Unprofessional Foul


May 20, 2010

Time Moves Quickly In Barcelona, and Thoughts On Player Power

"Guys, Save Me Some Kalimotxo! I'll Be Right There!"

Credit to Barcelona where it’s due; they’ve turned the “mes que un club” ooh-rah, feel-good mantra into a glorious cloak that hides their true nature. Heck, they are chock-full of style, class, camaraderie, and happiness, yet are able to bat their playful eyes at any player they fancy and lure them into the populist nature of their beautiful soccer experiment.

David Villa’s seduction was conducted and concluded in lightning-quick time – “I won’t allow myself to think about anything that isn’t football related. I have a four-year contract with Valencia, I’m happy and committed to the project here,” screamed the Valencia frontman, 48 hours before scrawling his signature on some bits of paper with a Barca letterhead.

“Mes que un club,” indeed. But why does that seemingly ring hollow when applied to virtually every club out there? We can infer that the “mes” part refers to the player, and that their wants are all that really matter.

We can be sure that Cesc Fabregas will eventually succumb to that same siren song emanating from the Nou Camp. He’ll go like so many before him, magnetized to their party of sustainable success. It’s like a mini-Spanish NT every weekend, and yet, it had me wondering about the players who do this time and time again to their clubs.

Loyalty is for sale in soccer. Any profession really, depending on who’s selling and who’s prepared to buy it. One week a player professes their love for their employer, only to sneak out the back door the next having caught on somewhere better. Gerrard’s loyalty was pushed to the limits when Chelsea came knocking after the 2004/05 season. Contract negotiations stalled (kudos, Rick Parry, for being the world’s worst at this), only to be saved at the 11th hour. Chelsea experienced this same issue with their talisman, John Terry, last summer. He had one foot out the door before being lured back onto the premises by a revised, much-improved contract.

Cesc Fabregas looks set to do the same. With four years left on a handsome deal, we get the sense he’s disillusioned with Arsene Wenger’s bold, yet slow-burning, plans for global domination, and so, he’s there for the taking.

Back in 1990, Jean-Marc Bosman struck the crucial blow in the tussle between club and player superiority, winning an appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport to get his out-of-date contract expunged, leaving him free to join another club who actually wanted his services. For Bosman, it served as the beginning of the end; clubs didn’t want the troublemaker who ruined their comfortable con. His fellow players were too busy counting their money and enjoying their freedom to give him much support. Such is the role of the pacesetter; storm out in front, make the breakthrough then drop off gracefully to the side.

My point, buried in here somewhere is this: where will it go next? Teams haggle with their stars, those employees who put arses in the seats and the club shop, to tie them to bigger and more lucrative deals, when those contracts are relatively meaningless. Heck, if they want to leave, they’re gonna leave, and you as the current employer will get the short end of the stick, forced to sell at a loss to avoid turning a disgruntled player into a poisonous influence upon those left behind.

For Fabregas, it’s a troubling career choice prompted by lack of faith in his current quarters, and I fear the same with that handful of ambitious players currently making effort at Anfield. Rest assured, there aren’t many, but hey, this is the soccer world now. From GBP30m transfers to long-terms deals that never get fulfilled.

Player power, in my opinion, can only get worse from here. Barcelona will end up with a 45-man squad of top-shelf talent, so eager do all the budding starlets seem to get allied with the game’s most respected and beloved team at present. When mecca ceases to have that home base in Catalonia, it’ll be somewhere else instead. Manchester City. Munich. Qatar. Who knows? The Indian Super League (ISL) made a mockery of traditional cricket structures by setting up an off-season, money-soaked league that lured anyone who was anyone over to the country to play a few games and make more than they’d make in wages back home.

Not sure where soccer will go next as a collective — though you can be the overspending days might vanish momentarily as teams grapple with debt payments, loan restructuring and budget balancing — but the player power angle should surely survive any temporary freeze. After all, the talent always gets their money first (except if you play for Pompey), and they always get their way.

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About the Author

James T