Baldrick is tearing apart some dough. Edmund enters, picks up
a tabby cat and punts it high into the air across the room.]
Baldrick: Oh, Sir! Poor little Mildred the cat! What's he ever done to you?
Edmund: It is the way of the world, Baldrick -- the abused always kick
downwards. I am annoyed, and so I kick the cat... the cat
[there is a mouse `eek!' noise] pounces on the mouse, and, finally,
Baldrick: [startled, jumps] Agh!
Edmund: ...bites you on the behind.
The above scene, taken from the Blackadder episode "Nob and Nobility", is not too dissimilar to the transfer system which forms the backbone of British football. Subsitute Edmund for Manchester United or Liverpool, Baldric for Portsmouth or Middlesbrough and put Spurs, Aston Villa and the rest somewhere in the middle, and the joke begins to look familiar - although whether it's funny or not is a matter of perspective.
Last summer our club berated Manchester United and Liverpool for their heinously "underhand" pursuit of Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane. Given the chance the act the victim and take the heat off our inability to hold on to key players, chairman Daniel Levy cried foul and made himself look silly in the process. Not half because, as can be seen in our pursuit of Jermain Defoe and Stewart Downing, we aren't ashamed of using suspect tactics to unsettle players ourselves.
As Blackadder points out to the hapless Baldrick, "It is the way of the world" but that doesn't make it any more honourable, or easy to take for the those who find themselves with rich club's size 12s in their face. I wonder if Levy sees the irony in bleating about Ferguson's mind games one minute, only to find Redknapp complaining about inflated prices the next.
When you look at it closely, without your club's colours round your neck, it is pretty shameful. At the moment Portsmouth, Middlesbrough and West Ham are unlucky enough to find themselves at the bottom of the pyramid, with vultures circling their better players long before they are dead and buried. Little under six months ago it was our fans riling against the bully boy tactics of sides with more money than morals, now we too are culprits of the same malaise.
Of course, it's all legal and above board. Publicly Redknapp accepts that if clubs don't want to sell their top players there is little he can do. Privately, it's a different matter. Player power is king, like never before, and a few choice words here, a little retraction there, and soon you have Downing reportedly handing in a transfer request, or Defoe vowing never to play for Portsmouth again. Or to use two other examples - Berbatov signing for Manchester United and Keane leaving for Liverpool.
Perhaps on this occasion, it is Portsmouth who should be laughing. Having snapped up Defoe for £9m last January, they are now in a position where, 12 months down the line, they can make a tidy profit selling him back to us. Of course he's their best player and he will not be easy to replace but is probably some comfort to know they will be making Redknapp walk over coals to get him back, and making money in the process.
As for the fee, I can't help but laugh when 'Arry bleats over Pompey's demands for £20m. Portsmouth don't want to sell, so it's blooming well up to them what price they put on his head. They can ask for all the tea in China if they want, after all we got £20m for Robbie Keane so who can blame them for wanting to wring us for as much as possible.
With this in mind, it's unsurprising today's papers claim a fee of £15m has been agreed between the two clubs, with Levy waiving the money still owed to him for Younes Kaboul. The deal makes little sense , both financially and in footballing terms, but it is a product of our desperation and the short-sightedness of our transfer policy over the last few years.