 'get-out' clause installed; that's where Harry lives his life – ducking and diving on the transfer merry-go-round; having fun with a gee-gee with Willie Mackay.
Because the lower the get-out clause, the more money that is left in a buying club's kitty to splash out on a player's wages – 10 per cent (minimum) of which then comes back to the agent's hands.
Look at it another way. Let's say you had four clubs chasing Earnie's signature – all of whom had allocated ?5-6 million from their summer transfer budget to buy a proven goal-scorer.
With the agent have already insisted that clubs only have to jump over a bar ?3.5 million high in terms of his transfer fee, unless Earnie has a long-held love for Pride Park, he goes to the club that offers him the most money. Over the longest number of years. Same with Etuhu. Set the get-out bar low, get your boy out, away and pick up your percentage. That's the game; that's what it is all about.
Unless you find someone like Huckerby who says: 'No, my Mrs likes it here… we're staying put… Sort me a deal at Norwich…'
At current market rates – Luke Varney set the bar at ?17,000 per week for four years at Championship Charlton earlier this summer – Etuhu's four-year deal in the Premiership is likely to be worth there or thereabouts. Say ?15,000 per week. He's a midfielder, after all. But he's 25; coming to the peak of his physical and playing powers.
That's a ?3 million deal; of which his man has just picked up 10 per cent – ?300,000. Minimum.
Not bad work for half a dozen phone calls and a taxi ride up the A1. No wonder each and every agent is insisting that his client has a get-out clause installed.
It keeps them in business. Big, big business.
That's your beast; that's what Grant is talking about when he doesn't even know who is representing Youssef Safri any more – other than someone, somewhere, is quibbling over whether his man gets ?6,000 or ?10,000 per week at The Hawthorns.
And only then will someone at Albion pick the phone up to either Doncaster or Grant to make them an offer for the Moroccan. Or else send them a text to say: 'A bid's on its way…' as happened with Etuhu on Saturday night.
Get-out clauses aren't there for the club's benefit. Nor always for the players. The biggest beneficiaries are the agents – it oils their wheels, greases their palms. That's the way it works.
Question: 'Why was Dickson allowed to negotiate an escape clause when he was playing for Preston reserves and hardly in a strong negotiating position?'
Answer: He didn't. His agent did.