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Transferspeak: The 22 stages of a transfer saga

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The transfer sagas are dead. Well, the classic, perfectly sized sagas of the Golden Age, anyway. A bit of a pat, a few balks at the asking price, a cheeky transfer request, an 11th hour plane hijacking, deal done, “as soon as I heard they were interested, there was no ‘other place I wanted to go’ .

But something weird happened. Transfers now take age. Where are they? It’s the Muller-Lyer illusion of the transfer window: maybe transfers are as long as they always have been, but something makes them seem more stretched.

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The badges of honor for “getting your business done early” or “doing your business quietly” continue to be handed out – a tacit admission that otherwise what were once mildly engrossing sagas have become tantric administrative orgies.

(It’s not about complaining about transfer culture. No one is above football transfers. They attract everyone at some point, and that’s good: a player’s perspective elite in a different jersey, on a different team – your team – is a guaranteed curiosity piquer.)

There is only one credible explanation. The transfers haven’t changed, but the way we consume them — the way we’re nourished by them — has changed. Just as Sky Sports News now counts down to deadline day in milliseconds (not just the day itself, but the whole summer), transfer reporting has become more… progressive.


Erling Haaland joined Manchester City this summer – you may have heard of him (Picture: Getty)

As a result, there is now an industry-standard phrase for every possible micro-stage of a transfer, from the first seed of talent identification to the final bloom of a shirt held up for the cameras (by a player wearing already this same shirt.)

To Athleticism, we did all the A-Z of the transfer window, we covered the managers’ speech and we investigated General Footballese’s eternal crimes. Now, for the first time, the labyrinthine sublanguage of Transfer Language can be assembled into its definitive timeline.

The thing is, we know how transfers are supposed to end – but how and where do they start?


On [Club X’s] radar

Surely the most fragile feeling of transference of all. The radars seem official, important, scientific… but this is the most unsubstantiated of all the transfers, and so it belongs from the start. Basically: This player could possibly sign for this team one day, and they could probably find a use for him. Clubs whose radars have – on their behalf – detected a possible new signing must, by law, be labeled as ‘potential suitors’ as we are apparently still at the start of the 19th century.

Linked to [Club X]

It’s one of football’s most tenuous concepts of all, but don’t underestimate the importance of binding: it’s the ultimate lubricant for the transfer machine. Nothing greases the wheels of the rumor mill better than the ability to abdicate all responsibility for associating a player with a supposed buying club. Someone other suggested it? It’s a link!

No governing body exists to document or regulate the link between players and clubs. So, after an indefinite period of time, you can essentially establish a historical link, without consequences.

Consider a move to [Player Y]

A gray area. Although literally and strongly implying that club X is watching player Y, it does not mean technically mean they are watching them. “Consider a move for” is a more informal, noncommittal form of…

Keep an eye

Perhaps the first real shift in the proceedings. Scouts are deployed, reports are filed, data is crunched – the interest is real.

Raheem Sterling, Todd Boehly, Chelsea


Keeping tabs on Raheem Sterling has paid off for Chelsea this summer (Picture: Getty)

Once tabs begin to be kept on a player, a club can officially go from “suitors” to “admirers” (although Victorian-era court pundits may find this counter-intuitive.)

Surveillance [Player Y’s] situation

Once a player is on a club’s radar, scouted and monitored, there is still one more observation step to be taken: the “control” of his “situation”. “. Such situations may include (but are not limited to): being a ‘contract rebel’, being ‘wanted’, the manager not giving them enough playing time, or their current club flirting with liquidation.

If the interested party is brave enough to bend the rules here and contact the player’s representatives directly, this can be filed under “making overtures” (thanks to Andre C. for that, in the comments), a sentence that gets more and more ridiculous the more you look at it.

Red alert

This is where the most sophisticated situation monitoring systems pay off. When a monitored situation worsens, the clubs concerned are placed on “red alert”. It’s pretty dramatic but, despite being 27% into this absurdly granular process, nothing actually happened.

Consider an offer

When did “mulling” become the go-to verb for crafting an early-stage transfer offer? Who in a football club is qualified to think? How long does the reflection take? Nobody knows, but one thing is certain: no paperwork is involved in the reflection. Maybe that’s what the real football superstars of the 2020s – that is, serious-faced “sporting directors” – do all day.

Preparation of an offer

Want paperwork? Here are your papers. A transfer offer isn’t a simple thing, of course – there are add-ons, clauses, installments – but do we need to know that an offer (post-reflection, remember, but pre-fabrication) is being “prepared”? The jury is out.

Open talks

Inter-club dialogue begins with potential buyers “opening discussions” with (also known as a “poll”) the potential selling side. It’s time to submit that thoughtful, well-prepared but almost certainly paltry offer.

lead the race

Like players racing against the clock to get fit, it’s not an easy race to follow. Oddly enough, more than one club can be considered ‘leading the race’ to sign a given player – this may seem unnecessarily confusing, but don’t worry, as a buying club will eventually emerge in…

Pole position

This slightly misinterpretation of how Formula 1 motor racing works is the standard signifier for a club becoming the most serious bidder in a future transfer saga. It’s up to your player to lose.


Bayern Munich have always been in pole position for Sadio Mane in this transfer window (Picture: Getty)

Advanced Discussions

A dangerous time for any transfer story – all the ‘snags’ or ‘stumbling blocks’ can be encountered here – but, as long as the clubs are not ‘miles apart’ on the fee , everything is working.

Head for the exit door

The ‘exit door’ is now an integral part of football’s facilities, meant to be located at the selling club’s stadium rather than, more logically, at its training ground. Thanks to the clever use of the present participle of “cap” (just like watching, watching, ruminating, preparing and leading the race), there is no solid suggestion of how long it will take, nor any real confidence that they will reach, then go through, the exit door. It’s all very ongoing, and it’s all part of the cynical, temporal magic of truly being “in the middle” of a transfer saga.

Meanwhile, it’s at this point that real big-name transfers can start to be known as ‘football’s worst-kept secret’.

[Club X] are optimistic

So far, so practical, so pragmatic. Where is the emotion? In fact, two emotions are allowed to the managers of the candidate club when a transfer is nearing its end: “optimistic” (optional: “calmly optimistic) and “hopeful”.

Agreement in principle

Does anyone know what this means? Does it matter? We’re only 73% into this rough transfer saga, but there’s a carefully crafted light at the end of the tunnel. Someone just needs to find the right pen.

Personal conditions

Personal terms are a “formality” and/or “shouldn’t be a problem”. Suspicions are growing that these may well have been ironed out during the monitoring phase of the situation…

Closing in on

With the essential, principled chord in the bag, “coming closer” is a very sophisticated and scientifically tantalizing way of saying “nothing else has happened yet.”


Spurs seemed to be getting closer to Djed Spence for around six months… (Photo: Getty)

border closer

A really ridiculous situation, I’m sorry.

Throw in

At this point, we realize that the player themselves must be there, with or near their potential new employer, and therefore must “get involved”. This is, at least, a tangible physical representation of “reconciliation”, especially for those with a gold level subscription to Flightradar24.

ready to sign

If the delusional and patient circus of transference could be condensed into two small words, those words would be ‘tuned to’ – football’s most versatile phrase. Being “ready to” do something covers just about everything, even thinking about doing something, being in the process of doing it, in fact, physically, being about to perform the official and legal act of completing it .

Total agreement

Is this? Are we done? Not sure. Better ask David Ornstein.

Deal done

Simple. Well done, everyone.

(Photos: Getty Images; Graphic: Sam Richardson)

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