Premier League footballers are notoriously well paid, but bumper contracts and huge bonuses only tell part of the story. Their destiny is rarely in their own hands and their entire lives can be uprooted at a moment’s notice.
Since the transfer window was first introduced to English football in 2002, it’s been a source of endless fascination.
Behind the scenes, away from the media glare, many players wait and wonder, trapped in a state of uncertainty – their careers are at stake.
To shed some light on the inner workings of the transfer window, four former players shared their experiences of deals that went down to the wire.
‘You hear the story that I slept in the airport’
Benjani – Portsmouth to Manchester City
In late January 2008, Manchester City were suffering an injury crisis and needed a proven striker to see them through the second half of the season.
Meanwhile, Benjani was in the best form of his career, having scored 12 goals in 23 games for Portsmouth. He was enjoying life at Fratton Park and had no thoughts of leaving until City made their interest clear the day before the deadline.
“I was thinking, ‘Maybe it’s for the next window, not this one.’ Everyone wants to go to a bigger team, but the timing wasn’t good. To want to go to another club, you need to think about it,” he explains.
“You need to be in the right frame of mind whereby you have the time to do everything. There wasn’t enough time, so, at that point, I wasn’t sure that I would move. I wasn’t forcing the move. Either way, it was perfect for me.”
Pompey manager Harry Redknapp was eager to sign Jermain Defoe, so he accepted a £7.6 million offer for Benjani. The wheels were suddenly in motion but there were still several issues to resolve.
“There wasn’t enough time for me to travel from Portsmouth. There were no flights, so I had to go to London. The flight was delayed. Sometimes you hear the story that I slept in the airport [and missed my flight] but how can you sleep when you’re about to go and sign a deal?’
“It’s a nightmare to have a deal like that in the last minute. You’re thinking, ‘Is it going to happen?’ You’re watching the time. When you’re racing against time it’s stressful for both parties.”
The Zimbabwean arrived in Manchester at 10.30pm. Unable to carry out a medical in time, City submitted their paperwork to the Premier League despite concerns about a previous knee injury. Benjani’s fate hung in the balance until five days later, when the move was finally confirmed.
‘I was driving like crazy on the motorway!’
Nolberto Solano – Aston Villa to Newcastle United
The Peruvian winger had reluctantly left Newcastle for Aston Villa and he was eager to head back just 18 months later. Solano even ignored a late intervention from Liverpool because his heart was set on a return to the North East.
“I had a phone call from one of the agents of Rafa Benitez, but I’d already given my word to Newcastle. I spoke to a few of the lads and I was happy to come back to the club. With the opportunity to move to Liverpool, it was quite a crazy day,” he says.
Solano had made more than 200 appearances in his first spell at St James’ Park, becoming a fan favourite. Conversations with close friends and club stalwarts like Steve Harper and Alan Shearer helped persuade him to rejoin the Magpies in August 2005.
On deadline day, an agreement was reached over a £1.5m fee for Solano. James Milner was also involved in the deal, heading on loan to Villa for the rest of the season as his direct replacement.
“It was exciting and stressful. First of all, I had to drive four hours from Birmingham to Newcastle. I was driving like crazy on the motorway!” Solano says, laughing.
“I arrived at the club, went for my medical, did the paperwork and everything like that. I remember I finished at like 11 o’clock at night. It was a tough day, but I was over the moon.”
While Liverpool won the FA Cup and reached the Champions League final over the next two years, Newcastle were maddeningly inconsistent.
“If Liverpool were talking to me a few days or weeks earlier I might have thought about it, but when it happened on the same day, I wasn’t sure.
“Nobody can read the future. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. I followed my feelings, which were to go back to Newcastle at that time, because I love the club and I love the fans.”
‘At the last moment I needed to drive down to London’
Louis Saha – Everton to Tottenham Hotspur
Swap deals are rare but sometimes they suit everyone best. In January 2012, Steven Pienaar was seeking a return to Everton and his former team-mate Louis Saha wanted a fresh start. Changing places made perfect sense.
“It was a good move. I had a moment where something was broken with Everton. Some attitudes towards me weren’t right, so I felt it was time for something different. I went to a club on an exciting trajectory,” says Saha.
The deal wasn’t entirely straightforward, but a compromise was eventually found on deadline day. Pienaar moved on loan and Saha was released from his contract to enable him to join Tottenham until the end of the season.
“There is a tendency for clubs or advisors to wait until the last moment of the transfer window to get a bit more pressure and leverage. Sometimes you hear about the possibility a month or two before, but it takes a while for it to become more concrete,” says the former French international.
“At the last moment I needed to drive down to London to do my medical. My knees have always been an issue in my career, but everything went through OK.
“My family were still in Manchester and leaving them behind was a bit difficult. I discussed it with my partner at the time. It’s an opportunity but it’s not easy because you don’t get to see the people you care about.
“The career is so short that you have to do what you have to do, but it’s mainly about respect and balance. It’s about making sure that everyone can find their happiness.”
At 33, Saha hoped to guide his younger team-mates in their pursuit of Champions League qualification. He was often used from the bench but still scored four goals in 10 appearances, including a double on his home debut.
‘I forgot my passport’
Collins John – FC Twente to Fulham
Saha features in another deadline day story from eight years earlier, when his move to Manchester United left Fulham searching for a striker. They settled on Collins John as a young talent with the potential to replace their top goalscorer.
The teenager was attracting interest from clubs around Europe, including Manchester City, Marseille and PSV Eindhoven, who were initially his preferred option, but Fulham won him round after a tireless pursuit.
“Fulham were so pushy, in a nice way. I remember Chris Coleman calling me. He told Edwin van der Sar to call me as well because he was obviously the Dutch goalkeeper and a legend. They really convinced me,” recalls John.
Discussions about the fee, and a sell-on clause, held up the deal and the then 18-year-old understandably didn’t want to rush such an important decision. Leaving his family and friends behind to move to another country, and learn a new language, was a huge step.
“I wanted to hold out for another week, but I just couldn’t because the window was closing. Everything had to be very quick. I was very nervous and scared, but at the same time I was excited because it was a new adventure for me.”
Deadline day itself was eventful. “I was meant to be flying to London, but I forgot my passport. I had to go back to my house to get it and then we took the train through Paris to London St Pancras. Imagine how stressful that was! Everything was last minute,” says John.
“I got picked up and went straight to the hospital to do the medical and my agent went to the stadium to do the contract. There were certain little terms that I didn’t like but you haven’t got time to think about it. You’ve got to make a decision there and then. I was panicking. I was sweating.
“I only found out the next morning that the deal went through. All night I couldn’t sleep. I was like, ‘There’d better be nothing wrong because otherwise my head will be spinning!’ It was pretty tense, but we made it in the end, and I was very happy.”
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