On his first day in the office, Luiz Felipe Scolari, Chelsea's new manager, revealed that he already had a firm grasp of the arcane mathematics of the English game. Asked what he thought was the future for Didier Drogba at the club, he said he was "100, no 200 per cent" certain that the Ivorian would still be at Stamford Bridge at the start of the season. Which makes the Brazilian coach in a minority of one in claiming that to be the case. And that includes Drogba himself.
Mid-summer is an odd period in a football manager's life. There are no games to participate in, no pressures of results, no league table to shout out the stark reality of his position. The usual rhythms of win or loss are entirely absent. Instead, his time is spent in endless preparation: getting his players fit and ready. Buffing up his squad. And preparing all his evasions, obfuscations and excuses about who is going to leave in the summer's transfer round.
No manager can come out and say that a transfer is going to happen until he has seen the ink dried on the contracts. Right up to that point he will say anything to anybody not to jeopardise the move. Thus we cannot believe a single word they say. Drogba is staying, Lampard is happy where he is, Ronaldo is going nowhere: all of it is tactics, a part of the game, a step in the great transfer fandango. None of it means what it appears to mean.
'Gareth Barry will be an Aston Villa player next season for sure' actually means 'Liverpool better up their offer pronto'. 'Adebayor will leave over my dead body' means 'if Milan are serious they had better start talking telephone numbers'. Everyone is at it, claiming the last thing they would do is sell a local hero. Particularly at the time when fans are obliged to dig deep into their wallets to finance a new season ticket.
Into this world of fog steps the agent, agitating to construct a move for his client, and thus earn a percentage of the signing-on fee. He'll be telling the papers something very different. He will claim his client is off to Inter or Barca in the hope of smoking out an offer from someone else, possibly Galatasaray. Meanwhile the chairman is talking up new signings in a bid to increase take-up for season tickets. Ronaldinho, he will say, will put this club on the map, knowing, even as he says it, that the prospects of the gap-toothed party animal or anyone of his ability venturing anywhere near the club is about as likely as Pete Doherty getting a job with the Just Say No campaign.
As for the journalists, they fill in the gaps with fevered speculation. They have no more idea whether a player is angling for a transfer than anyone else, yet they will fill their paper with details of moves and fees and contracts plucked cheerfully from the air. Meanwhile, the cabbie giving you a lift home will assure you that, since his mate runs a Brazilian restaurant down the road and served him only the other day, Kaka is definitely on his way.
In fact, throughout the summer, you cannot believe a word you read or hear. News of comings, goings and stayings is almost invariably false and released to serve the purposes of one party or another. Still, it does make for some fun. It makes for a good conversation. And frankly, who would want it any other way. So go on, tell us all who you reckon is going to be on the move in the next couple of weeks.
- Didier Drogba
- Luiz Felipe Scolari