With the arrival of my fellow Blue Moon Podcaster (the mention of which deserves this completely shameless plug because there’s a brand new series coming very soon), Howard Hockin on Football FanCast shores, my usual fallback of ranting about how everybody seems to think Manchester City are ruining football by doing buying and selling has been removed. My safety net is gone. Partly because you can’t have two people ranting about the same thing on the same website in much the same way, but mainly because he does it so much better than I can.
That does sound a bit like I’m declaring Howard to be my nemesis, but I can’t do that either – especially since it’s my fault he now writes here too. The one thing his arrival has done, however, is it has forced me to think of new topics to write about.
And, in the week where I promised to talk less about football transfers and Manchester City, I have decided to write about Manchester City in regards to football transfers.
I never claimed to have an imagination, in fairness.
The worst thing ever to happen to the transfer market wasn’t the arrival of big money. Nor was it wages shooting through the roof. It wasn’t even Alex Fergusson and his whole media presence surrounding any form of deal between any two clubs that he might or might not once have done or intended to do business with.
No, the worst thing that happened was that it became popular. Internet messageboards became covered in “insider information” that was about as in the loop as any of the green mucus that fills a tissue after a sneeze when you have a cold. Rumour mills on Ceefax and Teletext provided fans with their fix of who was likely to go where and when. Newspapers discovered that people were desperate to know what big names their teams might be signing. And BSkyB decided that any hint of a development in a transfer story demanded a BREAKING NEWS! caption.
BREAKING NEWS: Manchester United will not sell Cristiano Ronaldo.
BREAKING NEWS: Sir Alex Fergusson refuses to confirm Madrid’s Ronaldo interest.
BREAKING NEWS: Cristiano Ronaldo is not at his Manchester home.
BREAKING NEWS: Madrid have asked politely if they might possibly bid for Ronaldo.
BREAKING NEWS: Cristiano Ronaldo has been seen putting on his coat.
BREAKING NEWS: Coat rumours “unfounded” says Sir Alex Fergusson.
BREAKING NEWS: None of the above is actually breaking news. They are developments, albeit very facetious ones that I made up, on the same story. None of those lines gave the audience any real insight into the story of “Real Madrid want to sign Ronaldo”, but could quite easily have been treated as if something major has happened.
You only need to look at the way that both the BBC News channel and Sky News covered the story of Raoul Moat. What was actually quite a tragic story that resulted in children losing their father, a man committing suicide, a terrified community and another episode in the actually quite sad downfall of Paul Gascoigne was treated really callously.
It doesn’t help when the media outlets are asking their audience to send in stories. I’m all for citizen journalism with the advances in mobile phones with cameras in them, but when it becomes “please tell us which footballers you have seen arriving at your club and we’ll put it on air without checking whether it is true or not”, it’s so open to abuse, it’s frightening. It’s how you get reports of Fernando Torres being seen, all within a period of about two hours, at White Hart Lane, the City of Manchester Stadium, the Emirates Stadium, Stamford Bridge and Anfield.
Continued on Page Two
But slap an “our sources tell us” before it and suddenly it’s being reported as stone cold fact. And then people believe it and get all excited. And then it doesn’t happen, because it was never likely to happen in the first place. And then everyone wonders why we bother trusting what we read in the papers or see on TV. And then a new story comes along with “our sources understand” prefixing it and everyone gets all excited about it.
“Our sources have told us that this guy is going to sign for this club sometime in the next 24 hours.” When I see that sort of statement read on news channels or written in newspapers, I don’t doubt that the news media has actually been told that. But I do doubt the validity of the claim. I begin to wonder just who exactly is the source? And why does that source have to remain anonymous?
If the information is true, then surely there is no reason to keep schtum about who said it? “A source close to the player confirmed that he will sign for Whoever FC.” What source? A family friend? The player’s brother? The player’s partner? Who?
There are three reasons I can think of for the source not to be named.
One: It’s fake. The information that has been passed on to the news media has been from somebody who has no idea what is going on, but wanted to go on a wind up for his or her own enjoyment. If what they said wasn’t true and they didn’t have that insider information, by remaining anonymous, their name isn’t tarnished when what they say will happen doesn’t actually happen.
Two: So that the source doesn’t out themselves as somebody who is untrustworthy and will leak information. If that source is named, they won’t be trusted with confidential information that they might want to leak to the press at a later date, so they would rather remain anonymous – but, in non-sleaze and non-scandal based stories, is that such a problem, especially if the story is true? It’s not exactly like, when it comes to transfer stories, people aren’t going to find out anyway.
Three: The information is being fed to the media by an agent in order to engineer a better deal for both themselves and their clients.
If, for argument’s sake, Barcelona were looking to buy a player and it seemed that no other team were interested in his signature, then Barcelona are in a good negotiating position. They can say how much they’re prepared to bid and the selling club’s asking price will remain relatively low. However, that isn’t in the interest of the agent, who makes money by ensuring the deal has the uppermost value for his client.
So, by feeding the (false) information to the press that there are English clubs looking to sign the player, one believed to be Manchester City, the player’s value is suddenly pushed up. The selling club, clearly interesting in increasing their received fee, don’t deny interest from any other teams and could also feed the press the (false) information that they have received enquires from one or two unnamed English Premier League sides.
The result is that the transfer of Player X to Barcelona goes ahead at a high price, the agent is happy because their bank balance has just increased by more than it would have done previously, while the media reports that Player X being linked with signing for Manchester City are totally wrong. It’s no surprise that whoever are the team with the biggest spending power are the team linked to nearly every player who might be on their way to a new contract or a new club, be that Manchester City or Chelsea or anyone else who has spent wads in the past.
That the media is right one in every twenty or thirty times when it comes to who moves where isn’t justification for this process, either. I wouldn’t go to a surgeon who had a success rate of one in twenty for performing operations, so why is it acceptable that news stories can be true one in twenty times?
Clearly, something is going wrong when you read statements like this one from the Daily Star, when apologising for a story that hinted there would be a Grand Theft Auto game based on the Raoul Moat incident: “We made no attempt to check the accuracy of the story before publication and did not contact Rockstar Games prior to publishing the story.”
What good is it being the first news outlet to break a story that isn’t true?
Maybe if the news media didn’t print or broadcast any old rumour they received and actually spent some time checking up on the information they were given instead of trying to be the first to break the story to the world, then we would all live in a happier place.
But, as it stands, Manchester City are going to be linked with every man, woman, child and dog for the foreseeable future.
Written By David Mooney