Saturday 21 April 2018

Tommy Conlon: The curious case of missing Mahrez and Success failing to breed success


'Mahrez had been released from the Algerian squad to finalise a transfer to Barcelona, Chelsea or some other super power. But there was no sign of him' Photo: PA
'Mahrez had been released from the Algerian squad to finalise a transfer to Barcelona, Chelsea or some other super power. But there was no sign of him' Photo: PA

Tommy Conlon

Burdened perhaps by the pressure of his name, the Nigerian footballer Isaac Success was looking for a way out of Watford. He's not the only one looking to do that, sez you, but this was an urgent matter because it was transfer deadline day and here was a man looking for a new job.

Gary Cotterill, to his credit, knew that this was an open goal so he didn't lay it on with a trowel. "Eh, Isaac Success, not really been a success at Watford," he said on Thursday morning, with only the slightest undertone of irony.

Gary, of course, was Sky Sports' man on the ground outside the club's training campus. A long day's journey into night lay ahead for him, and all the other correspondents deployed by the TV network across the Premier League clubs of Britain. It was the closing day of the summer transfer window and Sky's fiesta of fake news was once again launched on clouds of rumour, speculation and pub talk. It remained airborne for 18 hours and more, buoyed by a veritable arcade of studio pyrotechnics, candy floss dramas and fellas shouting into cameras.

A veteran of these marathon vigils, Cotterill faced into his grim odyssey with the optimism that is essential for this ultimate test of endurance. "I think it might be a busy day down here at Watford," he declared early doors, with that affable gap-toothed grin. And yet he somehow managed to find time for an educational interview with the chief fire officer of the Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service. If you want something done, ask a busy man.

Further north, the search was on for Riyad Mahrez. One of the stars of Leicester's 2015/'16 fairytale season, Mahrez had been released from the Algerian squad to finalise a transfer to Barcelona, Chelsea or some other super power. But there was no sign of him and Alan Myers, stranded outside the Leicester training ground, could only tell us he'd been "spotted in Paris and spotted in London" - which meant your guess was as good as his. "It's becoming a bit of a 'Where's Wally?' (situation) isn't it," was the best that Alan could offer.

Diafra Sakho had also done a runner. The West Ham striker had fetched up in Rennes the day before and completed his medical with the French club. The only snag was that West Ham seemed to know nothing about this putative transfer. Michael Weightman, stationed outside their training base, couldn't shed much light on Sakho's whereabouts.

As is often the case, the newsroom back at Sky HQ had more information than the reporters on the ground, who frequently just relay to the viewer what a producer or researcher has minutes earlier told them. The 'breaking news' is broken by the reporter to the audience, but frequently sourced by someone else back in the office.

It was from here that we were told on Thursday afternoon that Sakho was on a flight back from France for showdown talks with West Ham. The Senegal international was apparently determined to push his move through. But first, he would take a detour to Chelmsford race track, of all places, where his agent, Mark McKay, had a horse running in the 3.20. The horse won, Sakho lost - he is still at West Ham.

Back at Watford, our man had found some shelter. "It's absolutely chucking it down," said Gary. Undeterred by the inclement weather conditions, he revealed the club had signed a Greek goalkeeper on loan from Udinese. We were also treated to fresh pictures of young Isaac standing in the car park talking on his mobile phone. Could Success breed success in the transfer market? If we sat watching for another nine hours, we might find out.

Alan Myers, meanwhile, had an update on Mahrez. Sources were telling him that the wantaway winger was "landing in Zambia at the moment". But the Paris, Barcelona and London rumours couldn't yet be ruled out either.

Alexis Sanchez, Thomas Lemar, Jonny Evans, Ross Barkley: the big purported deals were trumped up on banner headlines all day long, looped around like luggage on a carousel, or miles of ground meat getting pumped through the sausage machine. But in reality, the best they could do for a superstar exclusive was with one Nahki Wells, a Bermuda international who moved from Huddersfield to Burnley.

Virgil van Dijk is a big name too. He was supposed to be on his way to Liverpool. Jane Dougall was on the case down at Southampton's ground where they had pictures of a blacked-out SUV being driven into training and, a few hours later, back out again. The Dutch defender had his hood up and head down in the back of the vehicle. "It was almost as though he was trying to hide from the cameras," explained Jane, helpfully.

Once again it was left to Cotterill to rescue the situation with another exclusive, this time courtesy of a player who was only too happy to talk, given his place in the food chain. Lloyd Doyley had spent 24 years with the Hornets, man and boy. He played over 440 first-team games. At 34 he is looking for another club. There were no takers.

Isaac Success is 21. There were no takers for him either. "It hasn't happened," reported Gary, shrouded in darkness as the clock struck 11.0 and the deadline descended, with both men still marooned around the Watford Gap.

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