It’s no secret that players are Prima donnas; driving around in first hand convertables, wearing expensive clothes and jewellery (very expensive jewellery if you’re a team-mate of Didier Drogba’s) and having their over-inflated egos further inflated by their agents working the arrogance foot-pumps. But the lifestyle, the glamour and the thousands of fans cheering their name has left footballers, especially since the incarnation of the financially overabundant Premier League, increasingly demanding when it comes to their own success.
The signs of this are relatively obvious in the exodus following the relegation of a club. Although it perhaps makes financial sense to let highly valued players go as the money could be used elsewhere and their quality isn’t necessarily needed in the lower division, very often players will leave because they do not consider themselves to be Championship players. It is fair enough that footballers are naturally competitive and will always want to play at the highest available level, but what has happened to club loyalty?
Furthermore, why is football the only business on the planet where a contract literally means naff-all? If a player believes he should be playing for a better club and tells the press he wants to leave there is little the management can do about stopping them. The longer the player stays at the club once announcing his intentions to move on, the more his value tends to decrease.
Back in 2003, Jermain Defoe handed in a transfer request to West Ham less than a day after the club were relegated from the Premier League. The statement read: “As much as I love West Ham United I feel that now is the right time for me to move on in my career. This is very much a career decision. I am very ambitious and hungry to achieve at the highest levels of the game for both club and country”. The transfer request was turned down, but Defoe forced a move by rather oddly getting continually sent off until the club decided to sell him in January. At the time the England striker was young and cocky, but considering he had scored just eight goals in 38 league appearances during West Ham’s relegation season, in my opinion Defoe was shirking his share of the responsibility.
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A club’s performance should never be put down to one player but each player should see the team’s performance as his responsibility. Part of the culture in the modern game is to blame failure on the manager. Take a closer look at QPR for example. I’m not a fan of Mark Hughes, I believe he is clearly lacking in managerial ability. But if you look at the players brought into the club and the performances received in return, that can’t be blamed on the influence of the manager. Gary Neville –who is the best pundit of his generation – highlighted a sequence during QPR’s relegation clash with Southampton in which the QPR players were making no effort to close the ball down, followed by Hughes simply shouting from his touchline “OH COME ON!”. You get the feeling a lot of the QPR players are thinking about who they’ll be playing for next, not the club they’re playing for now.
Players are too eager now days. They want to get to the next level before they’ve earned the right to be there. Scott Sinclair is a classic example. It’s understandable considering he’s a young and talented footballer, it is hard to deny the calling from the recently coronated English champions, not to mention Champions League football, but in his heart of hearts he must have known he would never make an impact on the first team. Then again, the fact Manchester City tripled his wages probably has something to do with it, and in many ways “success” has become a codeword for money.
With the commericalisation and corporatisation of the English game, footballers are no longer footballers – they are assets. The players know this, as do their agents, and they also know they can almost always find a club who will pay them more. It’s a shame to see so few players in the modern game opting to be a big fish in a small pond, instead preferring to be a minnow in a shark tank, usually convinced by the size of their salary.
It is not only for players that the word success could easily be substituted for money. It is the same with clubs. Not only does it seem the league title can be bought, but in the same vein the financial rewards are the impetus that drives football now days. TV rights are the largest source of income, and are the main appeal for qualifying for the Champions League, regardless of the prestige of the European tournament. So when a player says “I want to leave in order to play Champions League football”, in many ways they are saying “I want to leave in order to play for a club that gets enough money from the Champions League to pay me Champions League wages”.
Perhaps I’m harsh and pessimistic. It is true that when players look back on their career they remember the trophies they’ve won, and therefore players need to be at the best team possible in order to do so. But I believe many of my points do stand. Players are always keen to take the glory, the pay check, and make demands when things aren’t going their way, but in the modern money-fuelled game, very few are willing to accept personal responsibility – especially when another club can offer them a wage that will make them forget about their past mistakes.