January, a month that not only represents the start of a new year but it also means that the transfer window has re-opened. Here it is the golden opportunity for clubs across Europe to add much needed personnel for the second half of the season and although it may be big business, it’s not just a lot of money that is generated. That’s because there is an incredible amount of gossip to sift through.

Who is going where is always the central theme with Sky Sports News and the like running on overdrive over the course of a busy four week. However, it is not the satellite TV juggernaut where my focus will be lying in this article. Instead, we’re going to be looking at the BBC.

And in particular the BBC Gossip Column – for the uninitiated, it is a daily aggregator of what stories are making the back page headlines, just what big name player has been linked with a move elsewhere and what transfer saga will we end up eventually getting bored of.

Now obviously in non transfer-window periods, the column is pretty redundant as no player is going to be moving anywhere in say September or March. At the same time, it is a very relevant tool at the start of each year (and in the close season) as you can begin to get an idea of the big transfer targets.

But then there is another way to look at this and that is to see just how many pieces of gossip are actually true. So what I did was log every rumour that was listed in the BBC Gossip Column across January and then formulated it as a data table.

Here are a number of caveats:

  • It has to be gossip where player x is moving to club y
  • Not player x is interested in leaving club x
  • No manager rumours included
  • No ‘in the summer’ moves included

Quite simply it had to be a case of a player linked with a club in January and whether or not, that move was then completed.

So now we have the outline out of the way, I’m going to not only give you the final result for the month, but also take more of a deep dive into the data. Now, we’re going to have to start somewhere and with that in mind lets start with the sample size.

The sample size was 517 players – not all individual (more on that later) and the split of completed and uncompleted rumours was as follows:

Completed Count % Split
No 417 80.66%
Yes 100 19.34%
Total 517

As you can see in total, just over four fifths of all pieces of transfer gossip was exactly that, gossip. Deals for whatever did not get over the line or to be more clear, they probably weren’t worth the newspaper that they were written on? Harry Kane to Real Madrid anyone?

At the same time this data could be skewed by the fact that if the same player has the same rumour repeated over and over, say Eden Hazard to Real Madrid, then that will only inflate the numbers. So what if we only looked at from a unique data perspective.

From here are sample is then reduced to 237 players, however this also comes with an additional caveat:

  • Some players may well have a confirmed deal and  spurious gossip.

The perfect example of this would be Alvaro Morata, he was linked with a number of Spanish clubs before finally moving to Atletico Madrid. Therefore he will have both a yes and no value in this particular data table and the summary of the more unique strand looks as follows:

Completed Count % Split
No 191 80.59%
Yes 46 19.41%
Total 237

And astonishingly the percentage split is almost identical to the first table, therefore we can come to a first conclusion that 80% of what you read in the BBC Gossip Column is for all intents and purposes, nothing more than a device to sell papers or generate clicks.

But who were the names that kept cropping up in January and more importantly did they get the move we were told that was happening, I can’t list all the names otherwise you’d be here until the window re-opens trying to read them all. However, I can provide the top nine (nine because there are so many players joint 10th) and their transfer status:

Player Count Moved
Alvaro Morata 16 Yes
Gonzalo Higuain 16 Yes
Michy Batshuayi 11 Yes
Aaron Ramsey 10 Yes
Denis Suarez 10 Yes
Callum Hudson-Odoi 9 No
Tammy Abraham 9 No
Christian Eriksen 8 No
Idrissa Gueye 8 No

And from here we certainly have an interesting pattern, they most recurring pieces of gossip (top five) did actually come to fruition. However, you could counter argue that with the fact that if you repeat something enough times then more often that not it will eventually become true.

Therefore there is an element of ‘getting their in the end’ with the five most recurring rumours and then the next four can be labelled as just wishful thinking. Although in fairness to the Callum Hudson-Odoi and Tammy Abraham deals, they were close to getting completed – especially in the case of the latter.

So we know that 80% of all the data is just gossip, but if you say that gossip enough times it will become true. But who was making the most noise in terms of clubs wanting to sign players across January,  here are the top 10 ‘busiest teams’ from last month:

 

Club

Count % Split
Chelsea 50 9.67%
Arsenal 31 6.00%
Barcelona 26 5.03%
Real Madrid 22 4.26%
Tottenham 22 4.26%
West Ham 22 4.26%
Manchester United 21 4.06%
Juventus 16 3.09%
Manchester City 16 3.09%
Everton 16 3.09%
PSG 15 2.90%

Chelsea soared to the top of this particular chart, with 50 of the 517 pieces of gossip being connected to Stamford Bridge. A lot of that would have been comprised of Gonzalo based news, but at the same time they were linked with a whole host of other players and did no other business to back it up.

