The Five Stages of Grief as Suffered Through Transfer Deadline Day
Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and someone being linked with Leandro Damiao.
Screen shot: Sky Sports News
In 2018, in the age of Football As A Dominant World Power, the modern incarnation of Transfer Deadline Day is one of the calendar highlights.
This is because: T.D.D. is pure, unrefined chaos. Modern football will have us think that everything is controlled, perfect, slicked with gloss: a hyper-economy on top of a hyper-economy, roving like a shell over the entire planet, gobbling up Brazilian teenagers and Ukrainian hardmen alike, polishing them through high pressure million-dollar training centres, dressing them in cuffed tracksuits and feeding them chicken and brown rice, making them run in heart monitors and oxygen devices, blooding them into a branded team, sprinting them across perfectly maintained precision-cut TV-green grass, putting them on posters with the word "PUMA" next to them in all caps, projecting their face onto the blue-grey concrete of a Russian Champions League stadium the night before the final.
Football, we are told, is destiny and victory, and most importantly money, and everything is pre-ordained and pre-controlled, and the mega-powers will continue to be the mega-powers, and Cristiano Ronaldo will always justify his transfer fee in shirt sales alone, and every transfer made is the result of hundreds, thousands, of man hours of work, of careful and methodical research and scientific insight. And then Transfer Deadline Day rolls around, twice a year like clockwork, and football turns into a chaotic last minute round of Supermarket Sweep: football, eyes rolling in its skull, desperately dashing for the last four-litre thing of milk, an expiring pack of marinated ribs, a whole warm rotisserie chicken. Football, with a handful of change, putting it coin-by-coin in the self service machine while the security guard waits by the shutters. Football going home with two hard baguettes and Lewis Grabban in a bag for life. Football as regret.
Does that mean Transfer Deadline Day is an occasion entirely without stress? No: as the day drags on, the thrill of excitement crystallises into something else, a firm and final realisation that this – this – is the squad you are going to face the next 38 games with. For a fan, T.D.D. is a curious mix of emotions: equal measures of flawed hope ("Maybe we will sign Christian Pulisic!") and destitute despair ("David Ospina has signed… a… contract… extension?") that only really sets into a concrete feeling of "oh well then" when the 11PM deadline passes. It is, as they say, a rollercoaster.
Here is every bump of it.
The first step is to deny yourself all previous systems of logic. T.D.D. is not a day of reason, and you know that.
"Think the squad is starting to shape up well, actually" — you.
"If nothing changes, no ins and no outs, I'm happy with what we've got" — also you.
It's 10AM and you've gone mad. In your head you have reasoned the large, slab-shaped hole in your team's midfield can be filled by a converted centre-back who underwhelmed last year. "Phil Jones played a couple of games in midfield for Blackburn," you are saying. "Fergie always backed him." You have installed a special app that lets you project next season's XI, and Phil Jones is the lynchpin behind, bafflingly, Yaya Touré, signed on a free. It is not even lunchtime and you have not yet noticed that you are mad.
At this point, Sky Sports is on, yellow ticker constantly rolling, and you are angry for three reasons: one, because your club is yet to announce a single signing yet; two, because Sky sources confirm that a long-rumoured transfer is definitely not happening, meaning you have gone from zero net transfer today to negative-one net transfers (for some reason, every club in the Premier League is in for Nabil Fekir, and literally none of them are going to buy him); and three, a rival club has made a signing that has absolutely nothing to do with you and your club, but the sheer fact that they are taking photos of a lad in a training top and you are not has got your back up. It is lunchtime. You are yelling "WHY WEREN’T WE IN FOR ROB GREEN?" over your sandwich. You are tipping into lunacy.
At this point – you have not done any work at your desk for two, three hours, although let's be honest, your performance here dipped on the first day of summer and hasn’t really recovered since, and probably never will, will it, if you're honest – at this point you are telling your WhatsApp group every perfect transfer to fit every squad in Europe, convinced that you and you alone have the insight necessary to build 20 perfect, title-winning squads, somehow inventing an alternate timeline where every team under your domain wins every game they play for a season, and four squads win the Premier League, somehow, with Everton being one of them.
"Right: Neymar to Real," you're saying. "That's a given. That leaves Bale to United, which means Martial can go to Chelsea with Higuain." Where does Giroud go? "Back to Arsenal. They play him up front with Aubameyang, Lacazette and Dembele in an impossible four-man roving attack." Batshuayi goes back to Dortmund, Pulisic to Liverpool, somehow Julian Draxler gets signed by Milan, Bournemouth and Palace in the same day, PSG sell every player and replace them with no one, you keep forgetting about Juventus. You have an Excel spreadsheet open to prove West Ham could get Axel Witsel if they sell Carroll and Fabianski to Southampton and convince Chelsea to spend £28 million on Reece Oxford. "He's a Sarri player, through and through," you're saying. You don't know anything at all.
Your club tweets to announce a youth player has extended his contract at the exact moment Real Madrid sign Edinson Cavani, who you were convinced you were watching fly to Newcastle in a live map of helicopter movements across Europe. First beer of the day.
It is 11PM and your club has done nothing since loaning a youth goalkeeper out 14 hours before. You are still in your work clothes, for some reason, because you commuted home frantically refreshing the BBC Gossip live-feed before setting your laptop up in front of the TV, and you've skipped dinner and taking your shoes off to instead plug directly in to the transfer gossip. You've started a Football Manager game and hacked the database to put Harry Kane in United red, but your computer is too slow and you're still stuck in at the Community Shield press conference. The most exciting transfer in the last hour was a £6 million Championship defender moving to Fulham and a German midfielder you've always said was good, but have never actually seen play, getting signed by Barcelona.
Tomorrow you will wake up to the news that Daniel Sturridge almost – but ultimately didn't – move clubs. This has been your entire day, and the peak of your summer. This was the last chance you could speculate about the coming season before the coming season began. All the infinite configurations of squads are now locked in, and the football proper can begin. The fantasy is over now. Manchester City will win the league. Danny Ings will make four appearances. Your fantasy football squad, packed with Wolves players you keep calling "differentials", will wither on the vine by October. Joel Campbell is still an Arsenal player. Some things change, some things stay the same. It will happen all over again in January.
- transfer rumours