Lo and behold, you may have noticed this fine blog’s hibernation during the summer. Why do we do that? Well, few games are played. Most European leagues take off May, June, July, and August. Thus, the news cycle slows to a crawl except for a unique species of sports writing: the transfer rumor. Many have criticized the lackadaisical journalism behind such rumors. The uncorroborated reports often rely on multiple hearsay: Joe heard from Jane heard from Jake. The papers then publish the dubious proof as a conclusion of conviction in the article title. I prefer an extended hibernation to jogging on this treadmill of misinformation.
However, these criticisms overlook a simple truth behind transfer rumors: people gobble them up. In troves. Why? I speculated that the transfer rumor succeeds because of human beings’ optimism – all fans want to hear about a big signing by their beloved club. Like an unopened gift, within the box of poorly timed press releases lurks the occasional fantastic find. Also, the dubious proof lends itself to intrigue of its own making – who are these almost mythical behind-the-scenes actors who truly control our clubs’ destiny? Anticipation. Unexpected surprises. Intrigue. These draw the public eye to transfer rumors.
The Cesc-to-Barca transfer has no such defense. Why? Because it is a transfer reality. A plodding transfer reality worse than any rumor.
It didn’t have to be this way- so ugly, so exposed. Roughly 15 months ago, triumphant homecoming headlines could have carried Cesc to Catalunya. Barcelona had just lost to Mourinho’s Inter in the Champions League and barely nicked Real Madrid to La Liga. They looked quasi-vulnerable, at least by their standards. Conversely, the Gunners did not win a title. Whispers turned to words turned to shouts. Could Fabregas be Barcelona’s answer? Was he a want-away star on a team lacking supporting talent?. We will never know, because that that moment in time, Arsenal held firm to their star prize.
Since then, some stuff has happened. Spanish teammates forced Cesc into a Barcelona t-shirt after the World Cup. The Gunners actually competed quite well until late February, and managed to beat Barcelona in one leg of their Champions League draw. And Barcelona quasi-comfortably pipped Madrid to the La Liga crown. They also thrashed Manchester United in the Champions League final. In sum, every conceivable positive spin headline for this transfer has been tossed out the window. Months ago. Yet the show went on, to our disgust, like a low budget straight-to-video edition of Halloween XXVI.
Why the disgust? Why the aversion to reality? Simply put, entertainment must contain at least a hint of unreality to keep interest. Cesc-to-Barca was as plain as Grandma’s jam. Barcelona spent big bucks on David Villa and Dani Alves. They also bought back Pique from United. Arsenal, under Arsene Wenger, loves to sell talent at a profit. They did sell Henry to Barcelona after all. Thus, unlike other fantastic transfer rumors, the Cesc-to-Barca reality made too much sense. Like a poorly written detective novel where the reader realizes the killer’s identity at the halfway point, we’ve watched this deal unfold with the anticipation of a route canal.
And that’s another major criticism: the rhythm of this transfer reality. A great transfer rumor will materialize instantly, the product of pixie dust and an unverified source. The Cesc deal has drawn out over a year for an all too practical and not preposterous-enough reason: money. Yet, to our disgust, the difference in asking and offering price was small by European club soccer standards. Neither side budged an inch as they wasted possibly hundreds of thousands of dollars on jet airfare to negotiate in person, hoping to pinch a million.
Of course, not only the neutrals are aghast. My sincerest apologies to Arsenal nation. Arsene Wenger’s remarks about “cemeteries” and “feeder club” mask over a sad 21st century fact: a financially prudent club will struggle to win titles against over-leveraged or oil rich adversaries. And I wouldn’t hold my breath on UEFA’s financial fair play sorting things out anytime soon. Still, at least Ramsey and Wilshere have gained a year of experience.
And, of course, truth is relative. Real Madrid pursued Cristiano Ronaldo over two summers. However, unlike the oddly penny-pinching Cules, Perez took out a loan and paid a record for CRon. The first summer was painful, but the second time around, the deal was consummated with speed and cash, like a respectable drug deal. At least Arsenal got several productive years out of Cesc, unlike Samir Nasri – whose pending transfer to City is a ‘transfer reality” disgusting for other reasons.
So there you have it – transfer rumors excite the senses with fantasy, but the reality of the Cesc-to-Barca deal slowly ground the fun out of life. At least it’s over. Cesc le vie.