Signing players is easy, just ask anyone who has never done it. The selling club invariably wants to wait until the last moment, when they are sure no one else will bid up the price. The player occasionally wants to wait and see if you have Champions League football that season. This deal might be the only income the agent will get that year, so he needs to make the most of it.
Then you have the really complicated ones. Players have pitched up at Celtic Park from a far-flung part of Europe, terrified to sign because some shady character thinks he owns a part of him and has not been paid off.
There has been a time recently when everything was agreed, then the selling club told the player he would not receive his final salary. The player, not unreasonably, said, “This is not right, on a point of principle, they need to pay or we try again in January.”
You want to sign all your top targets, but to do that, you need to pay the top price the club, player and agent can imagine you will pay, even then, it’s not always going to happen.
It is only right to pay the top price you can afford on exceptional occasions. Your strategy should involve being prepared to fail in a negotiation, because to succeed at the prevailing price does not fit your overall budget.
In Scotland, we are still conditioned to some extent, by the bombast of David Murray. Old Zsa Zsa rattled his jewellery and boasted that he never allowed price to stop him buying a player he really wanted. I hear the echoes today, “Just pay the money!”
Murray made it sound like a virtue. It wasn’t. It was one of several vices that led to liquidation.
You have to lose some. Players will not come and some existing players, who are out of contract, will leave. Both will be painful, fans will accuse you of motives which have no internal consistency, but if you get a reputation for not letting players walk away due to money, you are dead in the water.
You need a bucket full of tactics, not cash, to sign players. Experience helps too, and not the good type, you will mostly learn from bad experiences. There will be times you phone the player’s grandfather, who is on your side, but you will still not be able to convince the player Celtic Park is the right move.
Then you will publicly turn your face to stone. “This is our line and not an inch more”, was the subtext of a recent Celtic Tweet. “Curious”, I thought, “What’s the chances this will work?”
The football business is mad, there is no other word for it. It is full of dafties, alpha males who are still trying to impress their decades-dead fathers, the occasional warlord and some fine young athletes. Try to understand it through the prism of normal life and you will misinterpret everything.
Oh, and if at least 50% of your transfers are not justifiably described as a “saga” you’re not working hard enough. Transfers, like sausages, are not meant to look good when they are being made.
Let’s hope David Turnbull passes his medical…..
I’m off to the CQN Charity Golf Day in Aberdour this afternoon, not to play golf, of course, but to hear Danny McGrain and Willie McStay.