“It’s madness. Every time this happens, it shortens your life by two more years. You would never run another business the same way.”
Ah… the transfer window. A cause for excitement and intrigue among fans – but a “horrible experience” for those directly involved.
If only it were as easy as cracking the lid of your laptop, opening the Football Manager “save” and giving a few mouse clicks.
However, the harsh reality is that it’s just a bit more complicated than that. But how does it actually work?
With the January window open, we dusted off our BBC Scotland sleuthing hats and made a few calls to find out what’s going on behind closed doors.
Development of a shortlist
You are therefore in the shoes of a club manager and have identified a problem area in your team. You need a clinical goalscorer, or maybe an imposing centre-back. What next?
You will first need to link up with your scouting and recruiting department, provided your club has one.
“You are in constant dialogue with the manager,” a former top football director told BBC Scotland. “You have to know what type of player they are looking for. It happens on a continuous and weekly basis.
“You will often ask your scouts to look at certain types of players a year in advance. Say you need a left winger, do you need one that goes outside, one that goes cut inside or one that will score at the back post?”
Once the details are ironed out, your recon team will endeavor to provide you with a long list of suitable targets.
Then you’re treated to endless hours of sifting through all of the potential options, narrowing the list down to your top four or five goals that you can pursue in the upcoming window.
Tapping & private detectives
The long list has been cut, you have your chosen ones. The easier is done, now it gets harder.
The official way to take the next step would be to have a verbal discussion with the potential selling club before an official offer is made.
The buying team must have the consent of the selling club before discussions begin with a player, unless they have less than six months remaining on their agreement.
However, you may be familiar with the term “tapping”. This is a prohibited process which involves a representative of the buying club approaching the agent or player without speaking to the sales team first.
“It happens,” says a former Premiership manager. “With all the work you are doing, all you really want to establish is whether the player will come to your club. It would take a lot of work for you to find out at the very end that the player is not interested.
“Often everything is done according to the rules. But when you start looking outside of Scotland, you have to know whether the player will come or not.”
Tapping isn’t the only dubious unofficial method used in football transfers.
While endless amounts of video content are available on one-click scouting systems to uncover every detail about a potential target’s playing ability, it’s harder to uncover their personality.
When millions of pounds are involved in transfer fees and contracts, clubs want to know if they are going to blow that on someone who is going to cause a discord in the dressing room.
Character references are a usual way of finding out this information from a player’s former colleagues, but a source has told BBC Scotland they are aware of the use of private investigators south of the border.
“You get the same characters in every locker room,” they say. “If you’re going to offer people £40,000 a week, it might be worth hiring one to check on whether the player likes a drink or is at the casino until the wee hours.”
Annual leave entitlement and £1,000 cash in £1 notes
Don’t worry, for the purposes of this, we’re not asking you to wiretap anyone or hire a private investigator.
Let’s say the selling club has given you permission to speak to the player after encouraging initial discussions and a successful offer.
The next step is to discuss personal terms with the player. Enter the agent. Now agents don’t have the best reputation in the world of football, but is the stigma unfair?
“We are easy targets for clubs and fans,” one told BBC Scotland. “We are to blame for everything. It’s just nature. We’re just there to help the player and give him options.”
So what exactly are they helping their customers with? Agents are there to get the best deal possible for their player.
A lot of that comes down to wages, but they also have a responsibility to make sure the club is financially secure so their client can get paid and get paid on time.
If these boxes are checked, they will also try to establish where the player will fit into the manager’s plans, what the signing fee will be, what the bonuses are and the length of the contract.
You probably haven’t thought about the right to annual leave. Of course, there’s only one time in a year when this can realistically be used and that’s between the end of one season and the start of the next.
While agents regularly get bad press, a former Scotland international highlights their importance by recalling an experience signing without one.
“I remember signing for a club and being paid a signing fee of £1,000 in £1 notes,” they say. “There are a lot of good agents out there. Some can be pretty poor and horrible, but they’re not bad guys at all.”
Two-day medical documents and TMS
Transfer fees and personal conditions are accepted. Job done, right? Think again. The signing player will then have to pass a medical examination.
When a multi-million pound deal is on the line it can sometimes be done over two days, causing a nervous wait for everyone involved, while clubs with fewer resources will have to rely on their medical service to claw something back .
Snags are rare, but not impossible to find. David Turnbull’s move from Motherwell to Celtic came a year later than expected due to a medical issue, while Parkhead favorite John Hartson failed procedure at Rangers before signing for their rivals from the city.
However, medical care is not the only cause for concern. Transactions in process on the day of the deadline may collapse due to paperwork issues. Then you have the visa problems caused by Brexit.
Any non-British player must be rated on a Home Office system where points are awarded for things such as international appearances, their existing club success and how much they will be paid.
The majority of those who come here will not meet the threshold for a permit to be granted automatically, so a case for a Board exemption must be submitted to a six-person panel. It is a process that takes time and involves a forest full of paperwork.
And after all this, the relevant documentation must be uploaded into the Transfer Management System (TMS) before the scheduled deadline. If this process has already started, you get an extra hour to complete the transaction.
To make sure everything goes well, it’s then your club’s liaison officer who helps find accommodation for a player, or even a school for his children, while your new signing hoists the club scarf at the above his head for media purposes.
Good work everyone. We can relax now, surely? Not according to this former high-flying boss…
“You should be forced to wait a year before you start congratulating yourself, just to see how they do,” they add.