Remember my football negotiation thoughts on the sundry attempts by Tottenham Hotspur FC to buy Saido Berahino last year?
That possibility rumbles on in the 2016 UK winter ‘transfer window’, a month when clubs can buy or sell players mid-season to try to improve their chances in the coming race to glory or disaster. The latest window closes at 2300 tonight. Hence frantic negotiations all over the place as clubs try to improve themselves.
From the point of view of negotiation theory, this day is especially interesting as Time is fixed.
In most negotiations time is more or less flexible since that flexibility suits the parties: “If we are close to a deal let’s agree we can finish it tomorrow, whatever the previous deadline we have set ourselves“. See most international negotiation, where the problem often is that time is effectively open-ended (eg Cyprus, Korean peninsula, Russia/Ukraine). But in this case there is an inexorable immutable deadline TODAY set by outsiders. If a deal is not completed as per the usual rules (ie the transfer is not registered properly with the football authorities), that’s it until the next transfer window opens after the season ends.
Note that in normal negotiations (eg a house-purchase) one party may set a deadline: “This has gone on long enough – if I do not have your formal acceptance by X date, I’ll stop negotiating with you and look elsewhere. I mean it!“. But there is always an element of bluff here. If the other party comes in with a good offer two days after the deadline expires, why not take it if nothing better has been found in the meantime? In other words, in terms of the classic PIN analysis of negotiation as comprising Positions, Interests and Needs, there may be some sense in setting a deadline, but if your core Need is to sell that house fast you’ll be smart to ignore the loss of ‘face’ involved in backing down on your own ultimatum and instead take the offer after your ultimatum expires.
On the other hand, if you have become utterly sick of negotiating with party A, your loathing/distrust for party A may override your Need to make a quick sale. This is where ‘subjective’ factors are so important in negotiation. Your emotions may lead you to turn your back on a process so that you end up with a worse overall outcome, or to get frothed up in enthusiasm and be manipulated into paying far too much.
In the machinations between Tottenham and West Brom last year over Berahino, the credibility of the two clubs’ respective chairmen came publicly into play and no deal was done. Neither side wanted to end up looking ‘weak’ or ’embarrassed’. These considerations of Pride appeared to trump the objective Needs of the two clubs in pure footballing terms.
Thus today’s deadline day. As of this morning, rumours swirl that Tottenham are working up a major once-and-for-all decisive bid for Berahino. Newcastle are said to have had a heavy bid for him of over £20 million turned down by West Brom as insufficient. Maybe West Brom are suspecting that someone else (including Newcastle) will make a higher satisfactory bid. They may or may not be right. If in the end nothing happens and Berahino stays with them (unhappily), they can have another selling attempt in the summer. Berahino stays on West Brom books as a valuable (perhaps even appreciating) asset
By contrast Time is working differently in the case of Moussa Dembele, a young French player with Fulham:
Dembele’s contract with Fulham expires in the summer so in principle he is free to go where he chooses. If that happens Fulham may get nothing for him if he goes abroad; there is a procedure for a tribunal deciding a feee if he goes to another English club. In principle Dembele’s value to Fulham declines sharply if they do not sell him today. Tottenham look close to a deal, but as of yesterday it has failed as Fulham have insisted that Dembele be loaned back to them for the rest of the season, whereas Tottenham want him to be available for them immediately.
Here the overriding Fulham need is not be relegated from the Championship league, and Dembele can help them stave off that. But they also do not want to lose the £5 million plus that Dembele is worth. The worst result for them would be to end up relegated and with no money for Dembele. The best result is a nice pile of money for Berahino AND avoiding relegation.
Tottenham are in a far more comfortable position. Their concern is not looming disaster, but rather the possible missed opportunity of glory this season if they do not have enough firepower up front. They can easily afford Dembele as part of their current patient investment strategy – but is it such a disaster if they end up without him or Berahino or some other attacker this time round? Frustrating and perhaps disappointing? Yes. Calamity? No.
Tottenham can meet Fulham’s concerns today in three possible ways. Pay Fulham more money for Dembele so that Fulham have a bit more flexibility in rapidly finding someone else to replace him. Or lend Fulham one of their own young players for the coming months. Or a combination of these options.
OR Tottenham can call Fulham’s bluff and say they’ll drop the transfer, in the hope that with the deadline looming tonight Fulham decide to grab the deal on the table and hope for the best. This may let other clubs nip with a better offer, but that is possible anyway.
Here the negotiation is all about Fulham’s anxiety and Tottenham’s confidence. Insofar as Fear is a more powerful driver than Ambition, Fulham may decide that their best move is to cling to Dembele and battle to avoid the drop. Tottenham look to be able to get Dembele if they can find a suitable player to lend Fulham for the next few months, to help them manage their core relegation Need. Step forward quickly Harry Winks?