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Stephen Hunt: Even the biggest stars reduced to helpless pawns on deadline day


Obbi Oulare left Club Brugge to join Watford for a fee of £6m

Obbi Oulare left Club Brugge to join Watford for a fee of £6m

Matthew Ashton - AMA/Getty Images

Obbi Oulare left Club Brugge to join Watford for a fee of £6m

On deadline day last week, I sat at home as a 34-year-old footballer without a club and I knew the phone wasn't going to ring. I'm a free agent, which means I can join any club after the window closes, so I wasn't part of the panic buys. There is one club in particular I'd like to join but they have the power and I have to wait, which isn't much fun.

The silence reminded me of where I am in my career right now. There have been other occasions when the phone didn't stop for most of the day but then it did and I knew that wasn't good.

Deadline day has become a piece of light entertainment and I'm not here to make a case for it being anything different, but it is also a day when players can be told to return to their old position as chattel, moved around by clubs on a whim. Clubs tend to like that, I think. I'm not talking about players like Saido Berahino, who will be okay whatever happens, but about the players further down the leagues who won't be threatening any boycotts and are only concerned with earning enough to look after their families. They all get lumped in together by the public who think every footballer is a multi-millionaire.

There was a time when I had more power than I do now but even then I wasn't able to force a move. Twice in my career I've been involved in what Sky Sports would call 'deadline day drama' and both times were dramatic but they didn't really sound like fun.

One time I was contacted by a manager who said he wanted to buy me. This is what goes on and everyone knows it. Some players might have thrown their toys out of the pram at this point but I just got on with things, even though I would have joined that club if I could. The manager who wanted me was as good as his word in that he kept bidding but my club kept turning the bids down until, late on deadline day, he signed somebody else instead.

Others can sometimes play you a little bit. Another manager tried a similar move, told me he would trigger the release clause in my contract on deadline day. That's great, I thought. I was looking at houses in the area and on deadline day, I had my suit out and on the bed so I could be ready to go, when Sky cut over to the club and showed another player who played in my position arriving there.

It was a chance to get back in the Premier League and it can take some time to get over that if the alternative the next weekend is Blackpool away. When I saw that manager the next time I told him what a twat he was. He said my wage demands were too high but I think he got something better in his head and went with it.

David de Gea will have a lot of thoughts in his head after he missed out on Real Madrid. I don't buy this idea of an administrative failure. Somebody has hesitated somewhere. If the two clubs wanted it, he'd be a Madrid player now.

One thing that won't be a problem for him is United's dressing room. There will be a lot of talk and plenty of articles written about his commitment but footballers don't think like that. They all think like De Gea and they'll know it could have been any one of them. They won't be questioning his commitment, although he will probably have to put up with his team-mates taking the piss before he can fully relax about the whole thing.

Footballers don't think beyond next week most of the time so once De Gea settles down and gets in the team they'll be happy to have their best player back, at least for now. He might even sign a new contract but I wouldn't take it as an indication he's planning to stay at United necessarily. He's said to be one of the lowest-paid players at Old Trafford so a new contract might be a way of taking some power back temporarily, getting a pay rise while forcing Madrid to do things in a straightforward way the next time, even if he is a free agent as things stand.

He may have felt helpless last week and it was a reminder that sometimes it's not just 34-year-old free agents who can be on the outside when clubs don't behave as you'd like.

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