rumours, lies and touch judges

It's well and truly silly season for football fans. As the players disappeared down the tunnel after that final lap of honour on May 19th, so the rumour mill clicked into overdrive. Fowler to Leeds; Thuram to United; Petit to Chelsea; Shevchenko to Spurs (OK – I made that one up) (Ed : - Oh, no you didn't - it was actually doing the rounds !!)

Spurs fans have been subjected to a particularly large dose of rumour mongering due to the new brooms currently sweeping through the dusty corridors of the Lane. First it was Guardiola; then Petit; next they said Effenberg; and then Southgate, Lampard, Sinclair, anyone who plays for Southampton and most of the players in Glenda’s England squads who apparently all have a ‘very special relationship with him’.  

Of course we won’t sign the vast majority of the players with whom we have been linked. I would say there is about as much chance of Pep Guardiola donning the lillywhite and blue next season as there is of George Graham moving in with David Ginola.  

But every summer it’s the same. Partially it's because transfer tittle tattle sells papers. Partially it's because the fans want to believe that big name players are on the way. And partially it's because reading banal, source-less football rumours is more interesting than cricket and you can only spend so much of the summer watching Wimbledon on the box and trying to see up Anna Kournikova’s skirt (Ed : - now I know why those touch judges crouch down so low !!).  

About 1% of the transfer stories doing the rounds at the moment will actually happen. Some big clubs will spend big money on some big name players. And so will Middlesbrough.  

Yet there's one club over the past few years that hasn’t indulged in the normal merry-go-round of transfer dealing. And that one club happens to have won seven out of the eight Premiership titles on offer, as well as a fair few FA Cups and a European Cup to boot.  

Every year Manchester United sit on the sidelines and watch the Boros and the Chelseas of this world try and spend their way to success. When they buy they buy sensibly, with one or two players coming in each close season – and even if they cost them a lot of money they make sure they are proven internationals who are worth every penny (Take Jaap Stam and Ruud Van Nistelrooy for example – OK, the latter cost them £19.5m, but does anyone think he won’t score 20 goals next season?).

And while Villa are spending millions on Angel, while Chelsea bring in Gronkjaer to sit on the bench and Boro pay Alen Boksic £60K a week to keep them hovering above the relegation zone until April, United quietly get on with bringing through talent who haven’t cost them a penny.  

Look at the United first XI: Barthez; Silvestre; Stam; Brown; G.Neville; Giggs; Keane; Scholes; Beckham; Cole: Yorke. Put Phil Neville, Luke Chadwick, Nicky Butt, Jonathan Greening and Solskjaer on the bench and you’ve got 50% of the first XVI that cost United exactly £0. Netto, as Ruud Gullit would say.  

United are the best, but not the only example of this phenomenon –  look at the top five from last year’s Premiership and analyze their team composition and you’ll see the same pattern emerging. Liverpool’s success has been built around Owen and Gerrard, two Scousers who have been with the club since childhood. Fowler and Carragher have featured heavily and were equally inexpensive. Gary McAllister came on a free. And suddenly Liverpool are enjoying more success than they have for a decade.

The same applies to Leeds  - a hard core of players brought through the youth system (Woodgate, Smith, Harte, Robinson, Kewell), players snapped up at a young age and brought through (Bowyer, Bakke)  all shored up with a few more experienced players (Radebe, Batty, Kelly, Martyn) and a handful of ‘big names’ (Viduka, Keane, Ferdinand, Dacourt).  

And Ipswich are the perfect example – the most they have spent on a player since coming up from the First last season is the £4m or so they spent on Hreidarsson.  

Even Arsenal, who are perceived to be a team of fancy-dan foreigners, are not a team of big money, big name players – the Highbury faithful (Adams, Keown, Dixon, Parlour) are complemented by players Wenger has brought through (Vieira, Ljungberg, Silvinho) and a couple of established world class ‘pret a porter’ buys (Henry, Pires, Wiltord, Kanu, Bergkamp.)  

The lesson is a glaringly obvious one – big money does not big success bring. Chelsea have given several bank managers several heart attacks with the way they spend their readies – and what have they got to show for it? A couple of FA Cups and a Cup Winners Cup.

Ten or fifteen years ago the tenet that great teams win trophies would not have been controversial in the slightest. Liverpool won everything going for the best part of twenty years with a team of players who cost as much as Ronaldo’s left pinky. Ajax won the European Cup three years on the trot in the 1970s, playing some of the most sublime football the world has witnessed to date, with a rag tag bunch of Dutch youngsters, a couple of creaking imports and a genius called Cruyff.

But football is all about money now. Many, many people rely on many, many pounds being spent by clubs for their livelihood. And clubs stand to lose so much money should they not be feasting at the high table of the Champions League that they are prepared to bankrupt themselves on the off-chance. Look at Lazio if you need evidence – a club whose bank account is almost as empty as its trophy cabinet.  

The truth is that, money or no money, success in football is a delicate and elusive thing. It requires a special balance of talent, application and luck that great managers brew up as much by coaching what they have and developing an eye for a bargain as by breaking open the piggy bank every time they have a problem. That’s the lesson that history should teach us – and indeed that recent history bears out, as the Bayern Munichs of this world outperform the Inters and the Barcelonas.  

So forgive me if I don’t get too excited about Spurs being linked with Guardiola, Petit and Shevchenko. I’ve got a great deal of faith in what  Glenda is planning – bed down the talented youngsters we have already and add some experience to bring them on. If it works for Liverpool, United and Leeds it can work for Tottenham too.

Tom Ward

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