Have you ever wondered about how ridiculous transfer rumors get started? While some rumors emerged fully formed from the wilds of Bat Country, most of them start with at least the germ of truth from an original source which then gets repeated endlessly in the "telephone" style game of the European sports media.
But what happens when someone at the beginning of the chain makes a small mistake? Often, hilarity. And that's what happened to the Express today, who reported that a "ridiculous" deal has been made that will see Tottenham Hotspur's Mousa Dembele depart the club when the summer transfer window opens. [Edit: since the time of this posting, the original article has been taken down, but here's a cached copy.]
The crux of the Express story centers around a quote from departing Roma Director of Football Walter Sabatini. What exactly did he say?
“[Mousa] Dembele has already been sold, and for a ridiculous price," Sabatini told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Wait, what? Since when? And why would Spurs be so eager to sell him after his phenomenal season? The answer lies somewhere down the rabbit hole of media reports and Italian translations.
So, Gazzetta dello sport does have a website, but in Italy they're primarily a print newspaper, and their daily stories often don't make it onto the web immediately. They're also, to put it mildly, not the most reliable source when it comes to Italian transfer rumors. However, we are talking about direct quotes from the director of football at Roma, so surely it's possible to dig something up. The Express very well could have the print edition of Gazzetta handy, but still, there's that whole thing about Moose that's seemingly coming out of nowhere.
Where could the Express be getting their information? Enter football-italia.net. It's an Italian football aggregator blog, much like what Carty-Free is, and they have the exact quote, brackets and all, that the Express uses in its story.
Aha! Now, it's possible football-italia is cribbing from The Express and not the other way around, but either way the plot thickens. Football-italia also references Gazzetta dello sport, so we're back to finding the print edition.
In the end I reached out to some SB Nation colleagues who write for Italian football blogs to see if I could get some additional information, or maybe confirmation from someone who's read the print edition. They did, and discovered that the Dembele that Sabatini was referring to wasn't Mousa Dembele at all.
It was OUSMANE Dembele. From Rennes. Who was reportedly very close to a deal to go to Dortmund for a transfer fee of about €50m.
While I was unable to get a scan of the Gazzetta article, my colleague did point me towards the next best thing: an online article from a rival Italian media source. Here's the relevant quote:
Molti attaccanti vengono accostati alla Roma...
"Sono solo tentate vendite da parte dei procuratori. Dembélé del Rennes, ad esempio, è già arrivato a 40-50 milioni, cifre inavvicinabili. Anche Batshuayi del Marsiglia costa tanto.
And my crappy Italian translation:
Many attackers are brought to Roma...
"I'm just looking at sales to rivals. Dembélé from Rennes, for example, has already reached 40 million to 50 million, ridiculous figures. Batshuayi from Marseille also costs a lot."
So there you have it. Sabatini was giving quotes to the Italian media about possible targets for Roma in the offseason, and referenced Ousmane Dembele. Football-italia found those quotes but didn't see "from Rennes" in the quote and assumed it referred to Tottenham's Mousa Dembele. The Express probably picked up on the story from football-italia (or vice versa), didn't check the original source, and ran with the "Mousa's leaving Tottenham" angle.
And thus, a completely bogus transfer rumor is born out of Dembele confusion, and it didn't even involve Moussa Dembele from Fulham. What's clear is that Moose isn't moving.
There's a couple of things you can take away from this whole thing. First, and most importantly, never EVER trust the Express. But secondly, when you're dealing with the veracity of transfer rumors, it's almost always worthwhile to dig as deep as you can to find the original context of the rumor. Sometimes you'll find the truth there, or at least the germ of the truth. And sometimes you'll simply find that someone's small error got magnified in the sports media echo chamber.
With thanks to Michele Pasquali from AC Milan Offside for help tracking down Italian media sources.