Regular readers of the footballing gossip columns with have noticed the pattern. After all, we’ve witnessed it before.
Local paper links club with a player and, after a diplomatic period of radio silence, a member of said team’s coaching staff showers public praise on their supposed target. Without, it must be noted, actually confirming whether or not the initial story is true.
This Machiavellian manoeuvring is presumably designed to acknowledge that, yes, the initial report was correct. Supposedly oblique, it is actually pretty hamfisted stuff. Nobody is fooled. Except, of course, the authorities who should really intervene but rarely do.
David Brooks appeared to be at the centre of a similar charade earlier this week with various news outlets reporting that Everton were preparing to bid for the teenager. Especially when Jamie Hoyland, their chief academy scout and previously of this parish, was quoted talking-up his talents in the press.
Officials at Goodison Park subsequently dismissed those claims and contacted Sheffield United to clarify their position on Wednesday. It was, so I’m told, pretty amicable stuff and a classic case of folk putting two and two together and coming-up with five.
In fairness, it would not have come as a major surprise to discover Brooks was being monitored by the Liverpudlians. The midfielder was England’s most impressive performer during the recent Toulon Tournament and, in front of an audience of top-flight scouts, further embellished his reputation with a goal in the final against Ivory Coast.
Nor, in the grand scheme of things, should the fact Brooks is likely to become the subject of yet more what-iffery over the coming months provoke much alarm at Bramall Lane. Better to have folk on the books others are actually interested in signing, I always think, than a collection of duds who, even if they were available on free transfers, would be impossible to offload.
But what does stick in the craw is the fact this interest, assuming Brooks continues to develop, will become apparent in all too familiar ways. (Critics will claim Chris Wilder is following a similar path by choosing to publicly discuss his interest in Ricky Holmes. But, in this instance, Charlton Athletic had already confirmed an approach had been made. A subtle but crucial difference).
Top-flight sides are perfectly within their rights to offers for Brooks. Likewise United, who recently cancelled his planned loan to Chesterfield, can either accept, negotiate or tell them to politely b****r off.
The soundtrack to such coquetry, however, frequently pushes the boundaries of what it right and proper. Leading teams get away with far too much when dealing with those further down the pyramid. The governing body, who were quick to act when Liverpool hacked-off Southampton, must order them to cease and desist.