The Anatomy of a Transfer: how the window really works
WHISPERED conversations between players, agents stirring the pot and clubs trying to maintain a poker face for a month as they balance the wishes of egomaniac managers with chairman tightening their belts.
Welcome to the world of the modern transfer deal - a far cry from the sanitised version portrayed on Sky Sports News and best-selling computer game Football Manager.
The Sunday Sun today attempts to shed some light on why January is such a tortuous month for football clubs - and why the transfers that might come to pass in the last seconds of the window have probably been six months in the making.
Most of the deals that Newcastle are lining up have been worked on since September 1, the day the window snapped shut.
Even now, targets are being assessed for January 2013 or the summer window.
The Sunday Sun understands a list of out-of-contract players who might come to Newcastle at the end of THIS season was being prepared in August.
Using programmes like Scout 7 and ScoutNet, a club's chief scout will oversee those efforts to recruit.
At most top flight clubs with ambition a team of full and part-time scouts - many of whom have played or coached at a very high level - will be filing reports every single day into a central computer database.
Liverpool operate a system where players scouted are given white and red flags.
White means he has been watched and is of interest - red means a move or deal is imminent.
However, clubs are becoming increasingly secretive about targets, and even their own staff aren't always filled in fully.
For the top secret targets, and Andy Carroll was one, his name didn't appear on the system once.
This all might seem a bit slap dash, but most clubs work to a blueprint or strategy that comes directly from the owner or board.
Newcastle's is well-established - buy low, flood the French market - but Sunderland will be thrashing one out with new boss Martin O'Neill over the next few weeks.
At a solid, progressive club like Carlisle United, where finances are tight and relations between manager and board are rock solid, a strategy governs all dealings.
Managing director John Nixon explains: "To move forward our club has decided we want to take young players from the Premier League and the Championship.
"We believe that if you shop in League Two, there may be one or two that will take you forward.
"If you take the right players from higher up, you can move forward and we've found that.
"We then compile a list of five or six targets for every single position - that is the manager's job for the most part.
"As a managing director you then begin work, making enquiries at Chief Executive level.
"If you find two of the six are available and realistic it's then back to the manager who can make a decision on where we progress from there.
"But it is a situation where communication is essential.
"If we decide not to progress on a player after making an enquiry, I'll always ring the club back and explain why. Good relationships are essential.
By then, players are usually aware of the interest in them."
It is an incestuous game in some ways and the jungle drums are constantly beating.
Former Toon star and Sunday Sun columnist Steve Howey says: "It shouldn't happen, but football players do talk to each other.
"You speak to your mates at other clubs and say 'So and so is doing really well - we could do with a left winger'.
"The player then pulls him to one side and says: 'You'll never guess who's asking after you'.
"Of course it turns your head, you think about it and you might say something to your agent. Then it might get in the papers or whatever.
"Does the manager discourage that? Not if it gets him a player.
"There's absolutely nothing you can do to stop that, it's just the way of the world.
"Middle men complicate the deal with agents always put forward by clubs as muddying the waters."
One North agent active with our two big clubs, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, explains: "There is a myth that agents are looking to move their players on for big pay days.
"The deal that took Demba Ba to Newcastle, for example. The way that club usually work is that a four-year deal won't be paid up front - he'll get payments at various points in that deal, maybe every year.
"There is no need to move him on for a bumper pay day - he is guaranteed money over the next few years there.
"The best way to make money on that deal would be to re-negotiate the contract, then he might get a payment.
"To the letter of the law, clubs should talk first.
"But there seems to be a recognition that no-one is playing by the rules these days."
Complaints are rare even when - as happened recently - Newcastle became hopping mad at an opposition manager discussing their top scorer Demba Ba.
"The FIFA rules state that an agent shouldn't be involved before the clubs have spoken but let's be honest, 99 per cent of agents don't work that way," the agent said.
"Conversations are taking place all of the time. I can think of one very big deal last window which had the agent's fingerprints all over it - he had clearly put everything in place for the buying club to come in and take him.
"Fans, and even the manager, seemed really shocked by it, but an agent had spoken to the club and said he wasn't happy and this is how much he wanted wage-wise and this is how much the sellers wanted.
"It went through far too quickly for such a big deal for it to have been hammered out to the strict letter of the law.
"The FIFA rules are strange, I'm not sure why they aren't enforced.
"Harry Redknapp, by the letter of the law, should be fined every time he talks about a player he's interested in.
"But no-one seems to do anything. It feels like the system needs looking at."
Nixon and Carlisle are a paragon of virtue and there is a reason why they are trusted by top-flight clubs to do business properly and look after players entrusted to them.
Everything is above board and there is pride in Nixon's voice at the steady progress the club have made through their approach - leaps forward which see them in the League One play-off chase.
For the solution is honesty.
Howey is eternally grateful to Sir Bobby Robson for his up front approach when he switched St James' Park for Manchester City.
"I felt I was stagnating at Newcastle but Bobby didn't want me to leave," he explains.
"Manchester City came in for me and he called me into his office and felt he had to tell me about it.
"He just wanted me to be aware of it, but he said I was the one defender he didn't want to lose.
"I just needed a fresh challenge and I ended up going there.
"Bobby didn't have to tell me, but it was the measure of the man that he told me. It's why players loved him."
And the situation isn't black and white with agents either.
"When I say I'm an agent and people criticise me for it I point out that its not all about moving on Peter Crouch, Michael Owen or whoever," one told the Sunday Sun.
"Every year 20 kids are released from just about every Academy.
"And that's not just Newcastle or Sunderland, it's Grimsby as well.
"Those kids, their only opportunity might come from an agent creating a bit of interest around them. They fall through the cracks without an agent there."
CASE STUDY: THE DREAM DEAL
LIAM NOBLE (Sunderland to Carlisle)
"WE are delighted at signing Liam," Carlisle MD John Nixon explains.
"The manager wanted the deal and when it got to that stage I talked with Margaret Byrne back in July to organise the loan move.
"We knew then what we would like to happen in New Year so I picked up the phone to Margaret again in November to talk about making it permanent.
"Sunderland seemed happy with that and then its down to the manager to convince the player, who sometimes doesn't want to drop down that far.
"Liam wanted to play, he knew how much we rated him so it was a deal that could be done.
"We then agree terms and we've got a very good player on board by the second week of January.
"It was a very smooth deal because of the understanding between all of the parties."
CASE STUDY: THE POSSIBLE NIGHTMARE DEALS
MEVLUT ERDINC (PSG to Newcastle. Or not)
AFTER missing out on Kevin Gameiro in the summer, the Sunday Sun understands Newcastle made contact with club and Erdinc through an intermediate to make initial enquiries.
The Turkey striker seemed keen, but PSG wanted too much money at that stage.
While Newcastle haggled with the French club, his agent placed wage demands that were unreasonable in front of United. He was also due bonuses that PSG didn't seem keen to pay.
Newcastle waited and waited, convinced that the path would become clear.
But as his agent demurred, Erdinc started to become less keen on the deal.
The plot thickened when a Qatari takeover made it clear Erdinc wouldn't get first-team football and Newcastle - who had done plenty of work on the deal - were forced to mothball it.
TOM ALDRED (Carlisle to Watford).
"AGENTS sometimes make life difficult," Carlisle MD John Nixon explains.
"We had a very good young player who we wanted to keep.
"We believed his career would have best been served staying at Carlisle, but his head was being filled full of clubs that wanted to sign him. There was nothing we could do.
"He went to a Championship club, then on to Colchester and then on loan to Torquay.
"If he had stayed with us he would have been playing first team football regularly at a good level.
"Agents can give a player false hope at times."