Arsenal were involved in 31 pieces of gossip and only signed Denis Suarez on loan, while Tottenham were connected with 22 and of course didn’t sign anyone. So just like in the Summer, all Tottenham transfer gossip, was frankly nothing more than a waste of time.

Five of the Premier League’s ‘big six’ are in the list above (the only team not represented are Liverpool) and none of the quintet did anywhere near the level of business that was reportedly meant to happen. Again you can point to the bigger clubs are just used as a tool to generate headlines.

As well as Tottenham, neither Manchester United or City did any major winter business – although in fairness to the latter they did sign Ante Palaversa and loan him straight back, but at the same time it was not expenditure at the level the tabloids would have you believe.

And that brings us nicely to the culprits, just who were the outlets that were guilty of feeding us spoonfuls of gossip by the day. Over 60 newspapers and or websites offered up at least one piece of transfer news in January, here are the top 10 in terms of quantity:

Source Count % Split
Sun 68 13.15%
Mirror 60 11.61%
Mail 59 11.41%
Sky Sports 21 4.06%
Express 19 3.68%
Star 18 3.48%
Goal 16 3.09%
Telegraph 16 3.09%
Calciomercato 15 2.90%
Marca 15 2.90%

It probably comes as no real surprise that the two league leaders here are the Sun and the Mirror, although one should not forget that for people who consider themselves a little more highbrow, the Daily Mail has also been busy when dealing out gossip in January.

Sky Sports pumps transfer news every hour of ever day, so it is perhaps no real surprise that their website does not rank as high when its television station can do all the work, however the highest ranked ‘pure football website’ is that of Goal who served up 16 pieces of headline transfer news.

That is the most recurring providers, but more importantly who are the biggest culprits when it comes to telling transfer tales. If we take the same list above and add their failure rates, here is how it looks:

Source No %
Sun 91.18%
Mirror 86.67%
Mail 77.97%
Sky Sports 66.67%
Express 73.68%
Star 83.33%
Goal 87.50%
Telegraph 75.00%
Calciomercato 80.00%
Marca 80.00%

And to be honest I don’t know if you would be surprised or not in all fairness, The Sun has more than nine in ten pieces of gossip become exactly that, making it by the far the biggest offender with the website Goal providing eight pieces of tell-tales and for each of those only one actually turned into a transfer deal.

None of the top ten here come out of this with any real credit, even the best of the worst Sky Sports still only got two thirds of their transfer gossip correct. I wonder just how that would look if you took everything that they said on television at face value?

Interestingly both the foreign outlets Calciomercato and Marca only got one in five rumours correct, something that matches the very first sample. Could a case be made for European papers being even more gossip hungry, that is something to take into consideration

At the end of the day I’m not here to give the tabloids a kicking (well not quite) so we may as well praise some of the good guys, here are the top 10 outlets who had the best percentage success rate:

Source Yes Yes %
Leicester Mercury 4 80.00%
Guardian 6 50.00%
Evening Standard 5 41.67%
Express and Star 2 40.00%
Independent 4 36.36%
Sky Sports 7 33.33%
L’Equipe 3 33.33%
Yorkshire Post 1 33.33%
Metro 2 28.57%
Express 5 26.32%

The Leicester Mercury were persistent enough in their story that Vicente Iborra was moving to Villarreal that they managed to get a 80% hit rate, albeit from just five pieces of gossip. While if you read the Guardian you may as well have flipped a coin as to whether a transfer deal would actually come true.

Sky Sports actually got the most right, but as they say a broken clock is always right twice a day. What is staggering though, is that no football outlet managed to get 10 pieces of gossip confirmed as a true piece of news. A sad indictment of where journalism is today.

And perhaps what is even sadder is that these four below nailed their colours to the mast numerous times and didn’t even come up with a result:

Source Yes No
Teamtalk 0 9
ESPN 0 6
Tuttosport 0 6
Times 0 5

Perhaps these four won’t be your go to destinations when you look for more gossip come the Summer.

And in the Summer it will be a good chance to perhaps do it all over again, first there will be a much bigger sample as the window will be open for longer, but also it may well be a chance to build in some quality thresholds for the data as well and weigh them on strength of outlet.

That is something for consideration and any ideas/feedback would be gratefully received however I will leave you with this summary:

If you didn’t know already, take transfer gossip with a big a pinch of salt as possible as 80% of it is all made up.

 

 

I am always available for any football data projects you may have and/or content creation.
If you have any requirements then please feel free to contact me at realfootballmanwordpress@gmail.com with the subject line “Football Data”

I am also available via twitter at @dantracey1983 – again feel free to get in touch to discuss any work. Thanks, Dan