The transfer rumour mill is at its peak this time of year. Fans love transfer talk, many even seem to enjoy it more than actual games. Unfortunately, we're all frustrated by it in equal measure and some supporters now even despise 'gossip' to the point where they are happy to instantly dismiss any 'rumour' in its entirety without a moment's hesitation.
Unfortunately, the constant thirst for transfer updates has blown the whole thing onto a completely nonsensical level. But the devil is in the detail and the key to reading a transfer story is understanding what is actually being said, something which seems beyond a lot of people.
Take the recent reports linking Manchester United to a shock bid for Barcelona superstar Neymar, for example. The initial story came from the Sun, which regardless of their reputation often provides sound and reliable sports reporting.
However, it was immediately met with incredible negativity - "Load of rubbish!", "As if!", "Never gonna happen!", or the ubiquitous "if it ain't on Sky Sports it's a load of s**t!" Funnily enough, most people seem incredibly blind to that particular broadcaster's regular shortcomings when it comes to transfer news.
To many readers, the words 'Neymar' and 'Manchester United' in the same headline immediately computes as 'Neymar Set to Sign for Manchester United', when in fact that is far from what was actually reported. Fans often allow their (poor) interpretation of a headline to instantly colour their opinion and regularly don't read the body of text that follows before passing comment.
A source claiming Manchester United are interested in Neymar doesn't mean the source is claiming Manchester United are going to sign Neymar. There is a difference. It's obvious when spelled out so clearly, but it's a distinction that a lot seem unable to make.
Not once did the original Sun story claim the Brazilian will definitely be at Old Trafford at some point in the near future. It quite legitimately said that initial talks have taken place - which simply means the question was put to Barcelona by United - that's all there was to it.
Sticking with the same example, the subsequent reports have followed the same path. 'Neymar is Open to Joining Manchester United' doesn't mean the player wants to move - it means that he, like any other sensible individual, is at least considering his options. Similarly, 'Manchester United Press On With £240m Neymar Pursuit', still isn't claiming they are going to sign the player - it only means they are prepared to try.
The problem is that once any such story, however truthful in the first place, comes out, everyone wants a piece of it. Gossip hungry click-baiters on social media platforms share anything they can get hold of using twisted headlines that are laughably wide of the mark, often totally disregarding the facts or the context in a bid to make things seems more advanced than they actually are.
When reports from abroad emerge, it often doesn't help the already poor reputation of the humble transfer rumour either. The hordes of online newspapers such as the Metro, Daily Express or Daily Star will often cite information from stories published in Italy, Spain or further afield - to some, it sounds far more plausible if the source is coming from far away.
However, important context and tone is often lost in translation, while something as innocent as a foreign journalist's opinion can also be mistaken for a transfer scoop, which is then regurgitated in English and advertised as gospel.
Another major criticism is the sheer volume of players that a single club can be linked with at any one time, but that's simply the nature of the market. Without too much difficulty, one could compile a list of 20-30 different players each that Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool have been linked within the last 12 months or so.
Every single top level football club will have a select few primary targets, but beyond that they will also have secondary targets, tertiary targets and possibly quaternary targets as well. A club may well enquire, even just informally, about a vast number of players. They will never sign more than a handful of those targets, if that. But it would be rather naive if they weren't constantly making back-up plans.
There are bad rumours out there, of course there are. Fictionalised 'agents' and those claiming to be 'in-the-know' in the Twitter age make it much harder to separate the wheat from the chaff, but the important thing to remember is simply understand what you're reading and judge from there.
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