The push-me-pull-you Bale-Rooney-Suarez summer transfer saga long ago turned into an end-of-pier farce.
The posturing, the moaning, the laughable insistence that no one is going anywhere: it is all a smokescreen. We know already where this is going to end up. And it is not with all three of them staying where they are.
What we are seeing now is football’s version of that phoney bargaining tried on by tourists in the souk in Marrakech. You offer a price way below what is being asked then pretend you’re not really bothered when it is turned down and a higher price demanded. The bold tripper then makes the pretence of walking away, knowing that the store keeper will chase after him, the price dropping with his every footfall. It is a game which both parties are prepared to engage with to satisfy their sense of personal worth.
How much easier the football transfer business would be if dealing was restricted to one day, when all the relevant parties sat down in a room together and thrashed out deals. That, however, is never going to happen. Not when there is a summer-load of headlines to be seized. Not when the endless ridiculous manoeuvrings generate such interest.
Yet we know, for all the noise currently being generated, that the likelihood is all three will go. As former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry pointed out this week, clubs don’t want players hanging around their dressing room who would rather be somewhere – anywhere – else.
In the terminology of sports psychology such people are called “sappers” because they sap the collective spirit with their evident lack of enthusiasm for their current circumstance. Coaches are advised by the experts to move sappers on. It doesn’t matter how good they might be as a player, the negative effect on group morale is always likely to be greater than any benefit they might bring.
And yet, for different reasons, none of the clubs in possession of the trio of wantaways are anxious for them to go. All three would feel diminished. Tottenham, self-evidently, would regard the departure of the world-class Gareth Bale as a setback to their ambition for frequent Champions League participation. He is the one player they possess who makes a difference. And while the huge transfer fee he would generate would enable the manager to bring in three or four quality replacements, losing your talisman is debilitating.
Likewise, Liverpool would find it hard to operate as efficiently without Luis Suarez. Sure, his frequent self-destructive lapses have corroded the group effort. But, boy, he knows how to find the net - any club would miss that unerring facility.
For United, the issue is slightly different. Rooney is clearly no longer as central to their plans as he once was. Which is partly why he has taken umbrage and wants out: he recognises he is no longer recognised as the main man and feels personally diminished as a result. United may be the most relaxed of the summer’s selling clubs about a big departure, but they really have to be careful about who it is ultimately they do business with.
If he were to go to PSG or Milan or Monaco, it would barely register as an issue. Up front is not David Moyes’s problem. He has Robin van Persie, Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck to rotate as his main striker. Where he is so chronically under-strength is in midfield, where the comedy figure of Bebe was pressed into service during United’s final friendly of their seemingly summer-long tour. Up front, though, Moyes could shed himself of a great enthusiast-turned-sapper without demur.
Unless, that is, the player ended up at Chelsea. There, revitalised under Jose Mourinho’s brilliant man-management, he could be a horribly destructive presence for United’s chances. Imagine him ahead of a midfield threesome of Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar: his goals could win the title for the Blues.
The trouble is, Moyes’s stubborn insistence the player is not going anywhere has yet to smoke out any other offers. Chelsea remain the only club to register an interest in taking him on. United’s safe options of PSG, Milan and Monaco have remained steadfastly unmoved by the prospect.
And that has presented the new United manager with the real dilemma of the summer. Does Moyes keep a player whose every statement suggests he would redefine the term sapper if he were obliged to stay? Or does he free the dressing room from its most destructive occupant if it means allowing him to join the one outfit where he is most likely to inflict maximum damage?
Rather you than me, David.