Twisted words amid transfer tales
MANCHESTER -- It wasn't the start to the season Manchester United fans were expecting. Before the club's opening game of the season against Swansea, I did an interview outside Old Trafford for the BBC's Match of the Day 2 highlights programme. Match of the Day, a British television institution famous for its opening theme tune, will be 50 years old this weekend.
I was cautiously optimistic before the game and talked about an excellent preseason for United, though I stressed that fans wanted to see more signings. The mood had changed completely by the time I was interviewed after the match, though that didn't stop one fan interrupting and asking if I was going for a pint with him and his mates as my thoughts were recorded on Sir Matt Busby Way. We did a second take, which was no less downbeat.
On Monday evening, I was back at Old Trafford to appear on Manchester United's television channel with David McDonnell and Jonathan Northcroft, two well-respected, time-served journalists from the Daily Mirror and The Sunday Times, respectively.
It's an hour-long weekly show covering all things related to the club from a media perspective and the three of us, plus presenter Mark Sullivan, discussed the topical events of the week in the United world including the fallout from the Swansea defeat, forthcoming matches and the players the club have been linked with in the media.
The names Angel Di Maria and Arturo Vidal came up. We all offered opinions, insight and balanced them in context. We were comfortable with everything we said and enjoyed doing the show, which is filmed in a new studio overlooking the pitch.
I left the studio and switched my phone on to see scores of messages on Twitter about how I'd said that Vidal's move to Manchester was back on.
I had said no such thing, not even close to it. I spoke about the Juventus midfielder for a couple of minutes and explained how United had completely denied any move for him a month ago (and I'd said there was interest in him a month ago).
I knew that because I communicated with the one person who would know. I added that the noise about Vidal leaving Juve wouldn't go away, that reliable sources in Italy, as well as the Spanish-speaking world and Manchester, had reported the potential transfer for more than a month. Well-sourced newspapers such as Gazzetta Dello Sport ran the story prominently, but the story didn't move on.
I added too that United would hardly admit interest, while one journalist opined that he thought it was Juventus drumming up interest in Vidal, and another suggested that he wasn't the kind of player United needed and that he'd had a less-than-spectacular World Cup. That was all fair comment.
The upshot was that I had 24 hours of people on Twitter asking for any updates to the Vidal situation. Those people who'd actually watched the programme found it amusing.
A former United player texted to say that someone claiming to be an agent on Twitter was linking me to fresh Vidal moving stories. I then spoke to the player. The former United one, that is, not Vidal, before anyone gets carried away...
"I saw the programme and at no point did you say that," he agreed before adding: "It's strange on Twitter."
And it is. The demand for transfer news is insatiable, but it's all a bit depressing, and not just because United haven't signed as many players as their fans would hope.
Original journalism gets ignored in the obsession for transfer news, however skewed that information is.
I don't know of any reputable journalist who'd break a big transfer story with a tweet. For a start, there's currency in such information, and the journalist's editor wouldn't be pleased.
But many people are obsessed with transfers. They crave information and their minds become conditioned to believe what they want to believe. They talk about them during matches when the players who actually have been signed are playing. United fans are desperate for new arrivals and want to push the likelihood of that happening even if facts dictate otherwise. I get more people asking me about transfers in real life than about my family.
After United's defeat by Swansea, I attended the managers' press conference, finished my work and caught the last 30 minutes of a semiprofessional game close to where I grew up near Old Trafford; a chance to watch football without having to write about it.
The first person who saw me asked who United were in for. As did the second. I guess it goes with the territory, but it's odd when people start asking your family members just because they know you've been speaking to footballers, agents or officials as part of your job.
I will often check out stories by speaking to such contacts. Here's an example. In January 2013, a hot tip was that Manchester United were going for Victor Wanyama, the Kenyan midfielder then with Celtic. The story was splashed across several back pages, and the news was intriguing.
I'd followed Wanyama's career since a friend became his agent. He kept me posted as his client's stock rose and, when Celtic were drawn in the same Champions League group as Barcelona, I interviewed the player. When he was linked to United, it made sense to speak to his agent.
"Nothing," was the reply. As in no offers from United, no contact, either. Some agents can tell you what they want, but I trusted a man I've known very well for a decade. If he'd said the opposite and asked me to keep quiet (as an agent will often do), I would have done so. Sometimes an agent can be disingenuous, but I trusted that lad implicitly, and he was right.
"Nothing in the Wanyama to United rumours," I wrote on Twitter, trying to inform United fans. The response was immediate.
"You're wrong, he's coming, I've got it from a very good source," replied a man with Paul Scholes for his profile picture. I wasn't going to get into an argument with an anonymous man on Twitter. Other posters agreed with him. I told one that I'd buy him a pint if the deal came off. He told me confidently that he was looking forward to it.
The deal didn't happen because it was never on. I looked back at the naysayers. A few had deleted their tweets, revising their history.
Back to Monday and, while we were on air, Sporting Lisbon confirmed that Marcos Rojo would leave. Nothing could be announced officially until the club had confirmed it but, as journalists, we were free to say what we knew, which was that we thought he was coming to United.
Of course, that was old news to the transfer-obsessed, who had already moved on to the next potential target.
Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.