Once pitched as having the importance of an NFL draft, transfer deadline day is now an event that spectacularly fails to live up to the hype
During the 1978 World Cup finals, Australian journalist Clive James wrote a review of the BBC’s coverage of a pivotal game between Argentina and Peru.
“Just by being so madly keen he helps you keep things in proportion,” wrote James. “Anything that matters so much to David Coleman, you realise, doesn’t really matter at all.”
James even thought there was “something of the occult” about the style of the old-school broadcaster, so what he makes of Coleman’s successors and their attempts to defibrillate the January transfer window is anyone’s guess. “Deadline day” in England used to be an event that rivaled the IPL auction or the NFL draft, but this year it was a non-event.
Premier League clubs spent an estimated £180 million, down from £430 million this time last year. Leaders Liverpool spent nothing at all and neither did Manchester United, who arguably didn’t need to, nor Tottenham, who manifestly did. Meanwhile in a move cynical by even their already breathtaking standards, Manchester City signed two players almost no one had ever heard of before immediately loaning them to two clubs almost no one had ever heard of.
Of the so-called “big six” only Chelsea bought anyone on a permanent deal, spending £57 million on Dortmund’s Christian Pulisic, although they did also sign Gonzalo Higuain on-loan in what was perhaps the only marquee deal of the window, while Arsenal borrowed Denis Suarez from Barcelona.
Spare a report, therefore, for the broadcasters trying to present this all as news. Sky Sports’ Jim White is the face of Deadline Day in England, a Scotsman who once made David Coleman look like the Dalai Lama and who now resembles a once-famous gameshow host, reduced to the status of an end-of-the-pier bingo caller.
The decline in excitement levels arguably set in when Sky stopped their staff broadcasting from areas where there was a chance they’d meet the general public, after too many incidents like this one.
It might not be as dangerous as the Syrian beat, but after fending off supporters brandishing what might euphemistically be called “toys” the reporters standing in car parks for 18 hours could in some way understand the ordeal faced by embedded reporters in war zones. Trying to ingratiate oneself with Newcastle owner Mike Ashley might also be considered useful practice when dealing with totalitarian regimes.
The retirement of Harry Redknapp, a man never happier than when he was spending someone else’s cash, also dealt Deadline Day a blow from which it has yet to recover. Redknapp’s car park interviews were always a guilty pleasure as the viewer sat wondering if a man who claimed he couldn’t work a fax machine would be able to get out of the car park without driving his 4×4 over a journalist’s ankle. (If that sounds like an exaggeration, remember this a man who once ran over his own wife.)
Part of the fun of listening to Redknapp was knowing that 90 percent of what he was saying was fiction and the 10 percent that was true was only thrown in to confuse you even more. The fans have gone, the toys have gone with them and the personalities have vanished. The current crop of managers are too sensible, too reasonable and too likeable to offer any real entertainment, leaving Jim White to try and breathe life into the news that Everton have loaned Mason Holgate to West Brom.
Once a man whose “BOOMS” were audible in space, White is now his own Elvis impersonator, a tribute act to the man he once was, reading out the details of deals that excite almost no one like a DJ playing almost forgotten sixties record during a graveyard shift at the local hospital radio station. The fans have gone, the toys have gone, the deals have dried up and eventually you realise that anything that matters to Jim White, doesn’t really matter at all.