On my first transfer deadline day as chairman of Sunderland we signed six players. People have no idea of the stress. Six players is six sets of paper work, six copies of every page and an army of physios, doctors, lawyers, administrators and club staff running around in the mayhem.
And the main source of panic was keeping the six players and their agents apart during the day. We didn’t want them comparing notes on what deals they were getting so we shuttled the players and their entourages here and there between training ground, stadium, offices, physio rooms and external scanning centres. It was like an Ealing comedy.
People who work in the lifeboat service say that you never hear a boat skipper calling in a calm, mayday signal. They always wait till the last minute when the water is sloshing around their knees and the boat is sinking before they get on the radio to scream MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!
On a more trivial level that’s what transfer deadline day is like in football. The old sea dog manager who spent the summer at the helm sucking on a pipe and saying things like “steady as she blows, me hearties” is running this week like a headless chicken, screaming MAYDAY! MAYDAY. Quick, man the chequebooks before we all go down.
(Being able to scream for the chequebook while headless is one of the things that make Premiership managers special)
After all these years of deadline day it still seems to take some clubs by surprise. You’d think by now some of the bigger clubs who have the sort of money that makes the whole thing so much fun would know when to stick and when to twist. What, it’s deadline day already? Why didn’t you wake us earlier?
Still, long may it last. It’s not perfect and people complain about it but the two transfer deadline days in a season have become entertainment in themselves. It’s the last chance saloon for managers, agents, players, chairmen. Pure entertainment, if you’re not feeling the stress yourself.
When deadline day looms everything suddenly looks like a lifeboat. That striker in Spain who had a little of everything and not enough of anything back in July? He’s The One. Have to have him…I know he’s just right… he makes my heart go pitter patter…he completes me.
That winger across town? They’ve just sold their other winger to Everton for good money? Well maybe they’ll sell this one to us for half or nothing? Ring them. Offer £12m and some nice PR tweets. What do they need wingers for anyway?
Pep Guardiola, easily one of the two savviest managers in the greater Manchester area, seems to have only figured out after the season started that City’s little known goalkeeper, Joe Whatsisname, doesn’t quite suit his plans.
Even Leicester, who seemed to restore common sense and romance to the world last year, don’t seem to have realised until the draw was made on Friday that they are actually in the Champions League this season. Now they have to buy Islam Slimani, a £30 million one way ticket from Lisbon to Leicester, pronto.
I’ve been there. And all human life is there. We had South American agents with long hair, long leather coats and sunglasses wandering around Sunderland in January. We had over expectant fathers coming in representing their sons.
We tried to watch our backs. We tried to keep the upper hand. I still feel guilty about the times we’d book every scanning machine in the North East out under ghost names so we’d have first use of them and our Geordie neighbours might struggle.
They got their chance for revenge the day we signed Benjani, the Zimbabwean on road from Manchester City. We had six fax machines going nicely when late on the phone lines went down and we missed the deadline. It seemed we would have to face an inquiry as Arsenal had done when they missed the deadline with the Arshavin signing a few windows earlier. The Premier League, The FA and UEFA told us they would accept the transfer though if we could show them a letter from the head of BT in the the north east confirming that the lines had been down and the fault wasn’t ours.
No problem. Except he turned out to be a big Newcastle United fan!
In fairness he was completely professional about it. And with respect to Benjani whose career was winding down, none of our competitors were jumping up and down with envy at the prospect of us signing him.
This is where you have to hand it to Jose Mourinho. He didn’t wait until the deadline day cameras were outside Old Trafford, filming a stressed reporter against a backdrop of ‘stressed’ fans making funny faces and waving strange inflatables at the camera. Jose wanted to spend mad money and he didn’t need anybody pressurising him into doing it. He did it on his own terms, comfortably outbidding himself for Paul Pogba and saving himself a lot of stress this week when about a dozen other managers realise that a Pogba would “complete them”
The lad’s new to the Premiership have taken a while to get used to the customs and traditions of deadline day. Jurgen Klopp can’t believe the fuss. He sounded very quaint (or very German) when he wondered last week about what happened to the idea of coaching players up to the required standard instead of just buying them in as the finished article.
Antonio Conte says he finds the whole thing “crazy.” He’s working for the firm which helped to research and develop Crazy. If Chelsea find deadline day prices crazy, what hope is there?
Players get excited too — think Odemwingie in a Shepherds Bush back street? Then again the less said the better on that particular desecration of loyalty.
I once got myself caught up in a little equality pickle when I started doing Deadline Day for Sky. To emphasize how manic things get I mentioned that we used to get the girls in the office to leave their high heels at home and wear their plimsoles to run around quicker. Obviously I meant to say that everybody had to leave their high heels at home, myself, Roy Keane and Steve Bruce included.
Each negotiation was different. Nothing ever straightforward. You did your best to uphold the club’s commercial position but at the same time you had a manager bending your ear: “You have to go further, we have to have him.”
