The truth behind the transfer window rumour mill, by those in the know
The Tabloid Journalist: With Samir Nasri, all three clubs (Arsenal, Man City and Man United) were briefing. One of the top-four clubs is notorious for secrecy but they have briefed continually about what they said were done deals, weeks before the player actually signed. But in some cases the briefings, for whatever reason, aren't correct. One of last January's biggest signings, I was categorically told by the club, was absolutely dead on the morning that it happened. One funny one was Tottenham's loan deal for David Beckham. Spurs put out an unequivocal denial, then two days later Harry [Redknapp] said: "Yes, I'd love to sign him and we've had talks." I don't blame the press officer: they were telling the truth as they knew it.
The Agent: Some clubs leak news of who their targets will be in March or April because tickets for next season might not be doing so well. There is one high-profile chairman who is notorious for this.
The Chief Exec: In some cases, when they can't get the fee they want, a chief exec or a manager or a chairman might phone one of their opposite numbers at another club and say: "Look, I want £10 million for this bloke, but they are only offering £8m. Can you phone your mate at the paper and say you're bidding £9m?" If they know them really well and that happens, you're likely to end up getting the price you wanted from the only club that was really interested in the first place.
Some clubs leak news of who their targets will be in March or April because tickets for next season might not be doing so well
The Tabloid Journalist: When a big story is going on, it becomes harder. In the big cases - Ronaldo to Madrid, Modric to Chelsea, Fabregas to Barça - the club goes into lockdown. The club, the player and the agent will agree not to talk to the press. What you rely on then is that people in football love to gossip. So you might not have been in the meeting or spoken directly to one of the three people who were, but at least you can talk to another agent who's spoken to the agent in question - or a team-mate of the player, or a mate of the chief exec. Saying that, one of the biggest moves of the last few years involved a player going into the manager's office and telling him that he wanted a transfer. And even before that player had said goodbye, I had been briefed by the agent about what one side of the conversation would have been.
The Agent: An agent is going to use whatever means are at his disposal to get the best deal for his player. Say you have an instance where a player is happy but you can use another club's interest to get him a pay rise. In that case you might give the local paper access to the player, who will say something like, "It's flattering that X are interested but Y are the club I love and it's breaking my heart that they don't seem to want to keep me." Then you've got the local fanbase on the back of the club and you've put the ball in their court.
The Sunday Journalist: The Wayne Rooney thing from a while back has been portrayed as a case of a player using the threat of a transfer to get a pay rise, but it wasn't like that at all. Fergie forced his hand beautifully but that statement, when it came out, wasn't a transfer request - it was a cry for help. He wanted to stay but he wanted them to spend. And eventually the Glazers promised to spend, and they have.
The Agent: Of course, there are instances when you'll do the same interview with the local paper when you have no intention of your player re-signing for that club.
The Sunday Journalist: The hardest part is filtering the truth. There are very few agents I would listen to for a transfer story - they have too many agendas. There is a culture of lying. I probably disregard 70 per cent of what I'm told.
The Chief Exec: Agents love an auction for a player but they don't happen as often as the papers would have you think. There are what I call 'rule of three' stories, where there are three clubs claimed to be involved. Those stories have almost always come from agents and of the clubs mentioned, one will be really interested, one would be the club the agent and player want to be interested and the other one would be, in most cases, pure fantasy.
Agents love an auction for a player but they don't happen as often as the papers would have you think
The Sunday Journalist: It's not always the case that the player is party to any of the intrigue. A few years ago I heard Jermain Defoe was wanted by Sunderland and by coincidence I was interviewing Defoe the next day for some sponsor. So at the end I turned the tape off and asked: "Is there any truth in this Sunderland stuff?" He said: "We're the last to know. Sometimes people I've played with get a call that just says 'Congratulations, you're going here'."
The Chief Exec: There are instances I know of where a story appears linking a player to a club, which he eventually signs for, when I know another club is offering him more wages. That bit didn't get into the papers. The suspicion has to be that the agent was getting a bigger fee from the first club and didn't let the player know about the second. The game is littered with instances where agents didn't represent the best interest of their player; they represented the best interest of themselves.
The Tabloid Journalist: The biggest pressure is to have a consistently good strike rate. There are these websites which measure how many of your stories come true or not, but that's completely unfair. There are countless deals which break down for reasons that are nothing to do with us. Chelsea and Modric: the interest was there and the truth was there until it went away. But did Chelsea want him? Absolutely. Did he want to go there? Absolutely. And Andy Carroll and Carlos Tevez: there was once a potential swap there. Kenny Dalglish denied it, and I'm not saying he knew about it, but it was being talked about between the clubs and I believe the players knew about it. It's depressing to be briefed on someone like Van Persie by an agent or club or contacts you have made over years as a journalist, and do the story, to be told on Twitter: "You've made it up."
I get angry when people on Twitter have a go when one of your stories doesn't land, and say that means it was never true in the first place
The Sunday Journalist: It's not an exact science, of course - you wouldn't believe the elements involved. There are 20 different things that need to happen in any transfer to get it all the way through. I've been doing a story about [Player X], who is going to a Premier League club from Africa. The player is away at a World Cup qualifier, so they fly in his agent and everything looks good. Then they get a call from another agent with documentation proving that the first guy is not the player's real agent. They begin the process again with the other guy and everything looks good. Then it turns out the player has let his passport expire so he'll need a new visa, and hang on, there's another club in his own country who want him now… There are so many layers. There's a manager who's intercepted a player in an airport arrivals lounge when he was going to a neighbouring club! I'd done the story that he was going to the other club, so I was wrong even when I was right.