VALLEY REVIEW | The anatomy of a transfer

Every transfer has to begin somewhere before that player is finally revealed, proudly holding up the shirt as a new Charlton player. George Jones speaks to 11 individuals as he breaks down the ins and outs of a typical deal.

Charlton Athletic are delighted to confirm the signing of…

The official unveiling of a new player at The Valley can trigger a number of emotions. For supporters, intrigue, expectation and excitement spring to mind; a wish to see their newest recruit in a red shirt for the first time.

For club staff – particularly those involved in making a deal happen – the aforementioned excitement is shared but there is also a great deal of relief.

A transfer involves a number of people at the club and is a process that can be complex, time consuming and often hectic. There is no exact science to a deal, either. It requires the hours to be put in – from those on both the footballing and non-footballing side – and can sometimes hinge on a small detail.

“I can’t relax until I get acknowledgements from the FA and the EFL, having emailed them the signed paperwork,” says long-serving Club Secretary Chris Parkes, a Charlton employee of more than 28 years.

The paperwork in question is the H1 transfer document, which details the agreement between both clubs, page one and the ‘schedule two’ part of the player’s contract – the section lists their personal terms and wages – and any agent forms.

Once the FA and EFL confirm that they have received and are satisfied with these, the same bodies will follow up with the new signing’s registration as a Charlton player. It’s then official.

It’s also then that Parkes – who is involved in all incoming transfers from our first official bid until the final paperwork is signed – can sit back in his chair in his Sparrows Lane office and take a breath.

Before any bid goes in, though, a lot of work, hours and miles are put in by the likes of Chief Scout Steve Head, Head of Performance Analysis Brett Shaw, Manager Karl Robinson and CEO Katrien Meire.

“First, we’ll identify an area where we think we need to strengthen or an area where we think we might be about to lose someone,” says Robinson.

“We’ll draw up a list of six players; normally two from our U23s and four buys all at different levels. There might be a top one – the one you see as the best – and then you can categorise the rest.

“I’ll have conversations with the recruitment team and it’s down to them to come up with the right kind of quality that can take us forward.”

The wheels have often already been set in motion by Head and his team of seven regional scouts, who are based all over the country.

“My team do a lot of work in League One, League Two, non-league, the Championship and the Premier League development divisions and we have lists of players for every position on the pitch. These lists are ever-changing,” he says.

Head’s scouts will all write reports on the players that they go to watch. They’ll see them in action over the course of more than one 90 minutes and the Chief Scout will then run his eye over them himself.

He adds: “There is no substitute for watching a player live, in my opinion. Statistics are useful. They support the process but they shouldn’t drive it. They’re handy to have but a lot of it is down to interpretation – I’d never be comfortable recommending a player that I hadn’t seen play.”

Such a point is reinforced by Performance Analyst Shaw, who will also have access to a variety of stats on a player’s performance and history.

“Something we have addressed since the summer, is increasing physically going to watch players as a management team to get a feel for a player in the flesh,” he says.

“Statistics play an important part of the process, but knowing the context of the statistics is vital and must be considered.

“We always provide clippings of the players – and that’s never just their best actions. We gather as much as we can, good and bad, to provide the best overview of a player’s performance.”

Once a shortlist of potential targets has been drawn up, more conversations will be held.

“It will sound obvious but the conversations that go back and forth are far greater than just ‘he’s a good player’,” says Robinson. “We’ll discuss if we have money available, if we are better loaning a player in that position, if the loan player is better than the one we could buy, or if it is worth splashing the cash a bit.”

“When all is positive, we go in and make an offer to the player’s club,” says CEO Katrien Meire, with the bid being officially lodged by Club Secretary Parkes.

“In terms of valuation, we have an internal document that we go by where we look at similar deals, a player’s age and contract length. You benchmark.”

Once an offer has been submitted, negotiations can be either fast or slow and that is something that Robinson finds difficult.  

“I’ll be on the phone every hour to try and get updates on what is happening,” he says. “I don’t get involved in any finance stuff – that’s the club’s responsibility. I tell them who I want and then leave it to them.”

Though less involved in the negotiation process, Robinson will still be working to progress the transfer. Using his list of contacts in the game, the boss will be doing his homework on his potential new signing.

“I like to find out who he has played for, who he has played with, and speak to a manager or an agent about him.

“Once you’ve got that, you can get more of a picture of what he’s like when he plays away from home, what he’s like in the middle of the season, what he’s like when he isn’t playing, when he’s not winning. You find out so many different fundamental factors that can contribute to whether a player is successful or not.”

Such character checks are difficult to obtain through scouting alone, making a Manager’s contact book priceless.

“Sometimes, the report that convinces me a player is the one I need to recommend is when he has his worst-possible game, because then it gives you some perspective,” adds Head “But the one thing that is hard to judge is a player’s character.

“That is where your connections come in. You can ring people up and you build a real network. It is literally ‘the cold Tuesday night in Mansfield’. It’s a big thing because, like it or not, League One and League Two are a slog.

“It’s two games a week all season and if you find someone goes missing, as we say in football, away from home and doesn’t fancy the hostile environments that could be a problem.”

