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Transfer Fodder: The Art of the Switch

Ever since Orlando City was awarded entry into MLS, they have been linked with big name signings (with some of them even coming true), however where do the rumors come from, what do they do to players in the current squad, and why do some clubs even actively engage in the activity?

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

So once again this week Orlando City was 'rumored' to be linked with another big name signing. This time it was the turn of disaffected Manchester United/Real Madrid forward Javier Hernandez, a.k.a. Chicharito. This was just another rumor in a long line with other recent potential transfer targets for Orlando City including upstart Italian striker Mario Balotelli, Swedish forward Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Brazilian striker Luis Fabiano and AS Roma playmaker Daniele De Rossi.

It is of course no surprise that everyone Orlando City has been recently linked with plays up front, since Orlando's scoring woes are well known, however, what do transfer rumors actually do to everyone involved? Is the front office actively involved? Do players think that they are larger than the game? And what about the fans?

The main problem with all of it is that no one actually knows. The only thing we do know is that rumors do eventually lead to something, even if we can't see the outcome.

(Aside: Any time I hear a transfer rumor I recall a great piece by British soccer magazine Four Four Two called "The truth behind the transfer window rumor mill," that tries to discover what is behind all of these rumors. I am not going to rehash the entire piece here, however, it gives context to what I am about to talk about.)

The Front Office

So why do the front offices of clubs get involved in rumors? Well, it could be a number of reasons, but I am going with the following:

1) It encourages current players to do better.

Now this is going to seem like an oxymoron. How can telling players that they can be replaced encourage them to do better? Well, the answer is it doesn't. However, every squad always has fringe players and transfer rumors encourage fringe players to play for their place not just in the squad but in the starting 11. It also lets players that are playing well know that reinforcements are on the way. It has the upside that if a rumor doesn't encourage fringe players to play better, then they probably shouldn't be on your squad.

2) It lets fans know that the team is competitive and always looking forward.

Being a lifelong fan of EPL side Newcastle United, to me there is nothing worse as a fan than not being linked to a big name player. It tells fans that their team isn't going to improve and that fans can expect more of the same or even worse. So, owners and the front office play the rumor mill dance (see this piece from the Orlando Sentinel for an example) and sometimes they do it for their own ends.

3) It promotes the club's brand.

Whenever a club gets linked to a player, articles, tweets, videos, and blogs go crazy with the stories. The bigger the name, the bigger the attention the article receives. This increases a club's brand and reputation not just on a local level with fans (see no.2) it increases it worldwide, and in quoting Oscar Wilde, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." An increased brand means larger revenues and we all have to remember that soccer is a business despite the passion it brings out in its fans.

The Players Actually Involved

Quite often when a rumor gets started it comes from the players themselves. It can be done for any number of reasons:

  • To get a pay increase with their current team

  • To get away from their current club/management

  • To get a pay increase with a new team (a combination of the above two)

  • To test the waters about any potential move now or in the future

  • To instigate something that will never become apparent

The problem that exists is that any rumor immediately, be it fanciful or realistic, spells uncertainty for everyone involved. However, no one that is involved in the transfer rumor mill doesn't understand that going in, and are more than aware that it could also go badly for them in the long run.

The Fans

Perhaps the biggest participants in the entire transaction of a transfer rumor are the fans. When a big name player is linked to the club, it gets them excited and usually buying newspapers, magazines or subscriptions, or it at least gets them actively involved on social media.

If the player ends up signing, they buy merchandise and tickets, which drives revenue. Fans also play an active rule in the recruitment of players, because no big name wants to play in front of an empty stadium and they want a crowd that is as passionate as they are about the beautiful game. It's why the best supported clubs often have the best players.

So, in the end, what does it all add up to? Well, who knows is the best answer, but the main thing that can be said about it is that its just another part of the game of soccer and it's something that will not be disappearing anytime soon.

Therefore, expect to see Orlando City linked with more and more big name players as MLS continues to grow into a soccer powerhouse.