In a world full of badge-kissing, faux-loyal footballers, the words of Tottenham’s enigmatic left-back Benoît Assou-Ekotto resonate like a breath of fresh air. Speaking to The Guardian, the Cameroon international unflinchingly alluded to the fact he doesn’t really have a passion for the game, and that he is primarily in the game for the money.
Referring to his departure from former club RC Lens, Assou-Ekotto said, “I don’t understand why everybody lies. The president of my former club Lens, Gervais Martel, said I left because I got more money in England, that I didn’t care about the shirt. I said: ‘Is there one player in the world who signs for a club and says, Oh, I love your shirt?’ Your shirt is red. I love it. He doesn’t care. The first thing that you speak about is the money.”
The lack of ‘one-club’ men in top-flight football clearly backs up this argument. When home-grown players eschew their childhood allegiances and depart their club, you can see how easy it is for players to switch their ‘lifelong’ allegiances for a pay rise. Hand on heart, can Gareth Barry really claim that his decision to leave Aston Villa for Manchester City was based on entirely footballing reasons? If domestic, home-grown players can do this, then how on earth can we reasonably expect foreign players to develop an inseparable bond with an English club, a bond so strong that their allegiance to the club is entirely unwavering?
Take Emmanuel Adebayor for example. Adebayor was brought to England by Arsene Wenger as a virtual-unknown and was transformed into a world-class centre-forward. In May of 2009, Adebayor declared that, “Arsenal put me where I am today – they made me one of the biggest strikers in the world. I have to pay them back. How am I going to pay them back? Make them win trophies. That is what I am here for and I have to fight for that. I do not have any reason for leaving until I get the trophies that I came here for.” Just over two months later the Togolese hitman traded the surroundings of the Emirates for Eastlands. No doubt enticed by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan’s riches, Adebayor’s actions were castigated by legions of venomous Arsenal fans, but his beliefs and convictions of loyalty do not differ to the majority of footballers.
This greedy, money-hungry attitude is prevalent amongst most players, and this is evident in transfer deals and the signing of new contracts at all levels. For example, upon hearing that Manchester City were interested in acquiring his services, how did ‘Mr. Chelsea’ John Terry react? Did he vehemently refuse their offer and pledge his undying commitment to the Stamford Bridge side? Of course not. Wayne Bridge’s former best friend used his bargaining power to extract an £30,000 a week from the club he ‘loves’. Whilst the beleaguered centre-back was criticised in some quarters for these actions, how many people could honestly say that they wouldn’t have used use this position of power to increase their income?
This increased bargaining power of players carries considerably more weight in the case of players in the final year of their contract. With the Bosman ruling facilitating a free transfer in this scenario, players can force their current club to increase their wages or face the risk of losing the player in question for free. As the player wouldn’t command a transfer fee, interested clubs can promise the player a large signing-on fee and larger wages. There are a number of clubs who will undoubtedly face this prospect over the next couple of summers; for example Everton’s in-form Steven Pienaar, who is set to enter the final year of his contract at Goodison Park, will be well aware of the perceived interest in him from Chelsea and Tottenham. Knowing this, the South African international will be able to use this to his advantage when negotiating his next contract with the Toffees.
Instead of airing some sort of industry taboo, Ekotto’s words refreshingly highlight what we’ve all known deep down. 99% of players do prioritise capital gain over club loyalties, and most of those who claim otherwise only manage to succeed in fooling themselves.
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