There’s something quite bizarre about people casting judgement on your professionalism by way of transfer stories you may or may not uncover.
What it suggests is a lack of knowledge of how it all works, which is normal. Why would a regular pundit know how journalism works?
This is how transfer stories work.
Step One: You gain the trust of people—in my case, through 23 years working at the coal face.
Step Two: You learn to differentiate between fact and fiction—between what you need to know and what people want to tell you because it is in their own interests. People may try to take you in the direction they want to and very often it can be a cul-de-sac. The key there is to check, check again, and when you’re absolutely sure, check again.
Step Three: Learn that whatever you think you can do, it is simply impossible to concentrate on the whole market. Learn to concentrate on those things that are most interesting to you.
Step Four: Never tell anyone more than 10 percent of what you actually know. Then when things start to move, get your running shoes on because, believe me, when they do start to move, they move lightning-fast.
But even then make sure you can—based on what you know about your source—differentiate between fact and fantasy, and also that you can then fall back on what you have learned while researching over the past weeks, or sometimes even months.
Over the years I have been lucky—and let me say at this point that as the great South African golfer, Gary Player, once said: "The harder I worked, the luckier I got"—to break stories about Cristiano Ronaldo, David Beckham, Fernando Torres, Juan Mata, David Villa, David de Gea, Jose Mourinho, Angel Di Maria, Pep Guardiola and Leo Messi.
I am still in touch with all of them today. It is about working together—about trust.
The excessive passion for inside knowledge of transfers has been particularly prevalent since the introduction of the transfer window in 2003, and it has taken many by surprise. But it is a British phenomenon—it doesn’t happen in other football countries in the same measure.
We all love the idea that we are privy to a secret, but the reality is that breaking news is just a tiny part of this magnificently privileged job that allows me to write books, newspaper articles, appear on radio and television and get paid for talking, writing, eating, drinking and sleeping the sport I have loved since I was a child.
I am truly a lucky, lucky man.
But in the online world, it is quite clear that you are fundamentally judged not by what you know, not by what you say, but rather by what you reveal—by disclosures that allow access into what is perceived by others as the VIP lounge reserved for those in the know.
For me, that is not the most important part of my job. The crucial one has always been—and continues to be—to develop relationships with people in this game that we love.
Fundamental to that, you have to be trusted by the people you are mixing with. To that end, I use Twitter because when I publish there, all the people I work for—Sky Sports, Diario AS, Onda Cero—are privileged to it at the same time. It’s also my way of communicating with people who follow me there.
I get asked sometimes: "Why do people tell you anything at all?" The answer is very simple. People tell me things because they know I’m a journalist and that I will write about them and report them honestly. They do not tell me things because they don’t want me to mention them; precisely the opposite, in fact.
Journalism is about telling the story by using the facts you have checked and putting it over without fear or favour. People tell you these things because they trust that information in your hands. No more, no less.
You write not just what they say, but also sometimes what they feel, what they think, how they are, and you do it in the form of a book, an article or a broadcast, and you do it with honesty and integrity.
To do it any other way would be disrespectful, not only to your subject, but primarily to yourself, because it’s the job you have chosen and it’s what you do best.
I am neither a boffin nor a buffoon, nor am I an all-seeing, all-knowing footballing oracle.
I find it amusing to be considered the Hercule Poirot of football, when I get it right; the Inspector Clouseau of the game, when it goes wrong (and transfer stories do go wrong sometimes because not everything that starts being negotiated ends up taking place, and people generally read into the stories what they want to read, not how it reads).
I don’t read mentions in Twitter often enough, but I feel it is not a forum for discussion any more, so I thought I would share a peek of how it all works via Bleacher Report.