When the word ‘respect’ comes up, look out— the end is near
On May 25, 2007, Southampton left back Gareth Bale sealed a move to Tottenham Hotspur. The initial fee: £5 million. “I’m just excited to be coming to a massive club like Spurs,” the 17-year-old said in a press release. “It’s pushing forward, and I want to be part of its future.”
And he was, up to a point. Bale’s Spurs career did not begin well. In each of his first 24 Premier League appearances, Tottenham lost or drew. He broke the streak in September 2009, coming on as an 84th minute substitute in a 5–0 defeat of bottom-feeding Burnley. Over the next four years, Bale would score 52 goals, four of them, quite famously, in the Champions League.
The timing of his next move was a minor surprise. Bale was still young and in the early stages of a long contract. Despite Real Madrid’s very public overtures, Tottenham remained publicly insistent that he was not for sale, no matter the price. Some of the supporters took this seriously. But by September 1, the Welshman was en route to Spain for “a world-record £86 million fee.” The whole saga was, of course, a fait accompli. From the moment White Hart Lane first rang out the call, “Taxi for Maicon!,” Bale was on his way.
Your favorite players leave. They leave Southampton, they leave Spurs, they leave Arsenal, even Manchester United. They leave, as Hemingway might put it, “gradually, then suddenly.” And it happens like this:
Departure Begins Upon Arrival
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Bale’s case is a good example, but it hardly takes a legendary Champions League performance to set the wheels in motion. A timely brace or sparkling free kick are more than enough to put a “big club” “on alert” and in so doing, focus the mind of a harried agent. By the time you read something like “It is understood that Manchester United have eyes for £20 million Southampton star Luke Shaw,” he’s already gone. Did you even know he was worth £20 million? Of course not, no one did. United ended up paying £27 million last month.
‘Respect’ Is Just Another Word for Nothing You Can Do
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On May 19, 2010, Barcelona’s then-sporting director Txiki Begiristain was quoted in the Telegraph saying the Catalans were super happy that Arsenal’s Cesc Fabregas had made it clear he wanted a move to Spain but, not to worry, “we have to respect Arsenal’s wishes and the contract he has… they think he is a very important player for them, we have to respect that.” Cesc was, with respect, “unveiled” as a Barcelona player on August 15, 2011.
He Takes the Shirt Off His Back
The most obsessed-upon tea leaf is read, in most cases, sometime in mid- to late-July, when clubs release their new kit for the upcoming season. The designs are usually known to the probing supporter by then—there any number of sites dedicated to finding pictures from inside Nike headquarters, leaked via rogue employee creep shot—but the real drama is whom the team picks to model them.
So you can imagine the wrenching and heaving inspired by Spurs’ July 2012 “launch.” Brad Friedel? Check. Benoit Assout-Ekotto (with power arm-cross look)? Check! Clench-fisted Gareth Bale? Yup. Scotty Parker tearing at his shirt? Front and center. Jake Livermore? Jake Livermore. But. Wait. Hey! Where’s Luka Modric? The first rumors concerned Chelsea—and the accompanying “gentleman’s agreement” imbroglio—but soon enough, as they do, Real came calling. Important to note: While this is a good indicator, it’s not foolproof. Bale was included in last season’s Tottenham team photos, though his pout augured an unhappy ending.
MARCA Gets Its Meat Hooks In
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The newspaper was founded by nationalist partisans in 1938, as Franco’s fascists took the upper hand in the Spanish Civil War. Today, it focuses mostly on the daily—sometimes hourly—doings of Real Madrid. Though entirely independent editorially, it is entirely dependent on Madrid officials for story fodder.
So when those executives set their sights on a player, you read things like this, a monologue purportedly delivered by the soft-spoken Welshman to Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy in the summer of 2013: “You made me a promise. You promised me if we didn’t qualify for the Champions League and a good offer turned up you’d listen to it. Well, that offer has arrived and I want to play for Real Madrid. So keep your word and negotiate… I’m not interested in Manchester United or any other club. I only want to play for Real Madrid.” In just 62 words, Marca—I mean, Bale—managed to weave together every gripe he and his agents have against Spurs management and state, twice, his desire to “play for Real Madrid.”
Marca got to work on new signing James Rodríguez, formerly of AS Monaco, soon after the Colombian’s “Man of the Match” performance in his World Cup debut, a 3–0 thrashing of Greece. In the five-and-a-half months before that game, the paper had mentioned James in just four articles. He made two headlines, both for talking about his teammate and countryman, Radamel Falcao. In the days and weeks that followed, leading up to and after James’s eventual introduction as a Madrid player, Marca published 68 pieces—news articles, infographics, live blogs, and profiles of the player and his family.
“James Rodríguez has been a Madrid fan since childhood, just like the rest of his family,” they reported, in an unsigned June 30 post, “‘I really like Real Madrid,’ admits the player’s mother, Pilar Rubio. The Colombian is also an admirer of Cristiano Ronaldo.”
The story also helpfully points out that James and Cristiano Ronaldo share an agent. Key, though, is the look back at the player’s “childhood” allegiance. Which bring us to….
We Hear About His ‘Boyhood’
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This is the central meme of the transfer window. A player wants a raise, one his current club is unable or unwilling to provide, so he needs an acceptable out. Demanding a move in pursuit of that money is still, somehow, considered taboo. So we begin to hear about the guy’s “boyhood.” Why, for instance, did Sunderland’s ascendent ginger, Jack Colback, leave for Tyneside rivals Newcastle United? It was not, as one might reasonably assume, that they ultimately agreed to up his wages by 733 percent. No, according to… someone, it’s because young Colback has been a Magpies man since he was a boy. (Note: Colback was out of contract at Sunderland, so it’s hardly like he needed to turn this into a morality play.)
The most celebrated wantaway—the only man “to play for all 8 of his childhood teams”—is the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Robbie Keane. Upon leaving Tottenham for Liverpool in 2008, he explained that, “as a fan, joining Liverpool is a lifelong dream of mine and one I couldn’t let pass me by.” Keane was back at Spurs a few months later, but by the January 2010, it was time to go. He was greeted by fans of his next club, Celtic, at the airport in Glasgow. “It’s absolutely unbelievable,” Keane said of the welcoming party. “This is the reason why I’ve always wanted to come to Celtic. “It’s no secret over the years I’ve been a Celtic fan.”
But here’s the thing: He was in Scotland on loan. So 18 months later, it was time to decamp to MLS and the Galaxy. “I have always wanted to come and play in MLS so it’s the perfect combination for me and a dream come true,” Keane told reporters after signing his new contract. Not everyone is so lucky, though. Porto’s Colombian striker Jackson Martinez, who, “as a child,” cheered for Arsenal, remains in Portugal. For now.