How transfer talk has changed

Tuesday 12 July 2022 11:00

Reporting on transfers - or more accurately, transfer speculation - is now a world away from the state of play when Manchester United announced the signing of superstar striker Denis Law, 60 years ago today.

Players moving clubs has always been of interest to supporters. But in 2022, this has reached levels few could have predicted where 'updates' over complicated business transactions are not only demanded by eager fans but supplied via social media primarily all day, every day.

Remarkably, some deals can still pass under the radar but it's become a business where frustration levels seem to increase. It seems the summers when we had to endure football playing second fiddle, while other sports enjoy the limelight and dominating the agenda, are long over.

Nonetheless, the benefit of those quieter times for football news was that only the confirmed player signings, or at least the official bids, would break through into the media.

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On 12 July 1962, the signing of Law from Torino was one that did hit the headlines. I remember my father telling me how excited he was to hear the story on the radio that this brilliant centre-forward, who would soon be idolised by United supporters, was heading to Old Trafford.

Long-serving club statistician Cliff Butler, who adored watching 'The King' in his pomp, had this to say. "You are spot on about the contrast between modern-day transfers and back in the early sixties," he told us. "Transfers certainly didn't seem to drift on the way they do these days. There was speculation in the newspapers but it was usually limited to a few paragraphs.

"It became apparent that Denis wasn’t entirely happy in Turin and that he was looking to move back to England. But, once the wheels were in motion, negotiations appeared to move rapidly and before too long the traditional signing picture was appearing on the back pages.

"Gigi Peronace was one of the early football agents who dealt almost exclusively with Anglo-Italian moves which, of course, included Denis Law’s return to Manchester.

"Compared to these days it was very low key and, in the summer, most of the newspapers majored on summer sports such as cricket and tennis.

"The figure (£115,000) United paid for Denis’s signature raised a few eyebrows at the time but it wasn’t too long before similar amounts of money changing hands became commonplace.

"I may be a trifle biased but compared to some of the fees that have been paid in the decades since, very few have rivalled the value for money Matt Busby received when he completed the deal for his fellow countryman."

I must admit I have always held a fascination in the transfer market, ever since I was a little kid. The signing of Bryan Robson (on the pitch!) came pretty early in my United-supporting life and that occasion screamed 'this is a big deal.' Which, of course, it was, in more ways than one. Growing up, there was a transfer deadline towards the end of the season but moves could happen at any point.

This added to the drama and excitement, rather than moves being restricted to the current window system. The longer the Reds' struggles in front of goal continued in 1992, the more apparent it was that Alex Ferguson needed to sign a striker. When the swoop came, it was out of the blue in terms of the target, and Eric Cantona joined in late November, something that would not be possible now due to the transfer windows, of course.

So there was often this feverish expectation, maybe even in some way, at the back of your mind, a feeling of consolation that if a result had been disappointing, there was, at least, an avenue open to making things better and improving the squad. 

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Professionally, I recall being stationed at a cricket match for the local newspaper on the day United were making moves in the market under Ferguson in the summer of 1989. I cannot remember a single moment of what happened with bat and ball but was eagerly seeking updates from my father when he picked me up afterwards. The gist was Gary Pallister was signing (unusually all of the bids for him were being reported) but Paul Ince wasn't because he had failed a medical. Thankfully, both would end up getting over the line and become key pillars of the team that ended the long wait for the league title.

A few years later, I worked for ClubCall and, although an official telephone-line company, we were allowed to cover speculation and any reports as such in order to compete with the rival service of TeamTalk, which always led on speculation and was very successful. With the rise of the Internet in the mid-1990s, it became even easier to access stories from across the UK and abroad, rather than sharing information from our journalists up and down the country. The need to ask the staff at the nearby Italian sandwich shop to help translate the Gazzetta dello Sport transfer stories each day also decreased!

Things have escalated progressively since then to the extent that transfer discourse dominates and reaches potentially unhealthy levels when the windows are actually open. A large number of football fanatics are desperate for gossip and there really is nothing wrong with that, we all love to hypothesise about where X or Y would fit in to our team. For me, I must admit I am equally excited to see if any youngsters can break through, so it is perhaps a case of always being enchanted by the idea of new personnel making their mark in the side.

I am not a fan of deals being declared done when they are not official but there is a clamour to be first, even at the expense of being factual. We're all desperate to discover what is happening with our club and this creates the current social-media whirl. It can appear exhausting but it does mean football is very much leading conversations even during the off season. And perhaps that's the way it has always been, it is just ever more obvious now. 

We all love football and simply cannot get enough of it.