The boy had gone to sleep with three hours of the window remaining. He was absolutely convinced that a bad man called Mark Warburton was going to spirit away John McGinn under the cloak of deadline darkness. He’s still at an age when he thinks transfers happen against a player’s will. He doesn’t understand about business, football being a short career, the desire to have the wherewithal for five jaunts to Dubai per season – and he doesn’t understand the black arts of agents. Bless him.
But he is wise enough to wonder, in the early weeks of the season: “Where’s Alexi Sanchez? Where’s Philippe Coutinho? Where’s Virgil van Dijk? How come they’re all injured at the same time?”
What happens to these guys and all the others who craved a move and didn’t get one? How do they react now that their man flu or whatever it was that left them in the stands has cleared up? How do they play? How does Jamie Walker play at Hearts with his switch to Rangers failing to materialise? It’s a big test for all of them, and a big challenge for the game’s credibility.
This window has been about the transfers which didn’t happen, despite the hype, the feverish speculation and Sky Sports’ Jim White furiously fluttering his yellow tie like Oliver Hardy in the presence of an attractive woman. As such it’s been viewed as the anti-player power window when the clubs bit back. But if your son’s idol still jumped from the window leaving the lad heartbroken then I sympathise.
At least I had a contingency plan for Friday morning. If McGinn had left Hibernian then it seems my laddie’s second favourite footballer would have arrived in his place. The word is that Liam Henderson was all set for a permanent move to Easter Road, Neil Lennon using some of the money from the McGinn deal to secure it. What a consolation prize for Hibs fans that would have been.
Henderson fired over the two most important corners in – by that stage – 141 years of Hibee history to help win them the Scottish Cup but he’d already hugely endeared himself to the Leith faithful on his loan spell from Celtic with his chest-bursting passion for simply having a ball at his feet and being able to call it a job.
Hendo was like a one-man electricity sub-station on the park, sparking urgent missives to both team-mates and supporters implying this would be the last football match played, ever, and we’d all better get on with it and enjoy it – and expressing his unalloyed delight at both being alive and simply winning a throw-in. As the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band once sang: “His natural exuberance spilled out all over the place.”
Remember, he was a loan player. Hibs fans recall – chillingly – when this breed simply passed through the club. Collected their losers’ medals for the 2012 cup final humiliation and moved on. Hendo proved that being a loanee didn’t make you a bad person and that the concept could work, a full year before Celtic supporters began hailing Patrick Roberts as the greatest guest artiste of all time. Which begs the question: why’s Henderson not starring in first-team football every week? He doesn’t want to be a loan player any more. He’s tried to break through under Brendan Rodgers and it hasn’t happened, even though the manager likes him and the fans like what they’ve seen in fleeting glimpses. Celtic hoard more players than they’re ever going to need and he’s got to get out.
After those corners and the cup triumph and having returned to Parkhead, Henderson told me: “It’s weird this relationship between Hibs and me – like I’ve split up with my girlfriend but am still in love with her.”
For one so young he spoke exceedingly well that day – about being a good team-mate when not picked, about dedication to his craft. Hibs fans cling to those words – not just my son or those with “Liam Henderson to deliverrrr! … ” tattoos. The move back to Hibs hasn’t happened this time but it might one day. A move somewhere simply has to happen: he’s too fine a footballer with too good an attitude for it not to.
This is what these players left in limbo have to do: show good attitude. Hearts legend Gary Mackay has said Jamie Walker shouldn’t get a hard time from fans for not securing the move to Ibrox that he wanted – but it’s incumbent on Walker to stop sulking, knuckle down and reclaim the form which first attracted attention. As Scott Allan told me recently, a thwarted player who can’t do these things won’t have endeared himself to prospective new employers by the time the next window comes round.
Meanwhile, Sanchez, pictured left – staying put. Van Dijk – as you were. Coutinho – still driving to Liverpool’s training ground (if he does his own driving) to work with the English Premier League’s most exciting manager. “At this moment he lives a very great sadness,” said his fellow Brazilian Neymar.
So are the superstars, and Riyad Mahrez is another not leaving, going to take this lying down? Are they going to actually lie down and refuse to play? Are they going to vote for the strike which would instantly become the most risible dispute in the entire history of worker unrest?
Unlikely, and it remains to be seen whether player power really has been quashed by chairman power. This is, though, a fascinating shift and one that’s been long overdue. No-one wants to see total control revert to the clubs again, but equally while the players have called the shots since Bosman, their excesses have caused some to fall out of love with the game.
Ashley Cole’s reaction to being offered a mere £55,000 a week – “I almost crashed my car” – remains the worst of them. So get back out there and play, guys – it’s not as if any of you is stuck at Guantanamo Bay Rovers. Football’s still a fantastic way to earn a living.
Just ask Liam Henderson.