The ownership is telling you this is the line. “Don’t cross it.” You’d find ways to do the deal differently, maybe hit the agent’s fee late on or plead last minute with the selling club to restructure the transfer payment differently.
The medicals were deadline day medicals. Every club has those. The physio and doctor scratching their head unsure. The manager saying I don’t care if he breaks down in three months I need him now. The agent saying it’s six o’clock on deadline days, we can’t go anywhere else. Sign him!
And all the while Sky’s finest reporters stoking the flames from our car park.
I’m doing the late shift again on Sky right up to the deadline. I’m with Paul Merson. At some stage I’m sure we’ll look at each other and burst out laughing. The two of us waxing on the telly about billion pound deadline windows and multi million pound deals when as kids at Arsenal we used to struggle to get a few shillings together between us to get a few bob down on the dogs at Hackney. Whatever happened to the likely lads?
When I was a kid the arrival of colour TV in Crumlin was like the arrival of electricity in rural parts of Ireland in the fifties. More excitement than we could handle.
My great technicolor hero was Gerd Muller, the iconic German striker (who played in the black and white of Germany now that I think of it). I watched the World Cup in 1974 and saw this guy scoring goals against the vivid jerseys of Australia, Yugoslavia, Poland and then Holland. People were heartbroken for the Dutch but this Gerd Muller was like something I’d never seen before. He terrorised defences. He had thighs that could kick start a jumbo.
And now all these years later I look at the all time international scoring lists and Gerd Muller is fourteenth and some fella called Robbie Keane is fifteenth.
How did that happen? I remember Robbie Keane. He used to do a somersault when he scored. It was rubbish. Half way between a footballer trying to celebrate (when he knew the headed assist to him was the moment of real genius) and an old man falling over. I remember Kenwyne Jones when he was at Sunderland. Now he would do a double back flip, two and half rotations. That was a celebration. Later Robbie Keane went to an imaginary bow and arrow routine. Arthritic it was.
Where do you start with Robbie Keane? What can I say about him that hasn’t been said?
A confession first. People often ask me about Robbie. Selfishly the first thing I think of is what I got out of his career.
He was still in nappies when he made his debut for Ireland. Or I was on a walking frame. I don’t remember which but I know I took one look at him and realised that the battle which a few of us had been having for the Irish goalscoring record was something that we’d have to agree never to mention again. The kid was going to blow us out of the water and make our little competition look embarrassing.
I’d done my cruciate in 1993 and got right again eventually. I left Man City and went to Sunderland and did the other cruciate in the winter of 1996. I can remember when I was recovering, I’d miss the Irish matches. They weren’t on TV and fellas like Jon Goodman from Wimbledon and Mickey Evans from Plymouth were playing in what I’d come to think of as my jersey.
I hated it. It was so frustrating that I had to be on my own when the matches were on. I’d go down the field to a make shift stable where we had a couple of horses at the time to shovel away the steamy stuff and listen to Gabriel Egan and Eoin Hand on the radio telling everyone how promising these new fellas looked. That’s more steamy stuff I’d think.
And then Mick McCarthy might come on and say how pleased he was with these lads and how they were the future. The competitive part of me couldn’t stand it.
I had a lot of people to convince when I got back, Mick particularly. Coming back in and seeing Robbie and his potential I understood quickly that Robbie would need a hand in the early years as there was so much expectation on his shoulders at such a young age. I might not have been a model professional but I deliberately set out to make that space my own. Thankfully Mick trusted me to be able to do that.
I don’t really know what Robbie got out of it but I got four memorable extra years onto my career. I got the 2002 World Cup and that amazing night in Ibaraki.
And I get to say that I played with him.
Generously he let me hold onto the Irish goalscoring record for a few months before he shredded it. I prefer now when people just say who the Irish record goalscorer is instead of publishing a top five. Myself, Frank, Aldo and Cas felt like Take That in those wilderness years after Robbie Williams got big. Pop stars are never too old for a comeback though. Footballers just fade away.
He was a joy to be around. He could sing. And sing. And sing. And sing. But as I say, a joy! In the old days you could wind him up and he’d come back at you which was always fun, but Robbie learned everything quickly. One day he was the new kid. Next day he was the leader of the pack.
He came from Fettercairn in Tallaght and he played for Crumlin United before he went to England as a kid. I know being from Crumlin myself the special sense of pride he gave to everybody in that stretch of South Dublin over the years. He was Ireland’s but more especially it seemed like he was ours.
He gets credit for the goals and his dedication to the country but I don’t think people ever fully understand how well he has carried himself. He had so much success so early, so many quick moves to so many different clubs that he was a model to go off the rails. He could have been our Balotelli. He’s not, he’s our Gerd Muller.
This week’s game with Oman is a great chance for people to turn up in their thousands to thank him for everything he has done. Deadline day work means Niall Quinn cannot thank him for those four extra years on the night, but for the record, cheers old bean.
Some journey. Fettercairn to LA and so many stops in between. I hope he enjoyed it as much as we enjoyed watching him.