You can tell when someone is under its influence. The pupils dilate. The muscles relax. Over-friendly hugs become more common. But its effects are much more far-reaching than that. Test subjects have been known to lurch for chequebooks, buy a second mobile telephone and watch Sky Sports News for hours – days, even – at a time.
There are macro-level consequences, too. The very notion of football journalism is wobbling under the pressure of something far more nebulous and unaccountable. Summer sports like cricket, tennis and tiddlywinks have suffered declining participation levels. Millions and millions of pounds and euros and dollars and other currencies whose names I cannot be bothered to Google are spent in order to provide excitement, cover up long-standing flaws and generally obscure the rotten core of existence.
You've probably seen it on the news by now. It comes in pills and powder and occasionally biscuit form. It is, make no mistake about it, a drug. Not just a drug; the most potent drug imaginable.
Its name? The transfer window.
The transfer window (or TW, as it is known to those with intimate knowledge of the cottage industry that surrounds it) is believed to have first appeared on the market in 2002, imported from mainland Europe by party-goers inexplicably keen on the homogeneity of narcotic availability across national boundaries. At first it drew little fanfare, seducing only a select few. It was, I am assured by my contacts, viewed as something of an acquired taste.
But boy how we've acquired it. Spurred on by chairmen and owners of football clubs, who adopted it as their guilty pleasure of choice, TW is now the most consumed drug in the western world by weight. It takes up almost 45% of the pages of every single publication that aims to have readers and has its own devoted channels and broadcasters. Those who dabble in TW get sucked into a veritable alternate universe.
The drug is not conducive to good decision making. John W Henry, the owner of Liverpool Football Club, took TW for the first time just a year ago; already he is conducting business as if controlled by an infant. Liverpool have, by my reckoning, bid for 231 strikers this summer. The latest offer, a £22million play for Diego Costa, throws doubt on the notion that Henry has even read Moneyball, let alone seen the film. He has also put in place a bizarre policy which states that all defenders are free to leave the club. Henry desperately needs to go cold turkey.
In London, contrasting attitudes to TW have yielded wildly different results. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has instituted a "zero tolerance" approach at Arsenal, refusing to even discuss TW for four months a year. All references to buying and selling are censored in magazines, newspapers and TV channels around the club, at no little expense. Wenger is believed to be willing to take his ascetic stance further, banning all transfer activity going forward – a kind of "tough love" policy he hopes will wean Gunners fans off tiresome Cesc Fabregas rumours and simultaneously dampen expectation levels. Spurs chairman Daniel Levy, meanwhile, has enjoyed (monetary) success since setting himself up as a de facto TW dealer, waiting until supply dwindles before demanding top price for his assets. As the drug's popularity surges, his list of friends grows ever shorter.
Chelsea, however, show classic symptoms of the binge culture that has latterly defined TW consumption. Roman Abramovich splurged early on in the rise of the drug and has barely slowed down, creating a snowball effect of cash and collateral damage. Managers have tried to curb his TW habit. Those managers have been sacked. Only Jose Mourinho has been happy to egg him on, even though it brings eventual disaster ever closer. The Portuguese schemer assumes – probably correctly – that his name features heavily in Abramovich's will.
Where will this destructive public addiction end? I don't know. Where will this article end? Here.
Read more articles by Jack Lang.