It’s not you, it’s me – footballing breakup’s
Many of us have had jobs that we hate. Maybe we loathe the boss, your co-workers irk you or maybe you don’t like the hours. There are hundreds of possible reasons! For the average man on the street the answer is simple, you stop complaining and search for a new job. Worst case scenario is that you have to suffer your months’ notice but after that you are free!
The working life of a footballer is totally different. You sign a contract for a fixed term, if the dream move turns into a nightmare, all you can do is hope that another team likes you enough to meet your current club’s valuation of you. It can turn ugly, it can turn personal. Now while you may not have much sympathy for a player on £200,000 a week, the truth is not many professional players earn that much and lower league players can effectively be priced out of working. Is there a right way to request a move?
Premier League – Current Contract Rebels
The same thing happens every single transfer window. A player will ask to leave, the club refuses and then the player gets an alleged “injury” and doesn’t play for his club for a couple of weeks. Often, they will be told to train with the reserves, ostracised by the first team and more often than not, the player will move to his new club on transfer deadline day.
This season so far has been no different. A long list of players who have expressed their desire to seek pastures new. High calibre players such as Alexis Sanchez, Philippe Coutinho, Virgil van Dijk, Danny Drinkwater, Riyad Mahrez, Ross Barkley, and Diego Costa have all openly declared they wish to leave their current clubs.
How a player reacts after being told he is not allowed to leave will often affect how a player is remembered at a club. One such example is Wayne Rooney. Despite Rooney becoming Manchester United’s all-time top scorer, you will be hard pressed to find a United supporter who holds Rooney in the same esteem as Cantona, Best, Scholes or Giggs. This is mainly due to Rooney asking for a transfer twice during his stay at Old Trafford. This also applies to Cristiano Ronaldo; many fans look back with fondness on his spell in Manchester but his constant courting with Real Madrid left a bitter taste with many loyal fans. With this in mind, I’ll take a look at three current rebels and their different approaches on getting out of a club.
Contract Rebel Case Study: Riyad Mahrez
Riyad Mahrez has been a great signing for Leicester and Mahrez was instrumental in Leicester securing their shock Premier League title two years ago, he was signed from French Ligue 2 club Le Havre for a bargain fee of £450,000.
In May, this year, Mahrez stated he wanted to leave the club. In his statement, it was revealed that he had asked to leave the year before but had promised the chairman another year to help with the added fixtures of being in the Champions League.
His statement said:
“Out of the huge admiration and respect I hold for Leicester City I wanted to be totally honest and transparent with them and have therefore informed the club I feel now is the time for me to move on, I had a good discussion with the chairman last summer and we agreed at that time I would stay for another year in order to help the club as best as I could following the transition of winning the title and in the Champions League”.
What makes Mahrez’s approach so refreshing is whilst other players suddenly lose all desire to play football, Mahrez has taken the opposite approach and his manager Craig Shakespeare has been full of praise for his want away star.
Shakespeare said of Mahrez, “I can only speak on how I’ve found him coming back, he has been focused and driven. He hasn’t given me one problem where I’ve had to pull him to the side and say, ‘Oi, pull your finger out.’ All things come into your mind. But what you want, and from what I’ve seen from him, is a focus and professional attitude”.
Mahrez has played in both of Leicester’s Premier League games and has performed with his usual brilliance. His performance against Brighton was great and was fully deserving of his 8.14 rating and the man of the match award.
Contract Rebel Case Study: Philippe Coutinho
This is a story that has been running all summer and has had more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel. PSG’s £200 million snatch and grab on superstar Neymar has left Barcelona with a big void to fill and they saw Coutinho as the big name signing to replace him.
Coutinho’s club Liverpool have stated that Coutinho is not for sale at any price and refuse to negotiate any sale for the 25-year-old Brazilian attacking midfielder. Initially, Coutinho publicly stated that he hoped the two clubs could reach an “amicable agreement” for him to join Barcelona.
Manager Jurgen Klopp must have felt a sense of betrayal, as in the press conference before Liverpool’s opening fixture of the season against Leicester, Klopp insisted that Coutinho was not the type of person to agitate for a move. Less than an hour after the press conference, Coutinho had emailed a transfer request.
In a statement released through a family friend, Coutinho expresses his frustration at not being allowed to leave the club:
“Philippe has tried very hard to find an amicable solution to the situation, but to no avail. He has tremendous love for the club and its fans, but like Steven Gerrard and Luis Suarez have pointed out, Liverpool does not let its players leave on amicable terms”.
