Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Paid Mercenaries: Footballers forcing the hand that feeds them

I watched Rambo 4, I read the latest words from Carlos Tevez... the reasoning and inspiration behind this blog is not hard to figure out.

Sympathy for footballers is something that is often hard to come by. They are getting paid obscenely large wages to do something that many of us would declare to be 'our dream jobs' and thus their moans and groans usually fall on deaf ears, no more so than when it is concerning their private lives. I for one have little interest in the seedy details of what they do off the pitch, indeed I believe that they deserve – as we all do both legally and ethically – the right to have their privacy respected.

Where the line must be drawn, however, and where my sympathy does indeed run dry, is with a lack of professionalism. Who a footballer may or may not have had an affair with is of no particular interest to me and as such I am not going to lambaste them for it but they should, of course, be judged in a professional capacity – as footballers and as representatives of the clubs who pay their wages. Thus, their performances on the field ought to be subject to scrutiny as too should their conduct, in a professional sense, off it. This does not mean whose bed they may choose to sleep in, whose clothes they want to wear or whose nightclub they wish to frequent (as long as it does not contradict the rules laid out by their club - i.e. not the night before a game).

'Paid mercenary' is a popular term to describe the modern footballer. A mercenary being someone 'working or acting merely for money or other reward', a player with no affiliation or particular connection to any club but who is free for hire, free in the sense of their availability, their services are obviously far from it.

Carlos Tevez is one man who seemingly epitomises this concept. On the pitch he is undoubtedly one of the hardest working players in the game. His effort levels are almost unparalleled and this, when coupled with his footballing ability, has made him one of the most sought after mercenaries around. Yet while his talents make him such a valuable asset, he is also a player who exploits this current trend of nomadic footballers who will ply their trade to the highest bidder.

Now, it is worth saying that footballers cannot and should not necessarily be criticised for this. There are very few people in the working world who do not offer their services to those willing to pay the most money for them, it would be illogical not to. But again, to reiterate, the emphasis here must remain on professionalism. Not even loyalty, just professionalism, although there is certainly an overlap between the two.

As long as you are contracted to a particular organisation or company, in this case a football club, you are then obliged to act in a professional manner. In other words, to show full commitment to those to whom you are contracted. Carlos Tevez may do this on the pitch but his behaviour off it could not be more polarised which raises a key problem, a problem which becomes all too evident at this time of year when the gossip columns and transfer prattle dominates the spaces on the back pages left behind in the off season. He is an example of the how the increase in player power has directly correlated with a decrease in professionalism by footballers in recent years.

Clubs spend huge amounts of money to acquire top players from another team and then hand over similarly vast wages every week to that player. As such, like many companies, their personnel are their primary investment. This may not mean that they should have total control over said player but it should mean that they remain in control of their assets. Too often now, however, it is the player who is able to dictate the terms of his future at a club.

If a player wishes to leave a club then now more then ever they have the power to force the hand of their club. By not signing new contracts, by speaking out in the press about their desire to leave for pastures greener or expressing a general lack of motivation to stay and play for their current team the player can determine his own transfer policy.

A player who has expressed a desire to leave the club and said that he wants to move to a different country and therefore will not be signing a new contract with his current employers not only puts himself prominently in the shop window but also affects the value of any potential transfer. The current line of thinking appears to be that you can't keep a player at a club against his will. That should not be the case. If fees have been for them, and wages paid to them, then they are the club's to use as, when and how they see fit until the end of the contract they signed.

For a footballer to try and force a move away from the club to whom they are contracted shows a distinct lack of professionalism and undermines the time, money and effort that the club has invested in them. One would not speak out openly and publicly against their current employers and state they wanted to move to a rival company in other professions and although it is always dangerous to even attempt to compare footballer to any other strand of life there still remains a need for professionalism.

Moaning about a dislike of all things Manchester in the press, saying you want to go to a new country, wanting a new challenge at a higher level or demanding a move for larger wages may be understandable yet the way modern footballers go about expressing and dealing with such desires is certainly not professional. It is more akin to divas with shin pads or overgrown and overpaid spoiled children. Moreover, it underlines a lack of respect and a lack of appreciation to their employers.

