Made up transfer stories for actual players are one thing, but made up stories for imaginary players? Here's Sam Kelly on Tottenham's next big, erm.....
The first I heard about Juan José Vea Murguia was when I got asked about him on Twitter a few days ago. 'Do you know anything about this kid at River, or will we get to see him at the South American Under 17s?' was the question, more or less. I was confused. A quick Google search made me even more so. Even journalists in England seemed to know about this hot young talent. He'd been linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur, and one transfer rumour site I found even went as far as to say that his work permit for the EU had been granted. Given that I'm not only living in Buenos Aires, but also a supporter of the club whose youth ranks he's in, how could I have missed him?
Something didn't seem right, so I decided to delve a little deeper. And I really don't mean delving very deep. I switched my search to Google Argentina, and all became clear. One of the most prominent results was from Olé, the country's only sports daily, who in mocking tones were reporting that the Daily Mirror, who they somewhat amusingly (or perhaps worryingly) called 'one of the most prominent newspapers in the United Kingdom' had come up with a transfer story about a player who appeared not to exist.
For one thing, Olé clearly hadn't heard of him before, which raises some immediate warning signs because given the coverage that all the clubs in Buenos Aires – but especially River Plate and Boca Juniors – get, they really should have done if he was as talented as the Mirror were claiming. There are plenty in Argentina who feel Olé is poorly written and not of a journalistically very high standard, so the fact they were able to mock another paper should make the sub-editors at the Mirror ashamed.
Not only had Olé not heard of the kid though, but neither it seemed had his own employers. On being asked whether there was any substance to rumours of an impending transfer, River vice-president Omar Solaci told the press he'd never heard of Vea Murguia, and that, 'I'm sure he hasn't got a contract with River.'
A little later Sebastián Srur, a radio journalist who also writes for La Nación's sports website, tweeted that he had confirmed that Vea Murguia is in fact contracted to River Plate – but not River Plate of Argentina. There's an unrelated club with the same name across the, erm, River Plate in Uruguay, and according to Srur, that's where Vea Murguia is playing. Uruguayan River's official website has a detailed breakdown with full squad lists for every age group in their youth teams, though, and Vea Murguia isn't listed for any of them.
Oh, one other detail that leaked out from somewhere shortly afterwards, the veracity of which is a little harder to ascertain: assuming Vea Murguia does exist (and that's starting to look like a generous assumption now), he seems to be Colombian, not Argentine. Given that he appears to be a figment of someone's imagination though, I'm not sure where this change in nationality has come from.
For clarity's sake, I'd like to remind readers that River Plate's academy is currently not short of actual, real life attacking promise. One year ago Erik Lamela was training with the Under 17s, and for the last six months he's been an integral part of the first team, such has his rise been. Just today it's been reported that Atlético de Madrid have had an offer rejected for him after failing to meet River's valuation (which, unlike in the case of Gabriel Funes Mori, the striker formerly known as Rogelio, might actually be justified). Manuel Lanzini plays alongside Lamela, tucked in behind the main striker (former Betis forward Mariano Pavone) in a 3-4-2-1, and whilst a little less spectacular, he's no less promising for the future.
So as a journalist who's come out to Argentina to cover the local league it's dispiriting to see certain media outlets preferring to make up such transfer stories when there's no shortage of real-life stars they could be inventing transfer rumours about. It took two minutes on the world's most well-known search engine to discover that this story's almost certainly complete rubbish, but it's already been spread all over Tottenham message boards and British transfer rumour websites.
One thing I must admit is that I was mildly amused, after some of the allegations that have been made about him in the past, to see Harry Redknapp of all managers linked with a 'transfer swoop' for a player who doesn't appear to exist. It was also nice to realise I didn't have to feel stupid for not having heard of Vea Murguia. But just remember, you can't always believe everything you read in the papers.
As well as writing for IBWM, Sam is a regular contributor to Soccernet and When Saturday Comes, and also runs his outstanding Argentine football blog, Hasta El Gol Siempre. Follow him on Twitter @HEGS_com.