There is something contrived and formal, even courtly, about the modern transfer saga. It's like a duel. Luis Suarez attacks with Home-Country Media, before moving into Whispers From Agent. Liverpool defend with Blanket Refusal. Suarez then tries Self-Pitying Interview, while sneakily throwing in an Leak of Ambiguous Clause. This discombobulates the club slightly, and so they respond by themselves attacking: first Furious Assertion of Duty, and now Solitary Training. Obviously the nuclear option of Written Transfer Request remains an option for the player, though these are so rare that nobody actually knows what they look like any more.
... with regard to the forthcoming 2013/14 football season (hereafter, "next season") the player, Mr Luis Suarez, (hereafter, "the Player") wishes to inform all interested parties that he will seek the relocation of his registration ...
In reality, sadly, most of these moves are tawdry and uninteresting. Off-the-record briefings, hints and whispers, equivocation, spin, counter-spin, counter-counter-spin ... nobody, be they player or agent or journo or manager, comes out of it looking like the kind of person you'd like to have a drink with. But Solitary Training is different. In a world of bluster and nonsense, solitary training is a tangible, overt, and quite hilarious f*ck-you .
This saga's becoming a farce-nal,
I've been great, and this treatment is harsh-nal.
I'm allergic to scouse,
And I don't like my house.
Oh, please let me leave for the Arsenal!
Usually, senior professionals are told to train alone (or with the kids) because their club is trying to move them on. It makes a certain amount of sense: presumably, such players aren't quite as super-ultra-committed as their soon-to-be-former colleagues, and nobody wants their training sessions dragged down by a couple of players without a solitary toss to give. (Apart from the kids.) There's also a practical aspect, in that this unwanted player might soon be an opponent. Losing your best player is bad enough; losing your best player who knows all about the secret plan to play Glen Johnson as a false 2 would be disastrous.
Hey B. Could you grab some milk on the way home? Also, I would like to play for not-Liverpool. L xxx
Delightfully, Suarez's situation is slightly different, in that he's not being abandoned but chastised. He's to go and sit in the corner, and he's to think about what he's done, and he won't be allowed back until he's apologised to Mr Rodgers in front of the whole school. Officially, of course, this chastisement follows lacklustre preseason performances rather than yesterday's coordinated interviews with the hated liars of English press, but ... well, let's just say that the timing's mighty convenient, and they're unlikely to have helped.
Having lost charge, confused questioner ran faster and handed this in? (1,8,7)
Sadly, the precise mechanics of solitary training are never made explicit. Presumably Liverpool don't employ a shadow coaching staff: is he out there on the Melwood fields entirely alone, putting out his own cones, retrieving his own misdirected balls? Is he clapping and barking encouragement to himself? Are the other players allowed to talk to him, or has he been sent to Northampton? Is Lucas going to get in trouble if he passes him a note? And, of course, there won't be much in the way of tackling going on. A cynic might suggest that by exiling Suárez, Rodgers just happens to have made sure that a multi-squillion pound deal -- should one be reluctantly, begrudgingly, eventually accepted -- won't be imperilled by a narky training-ground reducer.
Dear Mr Rodgers. I'm afraid Luis isn't feeling well at the moment, and so can't do PE today. I have spoken to his doctor and he says we may have to move to Madrid to help him get over it. Yours sincerely, My Mum.
There is, however, a dark psychological edge to such treatment. The lifeblood of the modern professional footballer is, as everybody knows, banter. The thought of the banter to come gets them up in the morning; it's banter that sees them through the long working day; and when they fall asleep at night, swaddled in Egyptian cotton and World Cup Willie jim-jams, it's sweet, sweet banter that fills their dreams. But not for Luis. He works alone. In deafening silence. He falls on his arse, and nobody laughs. He skies a sitter, and nobody shouts "More like Poo-is Ha-rez!" It is perhaps for the best that these exiles tend to be short-lived: a recent study into the long-term effects of banter deprivation on professional footballers, sponsored by the PFA, had to be brought to a premature end after the players escaped from their holding cells. They were eventually recovered some fifty miles away in a school playground, flinging excrement at one another and shouting "HAVE IT!"
The wind sinks and swells,
Two leaves touch, embrace, depart.
A transfer request.
But what does it all mean? Beyond the posturing and the ridiculousness and the general air of tetchy farce, probably not a lot. From Suarez's point of view, there is still a way back if he can't find a way out; from Liverpool's, they get to look tough and forceful. Brendan Rodgers (former manager of Watford, Reading, and Swansea) gets to pontificate about loyalty, Liverpool (and Arsenal) fans get to fret, or shrug, or just ignore the whole sorry mess, and everybody else gets to make jokes on Twitter. And even if Suarez does drop the big bomb, and scribbles down the Bad Words, his club still have one final counter-punch. In a vault beneath Anfield, behind triple-locked concrete doors, under constant armed guard, there is a big red button: Rot In The Reserves. Threat. Counter-threat. Nothing is happening, very loudly.