Football transfer negotiations are fascinating as examples of Technique. Alas we mortals never knows the detail of how the negotiations go or the specific clauses in the final contracts, but the tensions between different ways of doing the business are often obvious enough in the final outcomes.
Take, for example, the apparent aim of Tottenham to sign West Brom’s young and gifted striker, Saido Berahino.
In all negotiations it’s a good idea to establish the principle then haggle over the price (as the actress said to the bishop):
Will you sell me your vintage car for £5,000?
No! Go away!
No! I said no before. Are you deaf?
OK. How about £30,000 for that car and three more similar cars in the next six months?
Well, that’s a bit different! Let me think about that…
This exchange establishes that what looks like a firm stand in one price-range is in fact capable of being broken once a new range is proposed. In the jargon this is known as ‘anchoring’.
An oddly interesting psychological tip on anchoring. Just say you want £10,000 for your car, but you know that anyone coming to buy it will make a lower offer. Don’t tell them that the car is for sale at £10,000. Instead offer it for (say) £10, 378.50. The very fact that you have specified a price so oddly precisely will (usually) steer would-be buyers to thinking consciously or unconsciously that you have given very careful thought to the transaction and will not be blustered into a major drop in price. So you’ll end up (all being well) much closer to your ideal £10,000 sale-price.
In this football case, West Brom have let it be known that they do not want to sell Berahino at all, but in any case definitely not for anything less than £25 million! In other words, they have conceded the principle that he is in fact for sale. Tottenham have been floating £15 million or thereabouts as their best price.
The predictable war of nerves and behind-the-scenes haggling ensues. Berahino knows that he will get a hugely better personal deal by moving to a bigger club, so West Brom start to fear that if they overplay their demands he will get demoralised and not deliver for them on the pitch. Tottenham in turn do not want to be too dogmatic lest some other even richer/bigger club appears and snaffles Berahino instead. Berahino (and his agent) know that there may be even better deals out there if they shop around. But which is in fact better for Berahino? More money but less likely sharp-end playing-time? At this stage of his career it surely makes sense to be out there on the pitch, not kicking one’s heels on an expensive substitute’s bench. That (if playing does lead to goals) will create even better options in a few years’ time for a move to the Very Big Time.
All negotiations boil down to a few existential issues: Security, Resources, Control, Reputation/Recognition and Time/Risk. Plus, depending on how the other aspects are tackled, Trust. Skilful negotiators trade both within and between these ideas.
According to today’s seemingly well informed footie gossip, a Berahino deal is now looking likely:
The one sticking point is the fee. Albion want £25 million while Spurs are reluctant to go above £20m. A compromise could be reached by including £5 million-worth of add-ons to reflect Berahino’s goals and appearances to eventually bring the fee to what Albion want.
Look what’s happening here. This substantive three-way negotiation (Tottenham v West Brom v Berahino/agent) is all about trading Resources and Time/Risk. The emerging deal (if it is in fact emerging and finally emerges and is signed) will be likely to involve a fat down-payment of fee, with further payments subject to performance:
You say Berahino is worth £25 million? We’re sure he’s worth £15 million, but not sure he’s worth a further £10 million. Come on, nor are you! So let’s share the risk on that part, by having further payments according to results?
Once that further principle is agreed, the three sides can drill down into detail over the scale of the risk and the timescale for the performance-related results. £x per goal for the first p years, followed by £y per goal for a further q years, plus a further £z over that full period if during it Tottenham qualify for the Champion’s League.
All sorts of other ingenious glosses and sub-glosses can be added. For example, Tottenham might say something like this:
OK. £19 million now and that’s it! Or £16 million now PLUS a further £7 million in add-ons if Berahino delivers in the coming three years as you say he will. £19 million now, or £23 million if you want to be clever. You choose! Are you feeling lucky?
The core idea is simple. West Brom want more Resources up-front. It suits Tottenham to have more performance-related Resources: the fix is achieved by playing with Risk/Time, as Berahino himself will do very well under any outcome. While the actual discussions are going on more or less formally, different accounts are being fed to the media more or less honestly by different participants to try to eke out a tad more financial advantage and/or scare off other possible purchasers. Yes, the transfer is now ‘almost certain’! No, Arsenal and Man City are poised to plunge in with a far better deal!
Mischievous fog of war briskly pumped from a handy media fog of war machine, but no less useful tactics with plenty at stake.
One way or the other, after yesterday’s horrible setback in North London the faster Saido Berahino signs for Tottenham and starts rattling opponents’ defences, the better. A fact not lost on West Brom, who might feel more confident in turning up the stubbornness for a while, if only to see what happens.