- Tuesday marks the closure of European football's January transfer window
- Football clubs have two periods during which they can sign or sell players
- Agents are responsible for negotiating multi-million-dollar deals between clubs and players
- Agent Mel Stein has represented former England stars Paul Gascoigne and Alan Shearer
It happens at the end of January every year -- an apparently mad and desperate dash to sign players as European football's transfer window draws to an agonizing close.
Club officials man the phones, fax machines at the ready to sneak registrations inside the deadline. Football agents, desperate to secure their clients a lucrative last-minute move, frantically try to negotiate contracts and transfer fees before the clock strikes midnight and the chance has disappeared.
It often seems like a classic case of panic-buying, as clubs seek to bolster their squads for the second half of the season, but the last-day scramble is the culmination of weeks of negotiations between all the involved parties, says British agent Mel Stein.
"Generally speaking, if somebody genuinely wants to buy a player, they will have earmarked him well before the window opens," says Stein, who represented former England stars such as Alan Shearer and Paul Gascoigne.
"You've got to have a player that wants to leave and wants to join the club who wants to buy him. So you've got to push all of those pieces together, which sometimes is a lot more difficult than it sounds."
Since 2002, European clubs have only been able to add to their rosters during two transfer windows -- which generally run in the offseason between July 1 and August 31 and midseason throughout the month of January.
As a result, deadline day has become a biannual ritual, with fans glued to TV screens in the hope their club will pull off a shock transfer coup.
Stein says the restrictions the windows have placed on clubs have added extra strain to transfer negotiations.
"There will have been some sort of contact, either formal or informal, well before the window opens," he explained. "So if you date it from there to when the player actually signs, I'd say you're talking about an average of three or four weeks.
"I've got one or two deals that are bubbling under. People wait until the last minute and it's absolutely ridiculous. These deals could have happened weeks ago and yet managers are jockeying for position, they don't get the money from the club and then the club changes its mind at the last minute."
Stein says the 1992 transfer of Gascoigne, who was then 25 and in his prime, from London club Tottenham Hotspur to Rome-based Lazio was particularly difficult.
"The injuries, the financial problems Spurs were experiencing, the tax money element of it -- it was a very complicated transaction, it really was," he recalls.
"I lived and breathed it for months. I had an all-night session with Lazio, worked all the way through the night and didn't go to bed."
European football's governing body UEFA has attempted to cut reckless spending by introducing financial fair play regulations -- a set of rules which sanction clubs for spending beyond their means.
Stein believes the eagerness of teams to lower their wage bills and conform to the new rules has changed how transfers are set in motion, with clubs now eager to offload high-earning stars.
"A couple of years ago, 95% of transfers would have been player instigated. Nowadays, with the financial restraints on clubs, I would say over 50% are club instigated," he says.
"I had a player who was astonished to learn that I'd been phoned by a manager who was telling me that my player was available because he was fairly high on that club's wage list and they wanted to reduce their budget."
This year's January window has been dominated by one player whose club want remove him from the wage bill, Manchester City's Carlos Tevez.
The Argentina striker has been embroiled in a bitter dispute with the English leaders since being fined by the club for refusing to come on as a substitute during a European Champions League match with Bayern Munich in September.
Tevez has been linked with Italian giants AC and Inter Milan and big-spending French outfit Paris Saint-Germain, but was looking likely to remain at City as the deadline approached.
So what would be Stein's advice to the 27-year-old, who captained City to the club's first trophy in 35 years last season and topped the team's scoring charts -- but has not played for City since the incident in Germany?
"You've got Man City who want him out but don't want to lose a fortune. You've got Tevez jogging along a beach in South America and you've any number of people putting him around to clubs who probably can't afford him anyway," Stein says.
"That is a total nightmare transaction. I'm not saying it's one I wouldn't like to be involved in because it would be an enormous challenge to see that one through.
"I'd say, 'You're a professional footballer, you're only going to be playing until you're 35, you need to get yourself playing. This is stupid, you've got to do something.' "