Leicester City, the Twitter transfer and the Lunar landings
At around 4.30pm yesterday afternoon, a photograph of a man holding up a blue shirt appeared on a website. This may not seem like an important event, and in the grand scheme of things it clearly isn’t, but, in its own small way, it felt a little bit like the Moon landings.
Confirmation of Lee Peltier’s arrival at Leicester City will not go down in history, of course. Neither was there much of a saga leading up to his signing. That picture of a man holding up a shirt, however, is becoming the Holy Grail – the moment of clarity at the end of smoke, mirrors, cloaks, daggers and copious layers of utter garbage that is the modern football transfer.
This sort of thing is happening hundreds of times over at clubs all over the world, so the example of Leicester is just a snapshot. It is a particularly pertinent one, though, given talk of Sven-Goran Eriksson being handed “a blank cheque” to add bulk to a squad that was largely reliant on loan signings last season. With Leicester’s new football director Andrew Neville telling the local press earlier this week that offers were in progress for no fewer than twelve different players, here is a club that are not afraid to publicise their attempts at widespread activity in the transfer market.
Cue talk of footballers from across the globe being linked with a possible move to the Walkers Stadium. A goalkeeper from Egypt, a right-back from Norway, a left-back from South Africa, a centre-back from Algeria: they were queuing up to sign on for Svennis. Perhaps they still are, with the exception of the Norwegian, Tom Hogli, who helpfully agreed a deal with Club Brugge within hours. The likes of Essam El-Hadary, Peter Masilela and Madjid Bougherra are also helpful in one respect – they don’t throw the added complication of Twitter into the mix.
On the other hand, both Peltier and another confirmed transfer target, Leeds United goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel, do both have accounts on the social networking site. And over the past couple of days, Leicester fans have seen the best and worst of Twitter as offers were accepted for both players.
Although a prolific user of the medium, Peltier remained silent over his future until after his move had been confirmed. Only then did he respond to Huddersfield fans with a short message to thank them for his time at the club and to wish them well for the future. The messages coming back in Peltier’s direction from Terriers fans were overwhelmingly positive, a credit to both the player and supporters in question. And then there was Schmeichel.
Twitter is a godsend for footballers. Some use it for positive ends, perhaps to raise the awareness of charity work or to communicate more closely with fans. Others simply use it to chat brainlessly with their mates about inconsequential matters, as is their prerogative and much like the rest of us do. There is obviously the odd ego trip or ten floating around too.
Then there are the ones, like Schmeichel, who use it as a publicity tool. Within hours of Leeds United’s official website breaking the news that the club had accepted a bid for the Danish goalkeeper, Schmeichel had responded through Twitter to say he had not asked to leave the club and that Simon Grayson’s decision – for it was said to be his – to accept the bid made for a difficult situation.
The optimistic mood among Leicester fans suddenly turned to uncertainty. Did Schmeichel really want to leave? If he was so desperate to stay with Leeds, why had he allowed his contract to run to within a year of its conclusion – a surefire way to complicate any player’s situation in today’s climate – without resolving matters? Was it just a smokescreen to smooth things over with Leeds fans prior to his inevitable departure, meeting both his wishes and those of the club?
The answers to these questions are not clear and any supporter who seeks to give a definitive version of events is merely speculating. For what it’s worth, Grayson then responded on Yorkshire Radio yesterday to confirm his stance, apparently putting an end to any hopes Schmeichel may have had of remaining at Elland Road. Unless another bid is accepted, a move to Leicester now looks inevitable.
The whole saga shows how modern-day transfers are changing as the accessibility of players becomes greater. It also further highlights the futility of becoming overly attached to the concept of a particular player’s potential arrival at any club. This is the first World Cup-free summer when Twitter has been one of the main focal points for transfer news and updates, meaning a vast amount of self-serving nonsense is fired into cyberspace and supporters getting their knickers in a twist over the apparent inactivity of their clubs.
There is also another palpable shift in role surrounding Twitter and the modern transfer. Journalists have historically been seen as the source of speculation, desperate to shift papers and increase website hits. The natural thought is that Twitter would see this trend continue or increase, but the effect of greater accessibility to journalists as well as players often gives the impression that the opposite is true.
With clubs largely remaining inaccessible, supporters are approaching journalists using Twitter to confirm that deals have been done and the arrival a player is imminent. Keen to remain credible, all that journalists can do is try to calm wild speculation and there has been a noticeably large number of cautious replies to the constant demand for accurate information.
By the time September arrives, the closure of the transfer window will also feel like the Moon landings – a moment of clarity, a time to celebrate and then the opportunity to all get on with our lives…