Is there any point of handing in a transfer request? FourFourTwo investigates
The back page of a newspaper – it’s the football fan’s Heat magazine during the transfer window. While those obsessed with celebrity have the Daily Mail 'sidebar of shame', football fans will relentlessly refresh their Twitter feed in blind hope of an update on the whereabouts of James Rodriguez, or the identity of the latest club to target Virgil van Dijk. But, among the transfer window's silly season – rife with Chinese whispers, cloak and dagger negotiations and oil-rich oligarchs gazumping teams just for the hell of it – spare a thought for the humble transfer request.
Although the window’s been plagued by reports of stars like Van Dijk and Diego Costa leaving their respective clubs, neither have thought to do what some may see as logical, and signal their intent with a transfer request. But Riyad Mahrez now has – or at least said as much with a public statement. The question is: why do some drop in a written note and some not?
For the fans
“Probably the single biggest reason is the impact it has on their relationship they have with the fans and fellow players,” says Clifford Bloxham, senior vice president of Octagon sports agency, who has acted for the likes of Frank Lampard, Gareth Southgate and Daniel Sturridge.
It’s a waste of time. Those days have gone, years and years ago, because clubs know when you’re not happy
“It’s a real public statement of intent, and I would say one of the attractions of football is the intrigue. When you categorically say ‘I want to leave this club’ there’s no more speculation, it’s purely factual and it definitely damages the relationship with the fans, and also with their colleagues.
“Think about it. If you’re in a job and you know that the guy you’re working with day in day out doesn’t really want to be there, it changes how you feel about them.”
Barry Silkman disagrees. Once a midfielder for Manchester City and Leyton Orient, these days the sexegenarian cockney is a no-nonsense agent, who has presided over a truckload of moves. His views on the sanctity of transfer requests are a touch more pragmatic.
“It’s a waste of time,” he tells FFT, bluntly. “Those days have gone, years and years ago, because clubs know when you’re not happy. You go and see the manager, you might go and see the chairman, you tell them you’re not happy and you want to leave for whatever reason. To hand in a transfer request doesn’t put you any closer to leaving – we’ve moved on from those old fashioned days.”
Given the vast amount of dressing room upheaval every summer, the wasteland that is the official transfer list almost seems an oversight. But, according to PFA chief executive Gordon Taylor, such a sparse list of ‘available’ players is commonplace nowadays.
“It’s because clubs are reluctant to particularly say players are on the transfer list,” says Taylor, “as more often than not it can be an indication that if a club comes in for them, they’ll be offering less than what they think the real value is.” A valid point, as a club explicitly hawking a player to rivals can effectively slice their value in half – transfer list or not.
Loyalty and legality
There’s also little mystery to why perennial penny-pincher David Moyes, when in charge of Manchester United, urged Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini to submit transfer requests to Everton, in the hope of a sneaking a ‘derisory and insulting’ bid through the back door. But, on the subject of footballers seeing a transfer request as the last port of call, Taylor is surprisingly candid.
“Sometimes it’s because of the structure of the contract being such that a lump sum is paid to players, providing they’re not asking to leave the club,” he explains. “That’s why so many players often leave it as a very last resort, in order to avoid losing that amount of money.”
So, despite the claims of loyalty to the club, respect for the fans, and forthrightness with the manager, it could be said that the biggest cause of modern footballers’ shyness for transfer requests is the lucrative contractual bonuses they forego by submitting one. In short, a loyalty bonus tends to be spread incrementally over a player’s contract – i.e. 20 per cent each year on a five-year deal.
Players often leave [transfer requests] as a very last resort, in order to avoid losing money
The same goes for a signing-on fee, but if a player does not directly ask to leave the club, they’re usually still in line for the rest, or at least a fair portion of the sign-on fee, which let’s just say tends to be a tad more profitable than Jobseeker’s Allowance.
But, on the rare occasions where transfer requests have been administered in recent years, they’ve seemingly been used as a ploy by player and agent to snare a bumper new contract, such as with Wayne Rooney in 2010 and Christian Benteke in 2013. And although in the case of those players such high-stake posturing appeared to pay off, Silkman is adamant a top player needn’t bother being quite so indirect.
“When players sign a contract, they don’t sign it with a gun to their head,” he says, “so they’re happy when they sign it. But if circumstances change and the player feels he’s not getting what he should financially, they don’t hand in transfer requests. They just go to the club, or their agent will, and say we need a new deal. You do get those situations [like Benteke in 2013], and sometimes it will force the club into giving the player the deal he wants, because they know if they lose him, they might struggle to replace him with a player of the same ability. But that becomes secondary – the first thing you do is ask for a new deal.”
Amid all the talk of super agents being the puppet masters of modern football, with the phrase ‘player power’ wheeled out whenever a football club’s adjudged to not be pulling the strings, there are examples of unprecedented stubbornness by clubs.
If you want to leave, you have to go in and drag your feet... that’s the harsh reality
Admittedly though, the power dynamic usually hinges on how long the player has on their contract. With Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez approaching the final year of their contracts at Arsenal, there's certainly more chance of a move happening – the Gunners don't generally keep players to the very end of their deals, instead electing to sell them for decent money a year early. So, when top players are hamstrung by long-term, multi-million pound deals and want to break free, what’s the answer?
“There are so many tactics,” says 31-year-old midfielder, Rohan Ricketts. “You don’t turn up for training, or you turn up late a few times and don’t look interested. If you want to leave, you have to go in and drag your feet. You can’t affect the group directly, but you have to be seen as miserable and not happy around the place – that’s the harsh reality.”
Next page: “Whoever invented these transfer windows wants hanging”