In his first column for our new Talking Reds feature, writer Daniel Rhodes examines how the transfer window has changed summer for football fans everywhere...
The transfer saga is a relatively new phenomenon, a by-product of the transfer window. Clubs were previously free to trade players whenever they wanted to, throughout the season. This free market reduced the fertile conditions for any potential saga to blossom to virtually zero; there was no rush, no end point, no clock ticking on deadline day and no over-excited Sky Sports News reporter (you know the one I'm referring to) huffing and puffing their way through a speculative but honourable effort, at filling valuable broadcasting space, with hot air.
The best transfer sagas have all the ingredients of a gripping film or play: rising action, the crucial climax, the suspense of the falling action before a critical resolution, or in some cases, catastrophe. A dramatic arc that captures the fan - holds their attention - before concluding with the signing (or selling) of a star player.
The rising action follows the introduction. A series of incidents that come together to form the plot of the saga. The gossip columns, the transfer titbits, the Twitter RTs and the ticking yellow bar - all competing to feed us the next line of the script. The good sources, the bad sources and the ugly sources - all competing, forcefully, to feed us the next line of the script. The agents, the rival clubs - all competing, cynically, to feed us the next line of the script. In reality, the saga can begin as soon as the previous window 'slams' shut. (Never just put on the latch. Always slammed, for dramatic impact.)
'Sources claim' is the opening gambit for any self-respecting rumour-monger. The captive audience (usually on a forum) and always full of variety, react accordingly. Mr Cynic stands atop his soap box, screaming at the masses to ignore the noise, question it, double-check it or at least find a quote. But Mr Gullible isn't having it, the source is trustworthy, the story is good. The collective fanbase start to hope, yearning for the YouTube videos, the blog post, and the imagination starts to run wild: "How will he fit in?"; "He's ace on Football Manager."; "I'd have him sitting behind the front man, roaming, creating, threading and playmaking."; "But, Mr Gullible, he's a left back?"
The action begins to build. In a true saga, the deal appears done, before it's called off. In fact, the deal is reported as complete and the fans rejoice, before it's called off. The cheers. The groans. The club is useless. The player is a mercenary. And it's all because one journalist or In The Know rushed ahead in releasing the snippet of information they had been given, and The Fan, as is their right, ran with it like Usain Bolt in an Olympic final. There's no stopping a football fan with a snippet of information and forum with which to share it. They become the main character in a football-less wilderness.
International clearance, personal terms, agent fees and homesickness or release clauses, contract wranglings, image rights and gazumping: if the saga doesn't include any of these, it just isn't a saga. It's a transfer. Mr Sensible prefers a transfer. He can't stand a saga. Often, he leaves the play before it even gets juicy, returning just before the resolution or climax.
The time period between the rising action starting and the climax being reached can vary wildly. It could be a shock transfer request and the saga is fast-paced, controversial and like a white knuckle ride for The Fan. Or it could be a slow burner, a constant trickle of information over a period of months. A vast array of engaging characters, all with different intentions, and all focused on one thing: The Player. The Player is always the lead character in any transfer saga. Idolised by the fan, manipulated by The Agent and coveted by The Manager; a whole host of plot lines, building up to a crescendo: the climax.
The nature of the climax is dependent on the type of saga that has preceded it. For instance, the saga could be a comedy. When this happens, The Player will have been mocked, the transfer fee is labelled as 'outrageous' and the pressure is immediately lumped on the weary shoulders of the new signing. However, the delay in the climax is crucial for a comedy. All the jokes and myths are silenced as The Player shows their inner strength, and the audience begins to warm to them. The moment of suspense is lifted when The Player scores a crucial goal against a local rival or makes a critical last-ditch tackle in front of the Super Sunday TV cameras, (he receives critical post-match acclaim from The Analyst) and wins over the fans.
Or, the saga is a tragedy. What seemed like a 'done deal', what seemed like a knockdown transfer fee for a top-class international player, has now turned into nightmare. Even Mr Cynic and Mr Sensible were joined by Mrs Reason in welcoming the move for The Player. The Player would fill a vital gap in the first 11. The Player would lift us to great heights again. The Player even supported the club as a kid. The Player would eventually sign for our nearest rivals. Gazumped. A tragedy. A transfer saga.
Often, the resolution or catastrophe that concludes the dramatic arc is further down the line than the slamming shut of the window. A sequel is required to tell the full story, and you can only understand The Player by building on his strengths and improving his weaknesses that were revealed in the prequel (at his former club). The scathing reviews or the glowing praise for the main actors is inevitable, only to be interrupted and sometimes overshadowed by the next rumour. The next player. The next saga. The next transfer window is upon us. The end. (Although it never ends.)