Don Hutchison: Secrets and lies are the name of the game in transfer window

Don Hutchison explains some of the ins and outs of football's January transfer window

Newcastle United midfielder Yohan Cabaye
Newcastle United midfielder Yohan Cabaye

The January transfer window is full of hype, hot air and half-truths but I think I can clear one thing up: virtually every player who moves on this month will have been tapped up long before they sign anything.

People might not like to read that but it is how professional football works. That ‘tapped up’ phrase sounds very, very wrong to most fans, but it happens in 99% of transfers, especially the really big ones. I moved on several times in football and on every occasion I was sounded out about the transfer before it happened.

It is like an unwritten rule in football that the fans don’t really know about.

I think the only exception was when I left Hartlepool to join Liverpool and that was only because that move was a no-brainer. I didn’t have an agent at the time, either. I wanted it, Hartlepool wanted the money and Liverpool knew they were such a massive club that dealing with Pool was going to be straightforward.

Let me explain what I mean by ‘tapped up’. During a month like January there is a lot of talk but the call you should really listen out for is the one from your agent telling you a certain manager has enquired through someone else about whether you’d be interested in joining their club.

I got that call a few times and if I said I would be interested, the bid would always come in a few days later. If I said ‘No, I’m settled here’ then the interest would mysteriously disappear. It was pretty foolproof really: no manager, chief executive or chairman ever contacted me directly but there are ways and means of getting to know whether a player is interested.

If you’re outraged by that, you shouldn’t be. If it is happening to your club, you can be sure that your club will be doing it as well. As long as you’re clever about it, you’re not really breaking any rules and it suits everyone.

Think about it: would Paris St-Germain really risk the embarrassment of putting in a £25m offer for someone like Yohan Cabaye if they weren’t absolutely sure that he would join them if everything else could be arranged? It’s a waste of everyone’s time if the player isn’t interested, not to mention hugely unsettling for both clubs – who probably have to maintain a working relationship.

Cabaye is at the centre of it again with PSG seemingly very interested in him. I’m not surprised because he is a phenomenal player and what he did on Saturday just illustrated what a fantastic talent he is. He’s absolutely crucial to everything that Newcastle do, and if he goes they’ve got a major headache in trying to get in someone who can do the same thing for them.

I don’t want him to go but I think we need to be realistic and look at what happened in the summer with Arsenal.

That bid went in and it put Alan Pardew in an almost impossible position just before the season started. That must be a manager’s worst nightmare and they will usually insist that the player can ignore all the speculation, but the Cabaye situation illustrated how wrong that was.

When you’re in that situation and you get a phone call from someone asking you about a club you start to think about it. If it’s a club like Arsenal with a chance of the Champions League and there’s more money and more profile it does get you thinking and then it becomes more difficult to get your head around playing for Newcastle. It’s wrong, but it’s inevitable.

The only time it really gets ridiculous is when you see a manager pictured talking to a player in a hotel or something. They’ve over-stepped the mark there and it has happened on one or two occasions. You have to respect the intelligence of the supporters, your club and your rival clubs.

I don’t know how you can stop it, really. There are a set of rules there but they only stop direct contact – the sort of thing I’m talking about is really just the sort of chatter that you get in any business. Can the FA stop well-informed people talking to each other? How would they do that exactly? It’s impossible to link all these things together.

As a player, you’re put in a funny position when there’s speculation surrounding your own future. You know that if something is out there, you’re going to asked about it by journalists who are only doing their job and then you’re faced with a bit of dilemma. If you tell the truth and say you’re interested in looking elsewhere you run the risk of infuriating your own supporters and making yourself look like a fool if it doesn’t come off.

You’ve got a massive job on then to try to win those fans around if you’ve been talking up other clubs.

So invariably you will say you want to stay because it’s the only thing you can say in that position. If the move does come off you’ll hear players saying things like they couldn’t say no and they were attracted to the “project”. They’re little magic words you end up saying.

It doesn’t feel great to do that and I understand why fans think it’s disrespectful. But you have to understand that moving is part of most professional footballers’ career paths. It is how you improve, how you get the most of your time in the game and how you achieve all of your ambitions.

The transfer window makes it much, much more intense and clubs are prone to making bad moves in the window. I guarantee you’ll see some crazy transfers this month from clubs who are on the wrong end of the table because they become desperate.

Shane Long to Hull City is a crazy one for me. What are West Brom doing? They’re taking seven to 10 goals out of their side and giving them to a relegation rival.

I’m a huge fan of Long and wanted him at Sunderland but they didn’t seem to have an interest in that deal. Maybe they’ve got something else lined up. I’m not sure you enjoy it as a player but you understand the transfer market can work for you. Now that I’m out of the game and back to being a supporter, the boot is on the other foot again and I hate some of the January speculation.

I am desperate for the North East clubs to do well and I hate seeing Cabaye’s name mentioned as a possible big-money transfer, just as I hate Steven Fletcher being linked with a move away from Sunderland.

I don’t want Cabaye going anywhere and the same is true for Fletcher.

Having seen how it happens though, I’m realistic and know one or both could be playing for somebody else next month.


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