In Good Conscience

Dead-right that clubs, not players, get to call the shots

They were the front- and back-page images of the week - in many countries, indeed, they were published on the same day.

On Page 1, the haunting picture of a Turkish policeman carrying the lifeless body of a Syrian child washed up from the sea of desperate migrants trying to flee to a presumed better life in Europe.

On the sports pages, photos of poor, forlorn David de Gea, his career in limbo after his proposed transfer from Manchester United to Real Madrid failed to make the midnight transfer deadline on Monday.

The rising tide of the refugee situation overwhelming Europe is graphically captured in that picture of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old boy drowned off Turkey.

And the sometimes obscene trading of football players was perhaps reflected in a single word used by two leading Spanish newspapers to describe de Gea's non-transfer: "Ridiculo!"

The haggling does put men's lives into limbo.

The goalkeepers in Madrid were, either willing or coerced, about to get their life's desire until it fell through in the dead of night.

Yes, the whole mess of transfer policy by which Fifa arbitrarily defines world movements of adult players from a buying to a selling club can happen only in two periods - the July-September "summer window" and a shorter January window which falls in mid-season for the big European leagues.

Whoever we believe between Real and United, these are two of the biggest, wealthiest, most global clubs who, between them, messed up the transfer that we have known since the start of this year was likely to happen.

The clubs, which call themselves the most important in the world, played brinkmanship over not just de Gea, but also Real's Costa Rican goalkeeper Keylor Navas, who was supposed to transfer to United as part of the deal.

This was Real and United trying to squeeze the other over a human trade billed as the homecoming for Madrid-born de Gea.

Having read the tit-for-tat statements put out by the PR machines of both clubs, I doubt we are getting the whole truth from either camp.

The bottom line is that de Gea, one of the three best goalkeepers on earth, was grounded throughout the trading window while these clubs haggled. And his agent, the Portuguese Jorge Mendes who bills himself as the super agent, was either too busy pulling other deals or too cocksure that all the ends were tied up.

In the midnight hour, de Gea and Navas expected to be transferred, and were waiting to hear confirmation.

De Gea wanted this move for his own sake, his family and his Spanish pop-star girlfriend who lives in Madrid.

Navas wanted no part of it and, after a year understudying Iker Casillas at the Bernabeu, thought that his chance had come.

The Costa Rican, who shone at the 2014 World Cup Finals, started the season and the pre-season in superb form. He stopped almost everything, including a penalty.

But on the final day of the window, United made him a part of the transfer deadline deal. Two things persuaded him: The fact that he clearly was no longer wanted at Madrid, and the offer to double his salary by moving on like a good boy to United.

These are grown adults we are discussing. Their trades on the whims of club owners would have added to 6,848 summer transfers logged by the German website whose computer data ran to 274 pages of player movements in this window.

The sum total, dominated by the English Premier League (EPL), amounts to billions in any currency you care to use. The EPL statistic, a measure of guesswork and computed figures supplied by the leagues, come to £824.43 million - well over €1 billion, US$1 billion, and S$1.78 billion.

Two thirds of that turnover is a loss to the English clubs, cash speculated in anticipation of a new television deal which, from next July, shares the bulk of a new three-year domestic broadcasting rights (the overseas' rights still being negotiated across 180 territories are expected to add a minimum of £2.2 billion).

All of these can dehumanise the players, and in the case of United and Real, make idiots of the officials.

The haggling does put men's lives into limbo. The goalkeepers in Madrid were, either willing or coerced, about to get their life's desire until it fell through in the dead of night.

In England, an impasse between Spurs and West Bromwich Albion left Saido Berahino in no man's land. He sought the move but Spurs chairman Daniel Levy (well-known for his deadline tactics that screwed over £80 million out of Real Madrid for Gareth Bale two seasons ago) and West Brom's stubborn chairman Jeremy Peace could not agree on the fee.

Berahino used social media to say he will never play for West Brom while Peace remains chairman.

Silly, misguided, upset Berahino.

The pawns in this business are supposed to remain silent and accept whatever the presidents or chairmen decide is the right and proper sum to buy and sell.

However, now that de Gea has to get over his temporary loss and get back to work at Old Trafford, he needs to mend fences.

Louis van Gaal is a specialist in upsetting players. He has this old-fashioned notion that men must earn their corn doing as he says. It doesn't go down too well with multi-millionaires, but there's light at the end of the tunnel for the goalies.

Navas seeks talks at Real about his wage because United offered to double his pay. De Gea has options to sign a new contract for £200,000 per week which would give United the whip hand on when to sell him, or wait until next season when he can go as a free agent.

Almost as if somebody at Real reads the front as well as back pages, Sergio Ramos, the club captain, told reporters on Wednesday: "Nobody has died because of this. David (de Gea) must maintain his level, he is one of the best keepers."

Indeed, and still alive.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2015, with the headline 'Dead-right that clubs, not players, get to call the shots'. Print Edition | Subscribe