People can be a bit footballed out by the time the end of the season comes around. Some players have even said as much out loud.

But for a few of us, this is the time of year when things get exciting.  Transfer gossip kicks into overdrive.  Agents jet in with silver tongues and sharp suits.  Players move around.

I like this time of year.  I get just as excited as anybody else trying to work out which players will end up where.  As a Spurs fan I’m a sucker for any bit of transfer news.  Actually, I’m just a sucker.  

Most of the rumours are pure fantasy of course.  But occasionally tit-bits become truth and the throw-away line on some obscure website carries a kernel of truth.  Amongst other tactics, agents use newspaper gossip columns to provoke bids for their players from other clubs.  It sounds bizarre that something seemingly so benign could ever illicit an owner to part with millions of pounds.  Had I not been a benefactor of this strategy myself, I don’t think I’d ever have believed it.

The truth is I didn’t really want to join Stoke, I’ve made no secret of that in the past.  But for Reading’s sake I had to.  In a bid to flush out other protagonists, my agent had the sports editor of a national tabloid put a rumour in the paper that I was set to leave in a “cut price” deal as Reading moved to right the balance sheet following relegation from the Premier League.

Within 24 hours that innocuous little line had flushed out Hull, Sunderland and Aston Villa.  Hull and Sunderland I felt would struggle, and it turned out that Villa were only after a backup to John Carew.  I felt that I had a few good years in front of me and I didn’t fancy spending them pulling splinters out of my arse from Villa’s bench.

Stoke seemed to be a good option. They were certainly united, they had an underdog mentality and they had a crowd that could make a huge difference to the momentum of a football match.  For those reasons, they reminded me of Reading.  For lots of other reasons it didn’t work out, but that’s for another day.  Even so, to this day it amazes me how much panic one little remark in a newspaper can create.  The fear of missing out on something you were never really all that keen on to begin with is almost unquantifiable.  Only in football, ay?

And it’s incredible how many transfers and contract negotiations are still conducted that way.  On this point, Manchester United remain unparalleled.  I can recall Jose Mourinho when he was manager of United complaining when the club offered David De Gea a deal that saw him become the highest earner in the Premier League (£375,000 a week) in the wake of absolutely no interest from any other club. The same criticism has been levelled at Ten Haag’s tenure when the Dutchman was so keen to sign the Brazilian winger, Antony, that the price ballooned to £86m with United seemingly bidding against themselves.  Fear of missing out.  Just as powerful now as it was when I moved in 2008.

But it works both ways, because it’s the same for players.  If I hadn’t joined Stoke, would I ever get back to the Premier League?  I’d go over this kind of stuff in my head.  In the end it was easy to convince myself that utopia lay just around the corner. Yes OK, it seemed unlikely that utopia would have been in Staffordshire, but that’s what the fear of missing out does to you.

Reading Chronicle:

On a separate note, I played a seven-a-side game last week against a great bunch of Reading fans.  They turned up in all kinds of kits with one in particular catching my eye.  Playing up front for my team in a yellow Elm Park Royals Podcast shirt based on the 93/94 away season was one James Earnshaw.

At this point nothing would make me happier than to tell you that James has an instinctive eye for a goal in the same way he does for a nugget of news on Reading FC.  But I was brought up to tell the truth.  Alas, after four consecutive one-on-one misses, admittedly against an inspired goalkeeper, James was left to reflect on all those times he’d written about misfiring strikers in his many match reports.

James, take heart.  Last season in the Premier League only 32% of one-on-one’s resulted in a goal.  Is it the fear of missing out, or just the fear of missing?

Talking of not missing out, I’ve had a great response to my new group coaching sessions next month. Two groups are close to being fully booked (honest!).

The cost is £12.50 per session and there are spaces remaining for the following groups: 4-6 year olds (mixed), 7-9 year olds (mixed), 10-12 year old boys, 13-15 year old boys, 10-12 year old girls and 13-15 year old girls. Contact for more information.