The sour taste of the beautiful game

10th September 2011 is a date that Steve Bruce is unlikely to forget in a hurry. After months of parasites infesting his main goal getter, Asamoah Gyan’s head, the Ghanaian left the North East on a surprising season long loan to the United Arab Emirates side Al-Ain, in an apparent attempt to regain his focus. This is becoming an unfortunately common sight in modern day football; the player’s head being turned by the possible chance that they might be able to ply their trade somewhere more glamourous than for their current outfit. As the press has become more and more powerful and intrusive, there is no surprise that some players might be unsettled by a rumour linking them to the bright lights of Madrid, or that their manager allegedly dislikes them. It has affected the most loyal servants to their clubs, with the Steven Gerrard to Chelsea incident springing to mind, and has ruined the mindsets of others.  So why does it happen? Who is responsible? And how realistically can the problem be solved?

There have always been rumours and gossip surrounding footballers, especially when a player has excelled, burst onto the scene or publicly voiced their disdain for their present situation. The rumour mill these days has escalated rapidly, and we are constantly entertained by the possibility of Wesley Sneijder ditching his glorious life in Milan for the frostbite of a Manchester substitutes’ bench, or Arsene Wenger splashing out his entire budget on yet another unlikely, unneeded youthful candidate. Crass, eye-catching stories grab the attention, but really for it to become newsworthy there should be an ounce of truth in the depiction. Perhaps most worryingly as the  Steed Malbranque rumour has shown, stories can be plucked from the air, and if its discussed enough then it becomes plausible. This year has been rife with unsettled footballers, that have been apparently offered bigger bucks elsewhere, and despite the club owning that player’s registration until their contract expires, it is the player that is in control.

A prime example of recent player power has been Samir Nasri in engineering his move to Manchester City. Going into this season, Nasri had only a single year remaining on his Arsenal contract. Arsene Wenger was adamant that despite this fact if Nasri did not sign a new deal he would retain his services for the season and risk losing him on a Bosman next summer. Instead, he dug his heels in and forced the move through. Wenger has retained a strong sense of denial this summer in his attempts to keep Nasri and Fabregas, and he must have known all along that his two most prominent possession merchants were on their way out. The move went through at the end of August, and Nasri’s form and immediate coherent position in the City team, have shown that he made the correct move.

Alongside this new found power for players when dealing with a potential move, is the strength that their agents have in these negotiations. Around this time last year the Wayne Rooney debacle manifested itself onto the nation’s back pages for a couple of weeks. He claimed to have become unsettled and disillusioned by the lack of high profile recruits, and seemed almost certain to leave Old Trafford. He eventually saw the sense, signed a bumper new contract, and lived happily ever after. It is hard to comprehend why a player so well loved and respected at the most successful club in England would want to jump ship, until the salient presence of his agent, Paul Stretford is considered. Stretford was aware that any scare-mongering would force Manchester United into a tight corner, and that their only positive route out was to offer Rooney more money; allowing the agent to pocket his cut of the deal. Alex Ferguson maintained all along merely that ‘Rooney’s advisers say he’s wants a move’, accentuating the fact that the player was in all reality a puppet for his pushy money man.

Perhaps the best depiction of an unsettled footballer and his external conscience is that of the  Manchester-phobic Carlos Tevez and the suspiciously successful Kia Joorabchian. The Argentine has been on a self-imposed nomadic conveyor belt after he sold his soul to the Joorabchian fronted MSI Agency at the age of 21.  Since his economic rights were handed to Joorabchian, Tevez has seemingly moved wherever the money is best; his short spell at West Ham was an attempt to advertise the product, and Manchester United took the bait, snapping him up on a two season loan. He then trundled across the city to sign for the ‘noisy neighbours’, and has enjoyed a gluttonous goal-fest in the blue shirt. This summer another move almost materialised, but in reality was unaffordable. He has cited his family’s absence as a motive, but by contemplating a move to mainland Europe he would have migrated even further away from his motherland. They have now resumed life in the North West, and he claims to be happy to stay in Manchester. So why the itchy feet this summer? It couldn’t have merely been the player wanting out, especially after captaining the side for the majority of last season, and propelling them to their first silverware in almost four decades. He is one of the highest earning players worldwide, and were he to leave would have to take a significant pay cut. He has often spoken of his desire to retire early and to return home, it could be argued that because he is aware of this knowledge, Joorabchian knows that to maximise his profits, he and his client have to tread new nations, and infiltrate new markets because the cash cow won’t be there forever. His latest moment of disruptive madness however has pushed a move in January through prematurely, and he will be forced to rot in isolation, and then ciphered  off to the highest bidder.

This situation involving Tevez is one that documents just how futile a club’s contractual obligations are to an individual player. It appears that even the most settled players have doubts, and are always looking to progress their careers both financially and also on a personal level. Benoît Assou-Ekotto last year gave an enlightening insight into the mind of the mercenary footballer.  As a result it is easily apparent to see just what drives a large portion of professional footballers, and also their background teams to push for that quick buck. The presence of better offers in rumour form and occasionally in reality, force dreams to be considered, heads to turn, and wallets to be well stocked. It appears that this is a side of the game that is going to stay, and if anything become even more deeply rooted into the very existence of the sport. In today’s game money talks; I’m sorry Steve Bruce, but you have lost Asamoah Gyan for good.

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About htedbaker
I'm an englishman in America. Avid football fan/ aspiring sports journalist.

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