There can be no denying that Coutinho sees Barcelona as his dream destination. You can also understand his frustration that this may be a “once in a lifetime” offer. Barcelona were willing to wait for Suarez in 2013 when Liverpool promised Suarez a transfer the next season if he stayed with them but with Coutinho, I don’t sense the same eagerness. The cynic in me wouldn’t be surprised if the Coutinho bid is a smokescreen (as they knew Liverpool wouldn’t sell) in order to get a reduction in price for their main targets (Ousmane Dembélé, Borussia Dortmund and Kylian Mbappé, Monaco).
If that is true, then that leaves Coutinho in a very awkward situation. Does he try and escalate the matter or does he take it on the chin and buckle down?
Contract Rebel Case Study: Diego Costa
The saga involving Costa is one of the most bizarre stories of the year. Chelsea won last year’s Premier League by 7 points and Costa was heavily involved, over 35 games he scored 20 times, made 7 assists and finished the season with an excellent average rating of 7.41.
If newspaper reports are to be believed, Chelsea manager Antonio Conte sent all his players a text wishing them a good summer break. Diego sent a jokey text message back to which Conte responded, “”Hi Diego, I hope you are well. Thanks for the season we spent together. Good luck for the next year but you are not in my plans”. Costa of course contacted the press and told them the story, adding that he felt he was “treated like a criminal”.
A lot of the friction between the two could be the fact that Costa had wanted to leave Chelsea and play in China last January but Conte convinced the Spanish forward to stay and help Chelsea win the league.
What makes this situation much worse is that Costa has stated the only club he will go to is former club Atletico Madrid. Atletico are currently banned from signing players until January so this is not an immediate solution to the problem. Chelsea have demanded that Costa returns to Chelsea and trains to get into condition so he can be sold. Costa has refused and stated he will never return to Chelsea, he even told Chelsea players that they could help themselves to anything out of his locker!
“If I have to I will stay in Brazil. I am open to being a year in Brazil without playing, even if Chelsea fine me for a year and don’t pay me. I’ll come back stronger. If I was in the wrong, I’d go back now and do as they say”.
There is speculation that Atletico are offering £30 million whilst Chelsea want over £50 million and Costa is willing to gain weight to reduce his value when the club do eventually sell. Costa has already turned down loan deals so this drama may well continue until January.
The Bad Old Days – Transfer Limbo
As bad as the situation is now for some players, it used to be a lot worse! Even if a player was out of contract, the club who owned the player would demand payment, if a fee couldn’t be agreed this figure would be decided by a tribunal. This was of course before the days of The Bosman Ruling.
Jean-Marc Bosman as a player was nothing special but it was his court action that changed football forever. Bosman took court action against the European Football authorities, his current club RFC Liege and the Belgian Football authorities; he argued that payment of transfer fees for free agents conflicted with EU citizen’s right to free movement within employment.
This ruling meant that any EU footballer was free to negotiate deals to any other EU based football team after their current contracts ran out. Another benefit for the players was that they were allowed to sign pre-contract deals with other clubs once they had just six-months left on their contracts.
Unhappy Players – The Future?
This is a topic that every club, every supporter and a lot of players will experience at some point. Like most people, I have conflicting feelings.
Football is an emotive business and as football fans we expect something that shouldn’t be expected from the modern-day footballer – loyalty. Of course, 40 years ago, players would travel on the same bus with supporters to the match. They would drink in the same bars as fans and probably lived around the corner from them. It was a working-class game. Nowadays, foreign players sign for clubs and they have no idea of the history, location or identity of the club. They probably had to Google the team, why should they care? It’s a job and it’s a very short career.
The counter argument to that is about respecting a contract. If you didn’t want to be there for five more years, then why negotiate and enjoy a new contract and then three months later state your desire to leave? Most people would love the security that a long-term contract brings, something you would never receive in a normal job. Maybe if more clubs took a stand and left want away players out of their teams then we would stop this? I doubt it!
With clubs being so cash rich, I only see the problem growing. Any attempt to re-introduce tribunals to assess a “player’s worth” is only going to help the elite clubs who seem to think that £100 million is the new £1 million.
Jean-Louis Dupont, the lawyer who won the case for Bosman, has launched a new case against UEFA. He wants to scrap the financial fair play rules which states that the owner of a football club can’t overspend, even if it is with the owners own money. He argues this is against EU law and restricts the movement of capital, one of the EU’s founding principles. If Dupont is successful, the £450 million paid by PSG in fees and wages for Neymar is going to look like small change very soon! God help us all….