Written by Damien Kayat for @Hollywoodbets.
In sport, as in life, there are moments of such blatant absurdity that they can never fail to capture the fundamental silliness of it all. The uncontested scrum always brings a curious smile to my beleaguered face; the DRS system and its inclination to protect the umpires that it seems destined to replace. Or the way Wimbledon champion Andy Murray can’t quite galvanize a nation due to his surly self-seriousness. Perhaps it's in the world of football and the hullabaloo of the transfer window that some of humanity’s worst sporting behaviour is fully realised. Increasing player power, reflected in the omnipotence of agents, has resulted in a distorted balance of influence where club uncertainty has never been higher.
As the story goes, poor Zlatan Ibrahimovic was left feeling quite put out over the appointment of Laurent Blanc as the new coach of PSG. This is perhaps the perfect distillation of what I’m getting at here. Zlatan, arguably one of the most gifted footballers of his generation, is also one of the best paid footballers in the world. What possible right does a player have to question the managerial appointment of a club that pays him such exorbitant wages? Never mind the fact that Laurent Blanc was a World Cup winning player; something that Zlatan will surely never emulate. We all know that Zlatan is perhaps one of the most cunning mercenaries in the game, but at what point do players cross the line of what is an acceptable demonstration of their power?
What do contracts mean anymore? Luis Suarez signed an extended contract less than a year ago, and now all reports suggest his imminent departure from Liverpool Football Club. He almost single-handedly kept Liverpool competitive in the Premier League last year and consistently pledged his allegiance to the Merseyside club. But enter Real Madrid with their Galactico charm and cosmopolitan swagger and suddenly Mr Suarez starts going all weak at the knees. Obviously sensing a huge transfer fee, agents scramble in their self-serving quest to make the most out of their commodities while they can. Consequently, they put massive pressure on players, singing sycophantic lullabies into their ears until they have no choice but to consider a move. The portrait of ventriloquism I just outlined, while purely hypothetical, is perhaps the single most insidious threat to the stability of modern football clubs. The Shakespearean relationship that exists between players and their agents creates pockets of internal tension within any club structure. Just ask a club what their single most disturbing expense is. I hazard that agent fees will be high on the aggregated list of offences. Detractors of my argument will likely wax lyrical about the merit of market value and the critical role that agents play in getting the best deal for their clients, but I would contend that these ‘facilitators’ are often destabilising elements between club and player, responsible for mental fatigue and nomadic tendencies. Whatever happened to building a legacy?
Borussia Dortmund are a club standing up for their sense of player propriety, as their long standing arm-wrestle regarding the future of star striker Robert Lewandowski seems to have reached a stalemate. The player has stated his intention to join Pep and his Bavarian revolution at Munich, but Dortmund are obstinately refusing to collapse under the pressure of club coercion. With only a year left on his contract, Dortmund are likely to lose Lewandowski on a free transfer at the end of next season due to their sense of principle. They have also reportedly tripled the striker’s wage packet in an effort to ameliorate his anxieties. This is yet another indication of the price of loyalty in the modern game of football. Some may call Dortmund’s stance naïve or even petty, but I cannot help but admire a team willing to sacrifice broader economic benefits for an antiquated notion of honour and commitment. Last year’s mid-season acquisition of Mario Gotze has left a sour taste in the mouth that Dortmund are aiming to, at least temporarily, avoid.
Hearing David Beckham publicly urge Wayne Rooney to stay at United amidst rampant media speculation of an imminent departure was perhaps the final push I needed to write this critique. Wayne Rooney stands only about 40 goals short of becoming Manchester United’s all-time leading scorer, has won everything there is to win with the club and is somehow still unconvinced of United’s intentions. He needs former legends to come out and stroke his emaciated ego on the public stage! I don’t really know what his next move is. Murmurs of a move to rivals Arsenal confuse me beyond articulation. Surely it would behove Mr Rooney to stay at the champions as opposed to a team whose appetite for mediocrity in the last 10 years has been second to none? Real Madrid and Barcelona are not going to be moving heaven and earth to get Rooney. The only other likely club for him to consider would be PSG. And that seems to me to already be a flawed ideological endeavour, with PSG’s title winning exploits last season not enough to assuage the likes of Carlo Ancelotti and Leonardo to stay aboard. Rooney should suck it up and realise that no one man is bigger than a football club and that he is unlikely to find anything as rewarding as what he already has at United.
I find the extent to which the footballing world has allowed itself to take on melodramatic soap-opera proportions extremely troubling. The fundamental power structures that once underlined football clubs have been eradicated and replaced with a hyper-aggressive, borderline sociopathic individualism that is threatening to destroy concepts such as the ‘one-club man’. Shouldn’t Fifa’s supposed financial fair play allow for a tad more stability where contractual obligations are concerned? I’m not for one moment calling for a disavowal of professionalism; the game has taken enormous strides in the last few decades and has to remain competitive. But at what point does the modern day footballer take a moment to look in a mirror and ask this question: just what the hell am I complaining about? I earn over a hundred thousand dollars a week before all my massive endorsement deals. I essentially play a game for gainful employment, and I’m idolized all around the world for my achievements. It’s high time some of these footballers are forced look at that extremely lucky, self-satisfied visage peering back at them and realise they are part of a bigger picture. A picture that includes their childhood heroes, whom were invariably involved in creating dynasties, not inflated bank accounts.
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