With two months before the start of the new season, much of this time will be dominated by endless rumours of who is going where and for how much. Tedious though it quickly becomes, we all accept it as being as much a part of summer as the depressingly inconsistent weather. It seems now though, that player power has become an even more integral factor in the transfer market. Perhaps it was always this way but it is just more apparent now as players express themselves more.

Nevertheless, by stating his intentions to stay or his desire to leave, a player can and will directly influence whether or not other clubs bid for him and if indeed they do, then how much they will pay. This means that a player can have a direct impact upon his own future which can, and often does, contradict the plans of the club that now must prepare to lose one of the key assets and investments.

Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

Sunday, 5 June 2011

My Favourite Premiership XI: Stephen Fallows

Apologies for the lack of blogging recently. Works on my documentary about racism in football is consuming much of my time but I intend to begin posting far more regularly upon its completion. In the mean time, Stephen Fallows has kindly contributed the latest piece for the 'My Favourite Premiership XI' series. You can follow Stephen on Twitter or visit his excellent website which showcases his various artistic talents.
I have gone for a team that may not statistically be the best in terms of breaking records, but each of these players have become vital parts of the teams they have played for and played major parts in the success in these teams. Also, most of these players are from the early years of the Premiership, as I wanted stay away from the current hype that surrounds any player who has a decent run of a few games and so is automatically worth £20m +, and because in the early days of the Premier League it seemed possible that any team could challenge for the title or at least a European place.

Jussi Jaskelainen has been a Bolton Wanderers stalwart for many years and was one of the main reason why Bolton went from being favourites for relegation to a good bet for Europe in a matter of a few seasons. Even when linked to a big move to a club in the Champions League (clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal most frequently), he stayed and helped Wanderers achieve a strong top 10 position year after year. His heroics also helped produce some of the club's famous 1-0 victories against the top four teams.

In defence I have gone for at right back Lee Dixon, part of the legendary Arsenal back four that helped that team win several trophies. Jamie Carragher was an easy choice at centre back, even though he is starting to show signs of decline. A one club man, and someone who Liverpool have depended on for some years now, one of the more reliable players they have had. My other centre back is John Terry. Like Carragher, a one club man and fiercely loyal to his team. A lot has been said abut John Terry as a person, but when he put his neck on the line (quite literally) in the Carling Cup Final against Arsenal, he showed how important the game and the team was to him. Terry would be a shoe in for the captain if it wasn't for my choice of Left Back, Stuart Pearce. After a fine career at Nottingham Forest, he represented Newcastle, West Ham and Manchester City and always played as if his life depended on it. Trying to walk after breaking his leg whilst playing for West Ham was a mark of the man. A player who everyone liked regardless of who he played for, and someone everyone would want on their team.

Midfield was quite a difficult one for me, as there have been many great players that have graced the Premier League in its time. I settled for Andrei Kanchelskis on the right side as he was there at the start of it all, and in 94/95 he was Manchester United's leading scorer. During his five years in the Premier League he scored and created many goals, and I think his pace would be invaluable to this team, were it to actually happen. In Centre Midfield Steven Gerrard was an easy pick for me. Just like others I have selected, as a loyal servant to his club, he has become vital to Liverpool success, even being the one who played well in poor team performances. He never shys away on the big occasion either, with memorable performances and goals in FA Cup and Champions League Finals. When he has an injury free run, he almost guarantees you 20 goals a season from midfield. The other central spot went to Gary Speed, he may not have been the greatest technical player, but you dont play in 16 consecutive top flight seasons without being a bit special. A no nonsense midfielder who did whatever was asked of him, covered his defence well and weighed in with a few goals too. On the left side of midfield I have gone for David Ginola. A flair player, a luxury for any team to have, and one of the few players that was liked by opposition fans.

When it came to forwards, the two I have picked are both in the top ten scorers in the history of the Premier League, and although midway down that table they were both big hits with fans. Robbie Fowler acquired the nickname 'God' at Liverpool, and from his debut right through to the final game of his second spell at Anfield, he showed he is one of the most naturally gifted strikers around. Accompanying him I have selected Les Ferdinand. Whether at QPR, Newcastle or Tottenham, Les always fitted into the team and brought goals whenever he played. A devastatingly powerful header of the ball, he will forever be in the history books for scoring the Premier League's 10,000th goal.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...

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