When Tottenham played their first league match of the season against Man Utd it wasn’t a surprise they lost – Man Utd have finished above Tottenham in the league every year since . . . I dunno, the last Ice Age, probably. But the Spuds were forced to play without one of their best players, the ‘wantaway’ Luka Modric. Mr Modric had apparently had enough of playing for London’s fourth biggest club and wanted to go to the second biggest instead because they pay more. Because of this ‘his head was not right’ and thus he couldn’t play. Ahhhh. In previous days he was reported as having all kinds of other physical problems that no one believed, and which could probably be summed up best as ‘sulking’.
This was all quite familiar to Arsenal fans. Cesc Fabregas also had a number of mysterious ailments, usually hamstring-related, all through pre-season training and the Emirates Cup. No one, not even Arsene Wenger, really believed there was anything wrong that a signed contract for Barcelona wouldn’t cure. I think at some point there was talk from Wenger of Cesc’s head not being right but by that time I was kind of losing interest so I can’t be sure. Cesc, and/or his advisors, played a clever game of not coming out and directly asking for a transfer, but making it clear within the club that he wanted to leave. Somewhat stupidly, Wenger indulged him like a toddler who wouldn’t sit still at lunch, and let him dictate the discussions for the whole summer. Wenger, with seemingly quite a lot of naivety, apparently believed he could persuade Cesc to stay another year on the dubious basis that the squad would be adequately strengthened by the likes of Gervinho and Oxlade-Chamberlain and others who have rarely been sighted since. In fact of those bought before Cesc was sold, only the Forehead has so far made more than a couple of appearances. So really, how could Wenger believe that he was going to persuade anyone to stay with purchases who were not going to improve the squad?
Samir Nasri was another who made it clear that he wasn’t going to re-sign, and he also missed Arsenal’s first match with a more than dubious injury. To his (small) credit, he did then appear on the pitch and made an effort. He should at least be applauded for that, unlike the sulking Fabregas, who was more concerned with whether he should get his multi-million pound ‘loyalty’ payment.
Carlos Tevez was also hoping for a move in the summer, and still is – and would you believe he also missed City’s first league game. He’s as anxious to get out of Manchester as Nasri was to get in, and this came to a head when he refused to warm up or refused to play, depending on which of the two parties you believe. Now, would you believe, he is considering suing his manager for the ‘libellous’ allegations about his refusal to play, and the PFA have stepped in to ensure that the troll-faced Argie can’t be fined more than two weeks’ wages, as that would infringe his human rights, or some such nonsense. Never mind that he has provided almost no value to his employers for the last six months. And Fifa now point to their rule that states that if an ‘established professional’ plays under ten per cent of his club’s ‘game time’ in a season, he is entitled to walk away from his contract!
It would be nice if all these players stopped being paid when they started sulking, but of course they carry on cashing the huge cheques that you and I pay for with our meagre salaries. And yes, we do pay ALL of their wages, because supporters are responsible for every penny that goes into football clubs, even if it’s indirectly through Sky Sports subscriptions or purchase of nylon garments made by Nike and Adidas. Well, to clarify: at Arsenal we are still paying every penny, but some of our rivals have kind of gone a different route.
It used to be that clubs with rich backers had a bit of extra cash pumped into them, but in my youth a rich backer was still only a multi-millionaire at best, and probably didn’t consider that chucking money down a neverending black hole was the best use for it most of the time. They’d put in enough to keep the club afloat, but by and large the rich clubs were the ones who had always attracted a lot of fans through the turnstiles. Then Jack Walker came along at Blackburn, and bought the league title in a more blatant way than anyone before or since. Blackburn were relegation candidates in the old second division when Walker took over. Less than five years later Blackburn were league champions for the first time in living memory.
After that triumph in 1995 things returned to normal and Man Utd and Arsenal shared the next nine titles before Abramovich started buying them. Now we have Man City as well, who if anything are worse than Chelsea from the point of view of pounds pumped in on increasingly spurious justification.
And what is the effect of these billionaire backers? All they have done is caused an increase in player wages by distorting the market, giving the top players, who already held most of the cards, even more of the deck. I don’t yearn for the days when footballers weren’t allowed more than £10 a week and had to get second jobs in the summer, but we have reached a farcical position where players can refuse to train, refuse to play, refuse to honour contracts, and all they get is a slap on the wrist and told that if their manager refuses to pick them they can walk away anyway!
The only club that comes out with any credit recently is Spurs, who refused to let Modric dictate to them and whose chairman bluntly told him to stop whinging and fulfill his contractual obligations. The manager didn’t help of course, with his “I couldn’t pick ‘im cos ‘is ‘ead wasn’t right” comments, but well done Daniel Levy. I’d like to think the Arsenal Board would show similar commonsense, but unfortunately they delegate all responsibility to the manager, and he screwed up royally on negotiations this year.
Personally I would like players to be happy with their lot and get on with it. I can see why many fans turn on them. I don’t congratulate players for being kind enough to turn out for their clubs. They’re supposed to do that, they have legal and moral obligations. Similarly, I don’t congratulate them for being able to kick a ball with both feet, I don’t congratulate them for being able to consistently make a pass to a team mate or put in an accurate tackle, I don’t even congratulate them for being able to hold their tempers when provoked by toerags like Joey Barton. These are all things they are supposed to be able to do, it’s pretty much written into the job description.
Player power, along with wages, has gone too far. It’s time to rewrite the rules. Bigger fines, players being forced to stick to contracts, and agents not making money out of clubs should do for a start. Now, what are the chances of that happening?