The Illusion Of Instant Information: Transfer Window 2013 Style

Ian MacNicol

The transfer window is still in its infancy, and because some deals aren't quite going through immediately there's still no reason at all to panic. Sit back, relax, condemn your own bloodlust for information and embrace some ignorance...

When I first started watching football it was like an entirely different world to the one the sport exists in today.

You paid your £3 on the turnstile of dilapidated old grounds and had the nerve to complain when you turned up the next season and discovered it had gone up to £3.50. Once inside the ground, you stood and you carried on, often surrounded by grown men sporting an eclectic shell-suit and flat-cap combo and you never thought anything of it.

There were no mobile phones or electronic jumbotrons to check the other half time scores. There was the odd radio about, but generally you were at the mercy of a man in a shed on legs placing cardboard numbers beside a letter and if you didn't have a programme handy to decipher the code then you were knackered.

On the pitch itself, the shorts were much shorter for a start. The tackles were tougher, the goal nets sloped, the names much more pronounceable, and the weather much worse. Well, it certainly seemed the weather was worse anyway.

Anyway, the point is that football has changed a hell of a lot in the last quarter of a century. And yet, despite all the multitude of differences between then and now, nothing, as far as I can tell, has changed quite so much as the perception of transfer deals and all the hype that surrounds them.

It used to be so much simpler. You would buy a newspaper or check Ceefax, pretty much any time of year save a couple months at the end of the season, and if you were very lucky you'd see that your club had signed a shiny new player.

Granted, you probably didn't know much about them and you had no way of finding out, but that was fine. Actually it was almost nicer to be free of the temptation for preconceptions.

But that was a different age. The world that we lived in back then was a paper one. Now, it is a digital one.

These days information is so instant it can almost overwhelm you. We read some link with a foreign name with which we are unfamiliar, and we immediately take to YouTube, Wikipedia, and state of the art computer games to see what we might be getting.

Before we even know if we are looking at a rumour or a genuine story, we have gone from total ignorance, all the way through pseudo-expertise, and arrived at an array of preconceptions. No wonder the mystique is draining out of football. And if you want to be taken seriously in the brave new age, do not, whatever you do, admit to anyone that you are not a seasoned expert on every player in world football.

One real hallmark of this instant digital football world is some strange idea that it allows us to follow the progress of a transfer in exacting detail, all the way to the point that we feel qualified to place expectations upon the timescales involved.

One great example here was Adam Johnson's move to Sunderland last summer. The Black Cats agreed a fee with Manchester City on the Saturday, and the news started trickling through by Sunday night. From there, agents took over to do the preliminary leg-work and face-to-face talks with the player himself were scheduled for the Thursday.

Unfortunately, the internet had already spoken and an exacting timescale based upon wholly uninformed expectations were placed upon it.

'A fee was agreed last night, he must be here discussing terms now', they said on Monday. 'Must be onto his medical by now', was Tuesday's mantra, 'might be announced tonight'. On Wednesday it was 'YAY... IT'S ADAM JOHNSON DAY!', and when that didn't happen talk of the move breaking down and an impending apocalypse were rampant.

In reality, the deal was progressing precisely according to schedule, yet the world was convinced that there had to be a problem somewhere.

So the world did what we all do what we convince ourselves there is a problem - we went looking for answers, and when so many people are searching, it doesn't take long for Chinese Whispers to start spreading.

Some became convinced he did not want to sign. Some became convinced Sunderland were refusing to stump up sufficient cash to land a player of his reputation. Others believed he had 'had his head turned' by another club. There were even a few who insisted Johnson himself was purposely dragging his heels hoping to smoke out a better off from another club.

By Friday, fans were in a full-on frenzy and a local journalist convinced Newcastle had moved to nick him. It was a veritable meltdown. An hour or so later Adam Johnson was officially unveiled as a Sunderland player - after talks had occurred and progressed precisely to schedule.

The point here is that this wonderful world that we have convinced ourselves is our reality now - the one in which everything is at the tip of our fingers and can provide us with real-time insight - doesn't really exist. The instantaneousness that it promises is little more than an illusion, brought about by our own thirst for news and willingness to suspend disbelief.

It is, in many ways, that thirst that damns us to our fate. Media outlets and some journalists, perhaps feeling pressure to deliver constant updates and fill the natural gaps between stages of a transfer, go looking for things that aren't there and become overly speculative. That in turns feeds the paranoia of fans and creates a greater fervour for updates.

All of a sudden everything is caught in some kind of giant misinformation loop because the actual information is, essentially, too boring to accept in a world accustomed to breakneck speeds.

The last few days have seen a similar situation with the transfer of Gino Peruzzi. We've gone from 'on the verge of completing his deal', to 'Peruzzi REJECTS Sunderland, oh my gods' and finally settled on 'oh so we are still discussing terms after all'.

At Roker Report, transfer news has become an important and successful part of our site, but we can't provide anyone with real time updates and we will never claim to.

What we get is a result of thorough research and some very careful analysis of the existing information. That really is it. It is a good formula and it works for us - mainly due to the skills and time of the people involved with the site - and it has seen us consistently be able to bring names and details to Sunderland fans quicker than the rest.

But no matter how quick you are, it will never be instant. We were the first British site to latch onto Sunderland's pursuit of Charis Mavrias, yet it still transpired that we were two weeks behind the curve. When we were reporting initial interest in the player, the final fee had already long since been agreed upon.

A good way of looking at the madness is as if you are trying to assemble a 3000-piece jigsaw from 5000 pieces, before you have seen the final picture, and through a constant stream of fresh pieces being poured onto the table. Accurately sifting out the pieces of the puzzle that shouldn't be there is just as crucial as putting the remainder together.

But even when you have enough pieces to decipher it, it doesn't make the picture any newer. You are still just piecing together something that has already happened.

Essentially, all we do - all anyone can honestly do - is sort through the pieces of the puzzle and put them together as best we can so you don't have to. That's it.

So please don't be seduced by this illusion of instant information that surrounds the transfer window these days. It isn't real and it doesn't make any of us truly informed enough to provide a step-by-step commentary and analysis of any given deal.

If anyone tells you otherwise, they probably either want your money in some way or are deeply sad individuals who require the reverence of internet strangers to swell a fragile ego.

Just sit back, embrace relative ignorance, relish the puzzle, and enjoy the ride. It is the best, and only, way to actually enjoy the transfer window.

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