They used to be simple. A few hours of cordial negotiation followed by firm handshakes all round.
Okay, so that might be a rose-tinted view of how transfers used to be conducted. After all, civility was most definitely not in the air when Billy Meredith swapped Hyde Road for Bank Street over a century ago.
But where there’s mula there’s muck. And plenty was being raked during Sheffield United’s protracted negotiations with Hull City over the sale of Harry Maguire.
Not least when the former England under-21 international unwittingly became entangled in red tape when his new employers performed an ‘official unveiling’ before the necessary paperwork had been signed.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of a saga which has dominated this summer’s new agenda at Bramall Lane, though, was not the fact that Maguire eventually departed. No third tier club, irrespective of their history, stature, aspirations or tradition, can seriously hope to win the battle for a professional footballer’s heart when one from the Premier League comes calling. But watching how top-flight status also helps you win the propaganda war was absolutely bizarre.
Don’t get me wrong, both United and City indulged in plenty of politicking as they battled to secure PR points and the best possible price. That’s only to be expected and explains why Bramall Lane’s representatives, having initially implied that, come what may, they would prefer the player to depart when his contract expired next summer rather than accept a fee below their valuation, eventually did exactly that. And also the fact that City, despite warning they would not get drawn into an auction, quickly followed suit.
However, much of the commentary surrounding Monday’s turn of events, which started with United “reluctantly” accepting City’s approach, continued when the KC Stadium’s press department issued a statement questioning if they wanted to complete and ended with the centre-half joining Steve Bruce’s squad demonstrated that members of the FL, compared to their PL counterparts, barely have a voice.
Money not only influences the market but also, it seems, the narrative.
United, according to most outlets based beyond the Broad Acres, were the only ones guilty of a u-turn. Yet how could that be when, 72 hours after their manager Steve Bruce told the media he was walking away from the deal and would refuse to increase his £2m bid, City announced that not only had they signed Maguire but also briefed it had cost them a further £500,000? Pretty much, incidentally, what it cost to secure the services of Andrew Robertson, a senior international full-back.
Something doesn’t add up. And for once it’s not my maths.
The truth is that both clubs reached a mutually acceptable arrangement after Maguire, as he candidly admitted after passing his medical, confirmed he wanted to move.