Both Head’s and Robinson’s background checks on a player are certainly thorough and, in the meantime, if a deal can be successfully negotiated then that is a big box ticked in the transfer process.

Looking back to the summer, CEO Meire remembers: “Ricky Holmes had been on our list for a while and it was a really hard negotiation with Northampton. He was their best player and they obviously didn’t want to let him go on the cheap.

“It was a lot of patience; deal off, deal on and if you know it really is the right player for you then you need to make it happen quickly. It was similar with Josh Magennis.

“The fact that we wanted him and that they didn’t want to sell meant Ricky took maybe a month of negotiation and when that happens I think you need to keep everyone involved informed.”
Once agreed with the other club, Meire and Robinson will then begin to speak with the player and his representatives.

A requirement of the Manager is to meet a potential signing in person.

“I need to look into their eyes, really,” he says. “It’s important that a player wants to be here, wants to come here. You shouldn’t have to sell Charlton too much given the history and tradition that it has got. That should be the biggest selling point.

“Who in League One wouldn’t want to play for Charlton Athletic? It’s a massive club, has been in the Premier League and has got all the facilities to maybe get back there one day. Players that you have to convince to sign, tend to be the ones that don’t succeed.”

Once aware of a club’s interest in them, a player may also do their own due diligence, just as the Manager would have done on them during the negotiation stage.

January signing Lewis Page was told about the possibility of coming to Charlton by his agent when he was driving home from Coventry City, having just concluded a loan spell there.   

“I knew Dillon Phillips and Ollie Muldoon, so I spoke to both of them,” said Page, who joined us from West Ham United. “They said this is a great club to play for. I asked what are the lads like, what are the fans like, what sort of crowds do you get; they bought me into it even more and once everything had been agreed I was ready to sign.”

Things were slightly different for fellow January recruit Jake Forster-Caskey, who already knew exactly what kind of Manager he’d be working under.

“I knew a couple of the players here and the Manager was a massive reason why I came here. I worked under him last year and I think he’s an amazing coach and an amazing young Manager.

“He’s got aspirations to go higher with this club and so have I.”

If terms can be agreed with a player, the move really begins to gather pace. Three departments at the club will be notified as the transfer begins to enter its final stages.

The medical, player liaison and communications departments will be next to begin their respective research on the player, which will commence on the eve of them coming into the training ground to finalise their move.

Upon arrival at Sparrows Lane, they will be greeted by Tracey Leaburn, the club’s Player Liaison Officer and wife of former Addicks striker Carl.

TJ – as she is known around the training ground - is a player’s main point of contact on their first day and becomes a key figure once a deal has been completed, helping them to settle into the local area as quickly as possible. January was certainly a busy month for her.

“I had a joke with my family at the start of January where I said to them ‘see you in February when the transfer window has closed!’. It’s so full-on when a new player comes in because we want to get them into a property quickly so that they can settle.”

Before that, though, Head of Medical Services Alastair Thrush will conduct a number of orthopedic examinations and tests on a player as part of his medial which, if all goes well, will be conducted at the training ground and will take just over an hour to complete.
A player may also be sent for a scan if the medical team want further information on a known problem area. 
“With a medical, you want to give the Manager some kind of indication of the risk of signing a player,” says Thrush, who also makes sure that a player has an up-to-date cardiac screen.
“The main thing we want to investigate is what significant injuries has that players had in the past and how much football has he missed as a result of these injuries.
“If something does crop up, it’s about quantifying what those risks are. We’ll outline them using the results of our investigations and then the Manager and Katrien will have to make the decision on whether to sign the player.
“They have to decide whether the benefit of having the player in the squad outweighs the risk of them picking up an injury. The final call is theirs; we act in an advisory capacity.”

Should all go to plan, the communications department - who may have captured some of the medical on camera - will then have their turn with the signing-to-be.

They’ll have their story ready for the website and will sit the player down for an interview as well as taking a number of photos, which they’ll be able to flood the club’s social media channels with.

“A new signing coming in is a really exciting time for us,” says Club Journalist and fourth-generation Addick Olly Groome. “We try to get as much content as possible around the signing; photos, an interview, behind the scenes footage, clips from his previous club and so on to really try and paint a picture of who has just joined the club.

“Once we have got everything we need, the big thing for us as a department is checking that the deal has been 100 per cent completed and signed, and then contacting the other club’s media department to arrange a mutual time to announce the deal.”

More often than not, word may have got out that a transfer could be on the cards and, in south east London, such news is usually broken by Richard Cawley, the Sports Editor of the South London Press.

“The ideal scenario from a journalistic point of view is that you’re in there from the word go with the reporting of it,” he says.

“The trick of that is to know agents who can tell you stuff and there are good and bad ones at that and there are a whole different number of ways that you can get towards a story.

“It’s still the transfer stories that give you a big buzz as a reporter. If you walk away from a really tasty interview, that is another one as well. The industry has changed a lot over the last few years with the growth of the internet and it is becoming increasingly hard to be the one that breaks the news.”

And once everything has been ticked, signed and completed, that’s when we’ll be delighted announce our new arrival… 

Read Time: 12 mins