Anthony Gordon at Chelsea: the extreme concept that captures the grotesque industry | transfer window
Jthere are usually five steps to a failed top football transfer, those signings that are so grossly dysfunctional that they become a kind of theater in themselves, catastrophically content, almost perversely, a success.
Finding the most gratifying ways to describe Romelu Lukaku’s return to Chelsea, the essentiality of a Belgian man walking around looking bewildered while other people play football nearby provided more warmth, light and hours of work than a standard achievement. Insofar as Lukaku himself seems somehow uplifted by it, imbued with another layer of celebrity grace.
These five stages are probably best defined as: excitement, denial, blame, grief, and finally acceptance. First signs of failure furiously denied. Scapegoats will be hoisted, post-truth statistics used to suggest that it is all in fact a great success. Finally, as the cycle progresses and other causes become more urgent, we enter the world of parody and meme, an iconography of acceptance, a kind of shared healing via double-Spider-man, wink glance at Ronaldo, Mourinho removing his earphones.
The most striking part of Anthony Gordon’s proposed transfer to Chelsea is how quickly – despite not existing – he has already progressed to this final stage. Gordon to Chelsea for £60m: Probably won’t happen. But already mocking Anthony Gordon, laughing hysterically at his disastrous bet, circulating clips of his failures, his paltry tally of deflected goals has become something of an online event.
American novelist Don DeLillo has a character in one of his books who owns a network of CCTV security cameras, and who begins to realize that the footage is wrong, that things happen on screen before they don’t happen in real life. This is how Gordon’s transfer disaster feels. Do we really need football here? Do we need the long version, Gordon on the bench looking cold in a beanie, a much mocked missed open goal, Newcastle rumours? At what point will the content, the eyeballs, the reaction become all that matters? Can we save time by simulating all of this with AI, or at the very least reducing it to a high-production musical edit?
And yet, of course, it matters. Or at least, this one feels like it. Gordon to Chelsea for £60m is such an extreme concept that he is already causing harm simply by not performing. This is a non-existent transfer that seems to capture so many transgressive things in this industry, from the stupid money of English football, to the dislocation of the way clubs should operate, to the violent things that football wants to do to the young people under his influence.
The first thing to say is that it can work. Gordon is a late bloomer. He has a way of spinning the ball quickly, beating the press while scanning all the moving parts around him, which analysts at clubs like Chelsea value very highly. Plus, it’s really just the fees that make this absurd. He shares an agent with Reece James. Chelsea have to manage their home team. Why not?
But it’s still crazy at grassroots level. Chelsea already have seven players in Gordon’s inside striker position, all of whom are probably better at it. Chelsea no longer has an endless loan fund for dad’s bank. The suggested fee for Gordon would be the third-biggest transfer in Bundesliga history, the eighth-biggest fee in Real Madrid history. Todd Boehly’s reputation is built on aggressive deals. Todd Boehly seems to have invented an electric car in the 1980s. But Todd Boehly is also a maverick billionaire and you are not. Maybe this signature is just a statement. The problem is that this statement seems to be: I don’t know what I’m doing.
Does any of this matter? Inflated transfer fees are commonplace. But the thing with this one is its layers, the more you peel it the more it stinks. History suggests it won’t be good for Gordon. For a player in the development phase, he is in exactly the right place. He will play and improve. Moving to Chelsea will threaten that. So goes the story. Good young players miss the chance to reach their ultimate cap. Fortunes are made. But the game as a whole is poorer for the talent storage model. Anthony Gordon at Everton playing every week, desperation in his pressed legs: it’s a kind of poetry, the show as it should be. Money won’t allow it anymore.
It’s also bad for Everton. There is a notion that this money could be ‘invested’, but much larger sums have already guzzled into the waste disposal unit. Even if Gordon stays, Everton will have played five league games with that noise buzzing around their best young player. And in the end the real question that Gordon raises at Chelsea is the most fundamental: what is the purpose of the football club Everton nowadays? Is it to compete, to strive through smart moves and local talent to match the highest level? Or simply to serve these entities, to exist in the background?
The top clubs have literally introduced this concept into the business plan for Champions League reform, the idea that signings will only come from the lower orders, the lane clubs. Yes, we’ll take what you have. But don’t forget to exit through the side entrance.
At some point it will start to look inevitably grotesque. Premier League clubs have already broken their own summer spending record, still operating unchecked, hiding behind “the market” as always. And in the end, it’s real money, or it’s now: your TV subscription, the price of your ticket, money that could help keep the lights on or put food in the fridge this winter. Gordon to Chelsea for £60million. It probably won’t happen. But there is an end point to all things, a state beyond mere acceptance, distraction, a weary shrug. It can’t be that far.