A penny for someone’s thoughts seems a ludicrously old-fashioned saying in the era of the £1.4bn Premier League transfer window. But now the whole brouhaha is over it is hard not to wonder what is going on inside the heads of players whose hopes were dashed on deadline day. It is the football world’s equivalent of being stood up for a dream date. Wake up full of nervous expectancy, impossible to think about anything else all day, then the wretched waiting before the bleak realization that nothing special is going to happen.
So what now for Virgil van Dijk and Philippe Coutinho, whose transfer requests were utterly ignored by their clubs and they will be expected to represent Southampton and Liverpool respectively with full professionalism as quickly as possible? What now for Alexis Sánchez, who will return from international duty by opening the door to his London home and his beloved dogs knowing that he was close to an exit from Arsenal’s problems but it never came off?
Football’s weird moral compass means that possible hissy fits or friction tend not to be major factors once the games come and the athletes are sent out to play. Remember the case of Carlos Tevez, whose reluctance to come on as a Manchester City substitute in a Champions League game at Bayern Munich led to him being frozen out, fined and going on strike to the apparent point of no return?
That turned out to be the same Carlos Tevez who was showered with love when he came back a few months later to score the goals that helped City to win the title. Football emotions can overstretch and suddenly bounce back if it suits everyone.
If Van Dijk, Coutinho and Sánchez, whatever their personal sentiments, get back on the pitch for the Premier League clubs they have generally graced with distinction, if they can find some rhythm and put in the kind of performances that made them so coveted by other suitors, they will be welcomed back into the fold pretty quickly.
It is the less needed players who have the hardest time readjusting if a transfer window move does not materialize. On the fringes of teams around the country are the players who remain trapped in the system which keeps them at clubs with a limited prospect of playing time. A penny for the thoughts of Vincent Janssen as he saw photos of Fernando Llorente trying on a Spurs shirt while he stayed moveless?
The Dutchman could not find it in himself to commit to guaranteed football at Brighton but life at Tottenham will surely feel frustrating at times if he has another season on the edge of the first XI picture.
How do players manage the situation when the optimism of a new chapter turns humdrum? Janssen joined Tottenham a year ago on the back of success at AZ Alkmaar on a four-year deal. Staying confident and positive about the impact one can make on the pitch is not easy without matches. A high salary is not always enough to make a player feel better.
The parable of Winston Bogarde is an important one. Bogarde is widely regarded as a benchmark of sorts for players who pick up a fortune while barely dirtying their boots in earnest. He made almost £10m at Chelsea while playing for them 12 times in 2000–04. But the reality tells of a man who felt lonely, desperate and misunderstood. “My situation was not very good and we tried to solve it many ways,” he said. “Like to maybe go on loan or sell me, or whatever. But in the end it didn’t work out. For a player, for me, it’s terrible not to play. Yet I had to return for training. Mentally it was very hard. To keep the motivation is very difficult.”
It was poignant to see footage of Lucas Pérez, who returned to Deportivo La Coruña on deadline day, arriving back at his hometown airport after a year of frustration at Arsenal being barely used. With his arm round his son, the door to the arrivals hall opened and he was greeted by the warmth of fans singing his name. “Si, si, si. Lucas esta aqui” Yes, yes, yes. Lucas is here. It looked obvious that in that moment his football motivation was reignited after a period struggling for opportunities and mulling over self-doubt.
Across the Premier League plenty remain stuck. At Everton, in their post-splurge new world, the future is uncertain at best for Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Oumar Niasse, all of whom shook their heads at a potential deadline-day move knowing that they are not as wanted as others at Goodison Park. At Liverpool Lazar Markovic stayed put but will not expect to figure too much. Jack Colback is in a pickle at Newcastle. Diafra Sakho remains at West Ham after a particularly curious turn of events. He had taken it upon himself to travel to Rennes for a medical without a deal being struck between the clubs and ended up spending deadline day at Chelmsford Races with his agent hoping for a winning ticket. The move failed.
Life at the training ground goes on the morning after the window closes. Life on the edges goes on for the unwanted and disappointed wantaways.
The Guardian Sport