Sport Soccer

Monday 20 November 2017

Dion Fanning: Boys of summer are addicted to the worship of false idols

Dion Fanning

The news that Chris Samba would be returning to Anzhi Makhachkala for the same fee the Russian club sold him to QPR in January will have cheered all those who are judged by their performances in the transfer market.

Samba arrived at QPR in January, ready to do all in his power to keep the club in the Premier League, even if his role was limited to begin with as he was still in the middle of a Russian pre-season.

Indeed it became customary to hear commentators making approving noises as we moved into the spring that Samba would be back to full match fitness any day now, soon displaying all his strength at the business end of the season, even if QPR were by then mainly in the business of being relegation certainties.

Happily, Samba experienced no setbacks and was fully fit for the close season, by which stage QPR had unfortunately been relegated.

Samba is now free to return to Russia. It is a move which surprised people who made the mistake of assuming the words footballers say have some meaning and aren't just noises they make to kill time.

"All the money in the world cannot make you happy if you don't have your family with you," Samba said when he left Anzhi.

"I came back to be with my family. I have no plans to go back to Russia."

If you want to make God and oligarchs laugh, tell them your plans, so Samba is on his way back to Russia, his value in no way diminished due to his association with QPR, a compassionate view of his battle to achieve full fitness.

There are no losers in this tale, if you forget about QPR's supporters and the calamitous cost of their relegation. This was a rarity: a risk-free transfer, a novelty in a world which exists, it can seem at times, solely to make men feel alive, to experience the thrill of the chase.

There was a time when Newcastle United were the boys of summer, but every club needs to satisfy this need now as they try to match the demands of supporters.

Transfer speculation is a synthetic drug, a narcotic that promises nothing but addiction to itself, the crystal meth of sport. It's a fix that simply demands another fix, unsullied by any memory of past experience. A search for a high which is the only viable alternative to no high at all.

There is little accumulated wisdom. Football supporters might have celebrated the signings of Juan Veron, Andrey Arshavin or Joe Cole but they appear to have learned nothing from these traumatic events.

Newcastle fans, on the other hand, may have experienced a rock bottom when they marched up the hill to St James' Park to celebrate the arrival of Michael Owen.

As they allowed Jim White to lead them in the orgiastic celebration, they may have sensed the deep futility of their joy. Of course, it would take some time for them to acknowledge, but that day served as a brutal reminder of where the addiction can take them when they were having whatever Jim White was having.

It is not a triumph of hope over experience as much as hopelessness over even greater hopelessness. Transfer speculation allows football fans to dream of a better world and, in the modern age, to do all the things one associates with dreaming, like pretending they are at the centre of events or abusing people on Twitter who provide information which subsequently turns out not to be true.

Journalists know this to be the most sensitive of subjects. When transfer information is provided, they must tread softly because they tread on the dreams of those who have always hoped they would see Henrikh Mkhitaryan in a Liverpool shirt.

This desire, no less authentic because it has sat deep within the soul of every fan since late May, demands attention and there is a craving which must be acknowledged. There is something strangely addictive about the rumours pages and the Twitter feeds of those who claim to be in the know.

The transfer market is one of the great marketing creations, the cliffhanger which ensures people remain engaged during the close season just in case they were thinking of getting on with life. Luis Suarez can issue bulletins from Brazil, the bookmakers can stop taking bets on him joining Arsenal and the rational being will dismiss it all while simultaneously wondering what if it were true.

Newcastle's reinvention – prior to Joe Kinnear's return – has created a new template for English clubs in the transfer market which, in turn, simply creates a new hysteria. It is now possible to become more excited by a player the less you know of him. There is a sense of conformity, a weariness when a club pursues some well-known footballer, a sense that it lacks imagination, imagination now being as important a factor as talent.

In a world overloaded with information, there is a need for obscurity which creates the sense in itself of progress. The unknown, after all, has limitless possibilities.

Again this started as a sensible idea, the pursuit of value beyond the obvious. Yet value in transfers, like value in other forms of gambling, hasn't as much merit as actual success.

We are, as David Mamet said about relationships, crazed to get into them and crazed to get out of them.

This weekend Arsenal fans wait for Gonzalo Higuain to arrive from Real Madrid and solve all their problems. The men who previously arrived to solve their problems are forgotten. Liverpool fans are devastated by the failure to sign Mkhitaryan, forgetting that last year they wondered how they would live without Clint Dempsey and that Joe Cole was once said to be better than Messi.

Some will note that Arshavin said recently that the monotony of life in England was "nearly crushing me" but the day when he was the salvation is dismissed. Those old idols were false idols. The next one is real. The next hit will take the pain away.

dfanning@independent.ie

Irish Independent

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