17 November 2009 ~ For some of us, the build-up to Christmas can never start too late. In an ideal world we would start our shopping on the 24th, enjoy turkey, beers, crap TV and a fight with the family on the 25th, and round it all off with a game on Boxing Day before returning to normal life. Nowadays, though, extended Yuletide has a competitor in the premature countdown to the year's end. By mid-November the football world has started to get seriously excited about the January transfer window.
There's nothing like an international weekend to kick off the transfer speculation. With no Premier League and just a bunch of foreign countries playing unimportant World Cup play-off games, there's a gaping vacuum in the news cycle that has to be filled on Monday morning. Did a man bite a dog over the weekend? No. Did a dog bite a man over the weekend? Sadly not even that but we'll report it anyway. Man Did Not Bite Dog.
Or, in football world, Rubinho Not Fulham-Bound. Yes folks, Brazilian goalkeeper Rubinho is apparently not going to Fulham, according to Sky Sports. Did you think he was Fulham-bound to start with? Me, I'd never heard of him. But agents don't just send the odd fax to justify their parasitical bleeding of the game, they also plant stories in the collective imagination of the media. So in the space where you'd normally have read about Wigan v Wolves, you can now learn that "Palermo's £3 million-rated" keeper is not available. For now. Just like Dortmund's Neven Subotic, who is not going to Manchester City.
All the better if you can link your non-story with the past weekend's unspectacular international exhibition walk-throughs. "Ben Foster has no intention of banging on Sir Alex Ferguson's door and demanding to know why his World Cup dream is in jeopardy," reported the Press Association. He also has no intention of slaughtering a horse and leaving its severed head on Sir Alex's pillow. Blimey, who knows what Ben Foster will not get up to next?
He can keep Graeme Souness company as they get up to nothing. Souness, along with several million other Scots, is not going to touch the Scotland manager's job. "I don't want the job," Souness said, according to the Independent. "I wouldn't want the job. It's not for me at this time, my life is going in a different direction." Hey Graeme, me too! I just so do not have the time to manage Scotland right now. Sorry Scottish FA but you can save yourselves the phone call.
What about Roy Hodgson? I haven't heard his name mentioned in connection with the Scotland job, because I know he's staying at Fulham. There was a story about it on Sky. "The fact that Hodgson has yet to open talks with the club over a new deal," it reported, "has fuelled rumours about how long he will remain at Craven Cottage, even though he claims he would be happy to stay." Ah, those fuelled rumours – what can an honest media outlet like Sky do to douse them? They can run a gripping denial story: Fulham Manager Roy Hodgson Still Fulham Manager.
And in other player-stasis news, Matthew Upson is destined to stay at Upton Park. For now. "If something is put in front of me and I have to make a decision about my future, then I will," Upson told the Press Association (I wonder if that "something" would be squillions of pounds sterling). "At the moment it is not something I am thinking about. I am a West Ham player. Unless something happens, I am fully concentrated on them." Ah but wait, he said he might leave at some point in the future, if something "happens". Careful what you say, son. You might just start fuelling rumours.
There was a time when transfer deals were kept under wraps until a signing would be unveiled to the genuine surprise of the media and the fans. Now the media has been conned into becoming part of the process, with rumours and counter-rumours dragging possible deals out for weeks. These stories serve no one except the agents and the player, but waste everyone else's time. At least with Christmas there's only one phantom story. Before and during the transfer window there are hundreds of them, but without even the distraction of a nice mince pie. Ian Plenderleith