To an uninitiated observer, the transfer system in soccer is bewildering. Players are bought and sold for obscene sums of money. Unlike in American pro sports, there is no amateur draft and trades (known as”swaps” across the pond) are exceedingly rare. Players can only switch teams during one of two so-called “transfer windows.” Each league has one during the season (for the large European leagues, usually in January) and one before the season (usually beginning in June and ending in early September). For new fans, understanding the Rube Goldberg device that is the transfer system may take quite a bit of time. Thankfully, British website Football365 has a Gossip Column, a daily take on transfer rumors that helps one keep track of the comings and goings across Europe, with an emphasis on the English Premier League.
Transfer blogs are fixtures on many prominent soccer websites. The sports section of the BBC has one, as does The Guardian. Many clubs, too, feature gossip swirling around their players on their websites. Manchester United and Chelsea, to name a few prominent examples, feature transfer rumors on their websites, albeit with a disclaimer that the information presented does not represent the views of the club. The main difference between player gossip in America and Europe is that in Europe, newspapers fill their pages with such a wealth of rumors that websites can devote entire blogs to them. The volume of transfer rumors is substantial enough that there is gossip fodder year-round.
What separates the Gossip Column from its counterparts is its delightfully British sense of humor. Irreverent, sarcastic, merciless, the GC is the know-it-all at your local pub with whom you want to argue but knows so much that you are at loss for a rebuttal. The GC enjoys poking fun at clubs, players, managers et cetera. An equal opportunity roastmaster, it does not discriminate.
Regular readers of the GC or any other transfer blog periodically become exasperated by whatever is the latest “transfer saga,” as the media calls drawn out tugs-of-war over star players. Obligated to cover these sagas because fans crave even the most minute updates on their favorite footballer’s situation, the GC covers these sagas, but does so moaning and groaning all the while. One such saga this summer involved Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, who reportedly wanted to leave the club because he no longer felt valued. Before describing the press’ most recent scoop on July 24th, under the headline “More Rooney Stuff,” the GC lamented “Ah, balls. Here he is again.” Several weeks later, on August 6, the day’s Rooney story followed the headline “Rooney Blah Blah.” After giving the latest news, the GC begged for mercy from the Transfer Gods, pleading “Oh come Armageddon, come.” Whether the subject is Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale or Rooney (who did not leave Old Trafford after all), the GC’s dry sarcasm highlights the ridiculousness of the media’s round-the-clock coverage of these transfer sagas. Rather than skim over repetitive headlines, the GC uses its humor to help readers take in these transfers from a more considered perspective.
Billionaire owners, especially foreign ones, are also frequent victims of the GC’s biting retorts. The most recent club to attract the ire of the GC by using its owner’s billions to buy superstars is AS Monaco, based in Monte Carlo. To share a rumor that Monaco was scheming to buy Arsenal left back Bacary Sagna this past April, the GC referred to the club as “the moneybags side planning for life in Ligue Uuuuuuuuuuuuunnnnnnnnnnnnnn next season.” The “moneybags” epithet successfully demeans Monaco’s mission to build a footballing power. The GC employed similar language when a member of the United Arab Emirates’ royal family bought Manchester City and went on similar a shopping spree. Furthermore, by exaggerating the pronunciation of France’s top flight, the GC is fulfilling its self-directed mandate to make fun of everyone it possibly can.
Over time, a close reading of the Gossip Column shows that its writers are not fans of the transfer market inflation that an influx of foreign cash has precipitated. For example, the GC pulled no punches in its coverage of Monaco’s shopping spree, calling the club “the bullies of the football world.” This serves as a reminder that every blog has some bias. Furthermore, the GC’s quips about foreign owners are not to be taken as signs of xenophobia. As stated above, the GC is an equal opportunity joker. Consider, for example, my favorite recent quip, from its September 2013 deadline day coverage: “Morning all. It’s here. Christmas Day, but about fifty times more disappointing and with a loud Scotch man shouting at you. Unless you’re a Scot with parents rubbish at buying presents, in which case it’s about the same.” Rather, these asides stem from the common man persona that the column has cultivated. To the GC’s credit, it is hard to defend the astronomical sums wealthy clubs pay for players like Gareth Bale, who cost Real Madrid more than $100 million at a time when over half of Spain’s young people are unemployed.
If this post has piqued your interest in transfer gossip, you are not alone. The above chart, from British market research firm Hitwise, shows that British Internet traffic to football websites peaks during key times in transfer windows such as deadline days. No one likes to admit it, but whether you are at the water cooler, the park or a sports bar, everyone likes to gossip. If funny, irreverent transfer rumors might be your cup of tea, check out the Gossip Column.