M anagers have no choice but to sell players who want away. Most clubs have hidden behind this mantra to explain their decision to sell their best players, but one club has recently exposed it as the myth it clearly is. And that club happens to be one of the smallest ever to compete in the Premier League.
Blackpool's Charlie Adam handed in a transfer request and was the subject of several bids throughout January, with the highest believed to be in the region of £6.6m by Liverpool. With only 18 months left on his contract, his sale value will plummet if he remains at the club beyond the summer. Conventional wisdom would have us believe there is no way Blackpool could have retained their captain in this scenario. Not for the first time it seems conventional wisdom in football is well worth challenging.
Players rarely hand in transfer requests unless they are aware there is a club prepared to buy them (in the same way, clubs seldom make bids for players without prior knowledge that he would be willing to join them). Once the request is handed in, the player's representative will stress the futility of keeping a player who doesn't want to be there.
If things aren't going to plan, the veiled threat of not trying a leg is never too far from the table. The option of demotion to the reserve squad is the worst a club can threaten, but neither party wants either scenario to come about. Both realise that nothing can change without two signatures. Each is reliant on the other, but aware the other is dependent on them. As with any negotiations, bluff and counter-bluff take centre-stage.
Ian Holloway has been the most vocal critic of some of the accepted absurdities of the transfer market and the behaviour of some agents within it. Last week he spoke out again. The temptation for some is to dismiss Holloway as a pantomime figure, some sort of village idiot without the necessary acumen to realise how things get done in the big business world of the Premier League. But nothing could be further from the truth.
In the last month alone, Liverpool didn't want Fernando Torres to go, Sunderland didn't want Darren Bent to leave, and it was apparently only a transfer request which 'forced' Newcastle's hand in the sale of Andy Carroll.
While these may not be the best examples to give because all three clubs made ridiculous sums in each deal, the sale of a decent player these days never seems to go through with the backing of the selling club.
Even Alex Ferguson briefly played the victim in the impasse which almost led to Wayne Rooney's departure from Old Trafford last year. Managers constantly claim to be bullied by players and their agents. It has fallen to lowly Blackpool to fight the good fight. And, so far, they are more than holding their own.
An agent rang me one day and asked me if I was interested in a move to one of the London Premier League clubs. I humoured him, and the gist of his pitch was that the deal would only happen if he was allowed to negotiate it.
I was signed to another agent at the time so this was an illegal approach. He said he worked for a firm that looked after a few Irish players at the time and revealed how working with Irish players particularly appealed to him because they "don't buy into the bullshit". It appeared this was his unique selling point. Upon hearing that, I knew it was time to hang up. Though the sales pitch was awful enough, when it came to the importance of his involvement in the transfer, he may well have been telling the truth. It is this sort of carry-on which angered Holloway again last week.
He has claimed Adam was illegally approached by an agent on deadline day about a move to Tottenham. As with my own experience, the agent claimed to be able to orchestrate the move himself. Tottenham subsequently made a bid that evening for him, but Adam went nowhere. Holloway was understandably furious with the agent's behaviour. Rather than accept it is how things are done and claim to be powerless to prevent it, he publicly named everyone involved.
It never once struck me to question why that agent's input was essential for the deal to happen because the reason was blatantly obvious. I wouldn't have been given an honest answer anyway. While Holloway may be the most vocal opponent of this practice, clubs themselves are responsible for helping create the conditions which help to make it possible.
Agents should only have a seat at one side of the negotiating table, but despite regulations which prevent it, quite often this is not the case. The willingness of club officials to form lasting agreements with agents rather than just the players they represent mean there is no likelihood of their influence diminishing any time soon.
Holloway and his chairman have taken a strong position in defiance of what is accepted practice, but their relegation from the Premier League this season would serve as a lesson to any others who try the same. At Blackpool, they're playing for a lot more than just their survival.
Sunday Indo Sport