Let’s talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. The Ballon D’or winner and Portuguese star is caught up in a tax row in Spain, an undeniably unsettling period of his time in Madrid. What’s the story here? Is it that the best players in the world are constantly looking for methods in which to avoid paying their dues? No. Is it a more general point that, as we are often reminded, footballers live in a completely different financial world? It could be, but it certainly is not that. The story, as trivial as it may be in the context of law, is that Cristiano Ronaldo might, and just maybe could just be leaving Real Madrid after eight, rip-roaringly successful seasons. Arguably the best player in the world might just be moving clubs. This is huge news, or at least will be constructed in that way.
Speculation feeds us. As consumers of news, football audiences need something to survive the summer. Fans of football and football only struggle. The Confederations Cup and U21 Euro Championships are a basic starter; probably tantamount to a prawn cocktail at Christmas, but they want a full turkey dinner. We sit, twiddling our thumbs, deliberating over fixture lists and hoping for news that the players are back in training. News outlets know this better than anyone. In an endless pursuit for clicks, it is time for transfer speculation and rumours.
The Cristiano Ronaldo speculation must be footed in some honest truth, for President Florentino Perez alluded to it in his press conference. When pressed, his instinct was to ensure that Ronaldo will continue to be a Real Madrid player. But I will continue to repeat, where’s the story that will make us salivate? Where’s the fantastical line? Nowhere. Earlier that week, newspapers were going down the Manchester United avenue, took cameras to Old Trafford and asked fans their thoughts on a potential return. Sky Sports asked Swansea chairman Huw Jenkins what he might think of the move, hell, even Gareth McAuley was brought into the fold. The idea of CR7, the renowned brand and all that comes with it is a mouth-watering prospect for the Premier League. Twitter is rife with debate, betting companies cash in, Manchester United fan accounts run polls that count over 1000 votes and the outlets get their clicks. All parties are satisfied, yet there remains a sense of insincerity and artificiality.
In the few days after the news was broken, it went from Manchester United to PSG. This time, the Spanish media were running the stories. While the British media went for the line of romance, Spain ran stories that PSG with their financial might would be the only ones able to tempt the galactico. Of course, that’s credible because Ronaldo is yet to conquer France, Paris is a luxury location and the club are one striving for a Champions League title.
What’s the likely outcome? In truth, none of us know but one thing we can do is deliberate, reignite the Ronaldo and Messi debate and look back over his glowing career. This story is one that presents so much opportunity for the media. It’s too easy. The angles are infinite. In just a few days, Figo has spoken, Florentino Perez’s conference was viewed worldwide and your regular man with a Ronaldo tattoo is focal to a story. Should Ronaldo stay in Madrid, at least the media outlets have milked every last inch of the few days that came after the scandal.
Where does this leave us? Summer has always been transfer-saturated, but I feel we have reached peak bullshit. The most sense I’ve heard spoken on post-truth was from Newsnight and Dragon Den’s Evan Davis. He is a firm believer that the media is riddled with the falsities and lies, but that at least tell us something, however fake that may be. Fake news is the news of the year. Boris Johnson and co lied to us about Brexit, Donald Trump is a bundle of falsehoods and fabrications, but from that, we know where somebody stands on a particular issue.
‘We send the EU £350m a week, let’s fund our NHS instead. Vote Leave’. The fabled Brexit Bus that epitomises post-truth. The country voted to leave, many individuals voting on this exact promise, but it was to be a lie. That money will not go into the NHS. But at least we knew where they stood? The perpetrators fundamentally wanted to leave the EU and would massage the figures in their favour. For once, they were pulled up on their lies. This was a huge decision. Football, and especially transfer speculation, is worthless in context.
That said, transfers are football’s post-truth. Very seldom does a speculated transfer actually *happen*, but we never stop reading them. Click on any digital sports platform, find a speculative transfer story… or at least a list article on who suits who.
‘Ten Players Real Madrid Should Sign If Ronaldo Leaves’.
More clicks, more views. The keyword is ‘If’, but that plays such a microscopic role in that article, in fact, it won’t even be touched upon. The argument is that the truth no longer bears any consequence. Returning to Ronaldo, the news is one that outlets used brashly to their advantage. Even if we know its ‘fake news’, we can understand that the newspapers want and need it to happen. It’s the story of the summer. Fans perhaps know the implications of long-winded, gruelling summer transfer stories. They’ve been known to unsettle players, ultimately leading to their transfer. If Manchester United had no intention of considering Ronaldo this summer, they might now. The media ignited the flame and we, as consumers, are huddling around the fire.
I’ve noticed a pattern with smaller, more independent digital football platforms. High-quality platforms that place importance on high-quality, insightful content are beginning to be taken more seriously. It’s not that they weren’t before, but rather that consumers are perhaps becoming fed up with the repetitive nature of speculation they might see in the Daily Mail or other such tabloids. The media world is moving fast and post-truth at its very peak might just be becoming stale. The impetus is on value at the moment.
But post-truth transfer stories are a win-win for the larger media. More modestly, it’s a situation in which they simply cannot lose. So far this summer, it’s been Alexis Sanchez to Manchester City and Chelsea, Kyle Walker to Manchester City, Kylian Mbappe to Real Madrid, Bonucci to Manchester City, Lewandowski to Chelsea, Diego Costa to China. Every morning we wake up to a ‘Sky Sources understand that…’, which five years ago would have held some credibility, but now is the sort of Tweet or message you read with a sense of reluctance. Journalists tell us of their ‘understanding’ of a particular story, many of which have gone on to become nothing. I remember a Twitter by the name of Agent ITK in 2012. The account accrued such a following that his very words became gospel and by the end of the summer window, came out as a hoaxer.
Not all transfer stories run by the media are false. Many go through, but a larger portion don’t. That’s not their problem though. It’s ours. The problem is, you just can’t help but read it. Idealistic news is exciting news, after all.