There are a number of football cliches emanating from footballer’s mouths which grind the teeth of supporters, with players nowadays meticulously groomed in the art of saying an awful lot yet nothing at all. Repetitive, empty gestures permeate our television screens, radio programmes and newspaper columns. Footballers are suffocated by the sterilised nature of their profession, the need to remain devoid of any real opinion, except on one subject – ambition.
Robin Van Persie has caused uproar with his recently released statement on his decision not to sign a contract extension at Arsenal. Though not explicitly stating it, the statement was a veiled swipe at the club’s perceived lack of ambition and their failure to win trophies this season. Van Persie’s is not an isolated case. Though footballers may not say anything of substance, this one destructive turn of phrase it one which can have cataclysmic consequences at a football club, setting in motion a domino effect whereby relations between club, fans and players are severely compromised. The simple utterance of ‘the club does not match my ambitions’ is bounded recklessly around football circles and seems fairly innocuous, yet the repercussions are hugely hurtful.
The use of the term itself holds a multitude of disguised realities. What the player is really trying to say in this instance is that he – or more likely, his agent – is in need of another Lamborghini, perhaps another holiday home in Barbados or a few extra grand a week to stick on the horses. However much it may be concealed within the sugared rhetoric, fans and clubs alike are able to draw one simple conclusion: the player wants money.
Money is the primary indicator of ambition in football nowadays. If a club is not expending vast amounts of resources on attracting or keeping players, fans presume they have little desire to improve. Though spending is pivotal to garnering success, the quick-fix mentality which prevails in football is one which results in ill-thought solutions being found. Predominantly, this entails eschewing vast amounts of cash in the direction of players.
When a player states that a club does not match his ambition, of the highest concern to a football club is the ensuing PR disaster. Face must be kept, reputations maintained. Wayne Rooney’s protracted stand-off with Manchester United in 2010 perfectly highlights the damaging effects this can have, the stinging bite of player power as well as the dire prioritisation of wealth over all else.
When Rooney stated his desire to leave United, he was effectively stating that the club were not good enough for him – the nineteen times league champions. In the months preceding this, Rooney was alarmingly out of form. Yet this one man was able to hold England’s most successful football club at ransom, keeping them hostage within their own confines until they heeded his demands. It was a startling admission of the damning influence our millionaire footballers are able to exert. United had no other choice but to cave in; they could not risk losing face or appear to be lacking in ‘ambition’. They could not risk the acrimony of not being top dog, not being the biggest kid in the playground. With a reputation to uphold, money spoke loudest once again.
No matter how talented or integral to a team a player may be, clubs cannot persist in succumbing to these petulant displays of greed. The ambition which players talk of stretch no further than their bank balance. Wrapping their personal desires for a further inflated wage up within the language of footballing purpose is highly effective: fans turn on the club, the club fear a public backlash and are forced to collude.
Above all, fans themselves must recognise the true intentions that these statements hide. The shameless manipulation of the word ambition only masks more sinister motives. Fans at Arsenal have predominantly directed their anger at Van Persie as opposed to the club, yet it has raised significant doubts over the club’s ability to keep their biggest names and created numerous ruptures.
“The club does not match my ambition” – a simple statement, but one which is exceptionally damaging. It must stop.
Is player power holding clubs to ransom nowadays? I’d love to hear from you @acherrie1