Deadline Day: Hope and Expectation

IT’S TRANSFER DEADLINE DAY. That’s what you’re supposed to do, right?

Shout and scream about it being the final day of the transfer window until you’re blue in the face, rocking back and forth, blinking violently to try and erase the Sky Sports breaking news bar that has been seared onto your retinas and the haunting whispers of net spend echo around your head.

Well, that’s what Sky and social media will have you believe. The act of football players moving from one club to another has become a phenomenon that consumes the daily lives of most football fans during the summer and January windows and culminates in the showpiece event that is deadline day – it’s become one of the highlights of the football calendar.

People will have taken the day off today to sit and watch what is essentially a rolling Twitter feed being conducted by Jim White before he is frozen in carbonate and packed away in storage until the window reopens this summer.

At least that isn’t as bad as the people who will be at work right now sporting a yellow tie in honour of Jim White like he’s the great and spirited leader of the nation. I’m never complaining about working from home again.

It has made minor celebrities of “ITK” (in the know, if you don’t know) reporters like Fabrizio Romano and Keith Downie whose confirmation or denial of deals being done are worth nearly as much as the transfer fees involved. It’s not done until Keith says it is.

It’s also given a platform to the lesser-known and less reliable fan “ITKers”, the modern day version of the my mates next door neighbour’s Auntie’s brother-in-law’s missus works at the club brigade. Don’t get me wrong there are one or two who do have connections, especially at a small town club like Boro where current staff and ex-pros still socialise with the locals, but they’re treated as if they’re carrying out the transfer themselves.

That usually comes when a rumoured move doesn’t materialise and it’s the end of the world because someone from OneBoro or FMTTM said it was a dead cert. Most of the time, that player hadn’t even been in the plans never mind in Rockliffe Hall.

When a transfer does go through there has been a trend in recent years, that thankfully seems to be dying out, of making grandiose announcement videos like Ric Flair is making his long-awaited return to the WWE.

The clip of Alexis Sanchez playing the piano to declare his arrival at Man United has currently been watched 9.7 million times on the club’s Twitter account. United probably wish he’d only cost them that much to buy from Arsenal. Won’t be doing that again, will you lads?

This online tittle tattle and sense of one-upmanship spurs on a frenzy of “ANNOUNCE THIS PLAYER” as the transfer window becomes more and more akin to collecting Panini stickers while quantity overtakes quality and leaves logic in the dust. Got 30 players already on the books? Doesn’t matter, we still need two wingers, a centre mid and a forward. Another fullback would be nice too while you’re there.

For real, Boro posted a Happy New Year message on their social media as we ushered in 2021 and it was met with replies of “Announce Bolasie”. It was the opening minutes of the new year and people were only arsed about us buying players. I know we wanted rid of 2020 but oway man.

The constant search for a transfer deal dopamine hit has also made the YouTube highlights game a walk in the park to wrack up views. Linked with a Dutch winger from the Ukrainian Second League that nobody has ever heard of before? Give me five minutes and a dirty dubstep track and I’ll make him out to be the second coming of Johan Cruyff.

Despite all of this scepticism about the cultish fascination with transfers, I’m still going to be glued to my phone today, constantly refreshing Twitter and OneBoro for any hint of another Boro incoming because transfers are exciting.

They offer hope and increased expectation in the same way as a good run of form does. An exciting transfer is like the first mouthful of an ice cold pint on a summer day. Instant satisfaction. Equally, failed moves or the possibility of losing a star man can fill a fanbase with dread and fear. If Dael Fry goes, we riot.

Last week was an absolute rollercoaster for Boro fans hopeful of a few new boys coming in to replenish a squad lacking in depth and quality in key areas. It started with the gut punch of the rumoured Premier League loan deals for a wideman and a striker being called off by the unnamed topflight clubs.

Tempers boiled over, not helped by the embarrassing battering from Rotherham, as the season was announced to be over because of “typical Boro and their shit recruiting”.

On one hand, the promise of the imminent arrival of Premier League talent being snatched away cruelly did stink a bit, although it’s not down to Boro what other clubs decide to do. On the other hand, imagine the uproar if those Premier League players had been young unknowns or to the horror of the Red Army, someone like Connor Wickham?

The news of the successful end to the club’s seemingly endless pursuit of Yannick Bolasie lifted everyone off the mat on Thursday despite the fact that the former Villa trickster’s last game had come almost eleven months prior and he hasn’t scored a goal on British soil since 2018.

Boro fans hope that he can finally solve the creativity conundrum on the flanks and show flashes of the player who was tearing fullbacks apart at Crystal Palace and for a time, Everton. There’s that word again. Hope.

If this season has taught us anything, it’s that there isn’t really such a thing as a “good signing”, at least not on the day that photos are taken brandishing the shirt and contracts are signed. This time last year, as Anfernee Dijksteel laid on the physio bed and Marc Bola headed back to Blackpool on loan, would anyone have said that they were good signings?

Yet, under the tutelage of Neil Warnock, they have been two of the best performing defenders in the Championship. There’s also nothing to say that their form will remain the same should Warnock leave and a new manager comes in, tinkering with formations and overcomplicating the simple system currently in place.

Many people thought that Alexis Sanchez joining United was going to be the tipping point for them to reclaim their position as the dominant force of English football. Now, his time there will be best remembered for that ridiculous video.

The same goes on the flipside for players that make an immediate splash like Darnell Fisher did this weekend, super gluing himself to Todd Cantwell and rendering the Norwich man irrelevant to the game, with a late injury to the right back being the only reason Fisher didn’t go back to Cantwell’s gaff for a post-match meal.

One performance doesn’t validate a transfer (Mido scored on his debut after all) but a good start goes a long way to winning fans over. If he keeps that up, the 300k we paid for him will look a snip in a footballing landscape where we all turn into financial advisors.

As it looks like the window will wind down with the departure of Britt Assombalonga to Bristol City, with the possibility of the Robin’s Famara Diedhiou or Cardiff’s Robert Glatzel replacing him as the spearhead of Neil Warnock’s forward line, there will be plenty of discussion about whether the record signing lived up to his price tag.

He hasn’t been a £15 million striker but there isn’t anyone who stays in the Championship for multiple seasons who is. He’d be in the Prem if he was that good.

Players are only worth what clubs want to pay at the time and the game is at a stage where they might as well be playing with Monopoly money. It’s pointless getting strung up about uber-exorbitant fees anymore when the wages that players earn might double or triple the outlay clubs make on them anyway. You can only hope that whoever comes in delivers enough on the pitch to make a dent in that investment.

At least by the sounds of it, with another long-term target Kamil Grosicki again being linked to Boro, we won’t be at the risk of the club staff sacking deadline day off for a few bevvies again. However, what actually happens is anyone’s guess. A big move could spark belief for a run at the play-offs or a quiet day at the office could leave us all feeling deflated and resigned to falling short until the next match.

There is no certainty of anything happening today apart from this – everyone knows where they stand after the deadline. We’ll know what the squad looks like, for better or worse, and who will be carrying the expectations of Teesside on their shoulders.

And all we can do is hope.

Photo Credits: Teesside Live, Action Images, Middlesbrough F.C.





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