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Pascal Chimbonda: Free The Wigan One

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If we believe what we read — and let’s face it; in this case, no one has ever denied its authenticity — it was one of the most shocking and tactless methods a footballer has ever employed to inform his club he wants out.

Last May, following an end of season 4-2 defeat at The Library, Pascal Chimbonda marched into the visitor’s dressing room alongside his Wigan teamates. Once inside, he fished in his kit bag, produced two pieces of paper and handed them to his manager, Paul Jewell. One document was a transfer request, the other; a letter thanking the club for the opportunity it had afforded him.

Thereafter, to paraphrase a popular expression, the faeces collided with the mechanical air-cooling device. LARGE style.

“I was livid!” Jewell told an assembled pack of sport journo’s later. It is in no way an understatement to say the club’s chairman, Dave Whelan, was not best pleased either and, using quite extraordinary language, expressed his displeasure thus:

“The timing of the request was absolutely diabolical,” he said. “I have said to him we will not stand in his way because we cannot afford to have players at this club who do not want to play for us. However, the price is £6m, not a penny less. If anybody wants to pay that, they can buy him. If they don’t, he can play in the reserves until his contract is over.”

Initially, there did seem to be a semblance of hope for the want-away Frenchman – his appearance on the transfer list attracted the attention of two potential suitors. Both Tottenham and West Ham reportedly tabled bids but their opening offer’s – £3m and £4m respectively — were declined with Wigan insisting both club’s return when they were prepared to offer the full asking price. West Ham went elsewhere but Tottenham did come back — with an offer of £3m cash plus midfielders Andy Reid and Danny Murphy as makeweights. But, once again, their offer received a negative one-worded response from Chimbonda’s employers. Following their second attempt to land the player, Tottenham too decided to take the same route as The Hammer’s and seek more viable alternatives.

And there the story ends. Chimbonda is, at the time of writing, still registered as a Wigan Athletic player and — obviously, reluctantly – started the new season with the Lancashire club. Wigan have been true to their word – he was dropped for the opening day defeat at Newcastle and his only appearance to date was as a (very late) substitute during the Wigan’s home win v. Reading last time out.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this sorry tale is the questions it throws up about the dubious morality of football, the true value of a player’s contract – post-Bosman, and our unrealistic expectation as fans of player loyalty.

The player and his agent

Chimbonda’s agent — Willie McKay – has claimed since the get-go that the player acted (quote) “on his own” when he made his audacious transfer request. But can this really be the truth? Is it feasible that a player would do something as fundamentally important as ask his club for a move without first consulting the advice of his appointed representative? If this is not true, it would appear the player was very (very, very) badly-advised and should surely consider dispensing of Mckay’s services forthwith on the grounds of piss-poor guidance.

If, on the other hand, McKay had nothing to do with his client’s action, why is Chimbonda giving up a percentage of his hard-earned to an agent when it is crystal he feels capable of making his own career decisions unilaterally? It is a fact that Chimbonda signed an improved four-year deal just THREE months after arriving at the JJB stadium.

Why, given his ambition to play for a ‘bigger’ club did he do this? Was he persuaded/coerced by MacKay? Whatever the truth, in common with many footballers – post-Bosman – Chimbonda has been forced to play a nail-biting game of brinkmanship with his employer in order to secure a move to a place (he feels) more befitting his ability. The way he went about it was undoubtedly disrespectful but his only real ‘crime’ appears to be his desire for advancement in his chosen profession.

When did ambition become a criminal offence?

The club’s chairman

Deconstruct Dave Whelan’s comment above and the implicit threat contained within its subtext is glaringly obvious; if we don’t get the money we want, he can rot in the reserves! Strong words but are they also wrong words?

Dave Whelan was once a professional footballer — he played for Blackburn – so, unlike so many other club chairmen, should know what he is talking about. After hanging up his boots, he made his multi-millions building up a chain of grocery shops and launching a spectacularly-successful high street sports retail business — the Chav’s favourite for haute couture, JJB Sports. But has this man, who clearly has a masterful grasp of business acumen, acted in the best interests of Wigan football club in this instance?

Surely it is not in the best interest of any business to allow one of its prime assets to devalue deliberately? If Chimbonda is banished to the second XI, he will be worth exactly nothing. So, by playing hardball and refusing to enter into any negotiation over the player’s worth, isn’t Whelan’s action — aside from being highly-suspect business practice — also extremely spiteful and vindictive?

The manager

Paul Jewell is a rarity: an up and coming, highly-capable English football coach plying his trade at the highest level. He’s worked wonders at Wigan, a club many pundits tipped to go straight back down when elevated- for the first time – to Premiership status at the end of the 04/05 season. But, again, his judgement must be called into question regarding the handling of the Chimbonda situation.

Were all those very public outbursts really necessary? Would it not have been wiser for him to keep his lips pursed and allow matters to run their course? Did he, in short, really need to get involved at all? One of his most idiotic quotes came after Tottenham decided they would not match Chimbonda’s £6m price tag and would seek to bolster their defensive options elsewhere.

Jewell is reported to have said: “Tottenham bought Carrick for £3m and have just sold him for £18.6 million. They can’t have it both ways. I’ve pointed out to Pascal that when we bought him for £400,000 nobody knew him. Now he is in the PFA team of the year and the French World Cup squad.” Testicles.

Fact is, Tottenham sold Carrick for £14m — the remaining £4.6m, as was widely-reported, is dependant on number of appearances the player makes in a Man Yoo/Eng-go-land shirt – which means Tottenham got four and a half times more than they paid for a player they’d purchased (and whose talent they nurtured) for two seasons. Conversely, in seeking a fee of £6m, Wigan are expecting a preposterous FIFTEEN times more return for a player they signed from Bastia just ONE season ago. Which begs two other questions:

Does Mr Jewell own a calculator? And, if so, isn’t it about time he read the instruction manual?

Even more astonishing is Jewell’s recent outpouring where he intimated the player can still be a part of his future plans. You can only wonder what would Chimbonda have to do to convince his manager he believes his future lays elsewhere? Should he perhaps get a tattoo on his forehead bearing – in inch-high letters – the legend, “I REALLY DON’T WANNA BE HERE, ME.”? Might that do the trick? How on earth does Jewell think he is going to motivate him? And does he seriously expect Chimbonda’s team-mates to welcome him back with open arms too?

The supporters

How must Wigan fans feel about this whole fiasco? Imagine the prospect of seeing a player running around for your chosen team who patently doesn’t want to play for you. And what should they do? Cheer him in hope encouragement might raise his game or boo him off the pitch in disgust? Tricky one, isn’t it?

The Guardian recently reported that a small section of the club’s core supporters turned out to shout abuse at Chimbonda and his agent when they arrived at the club’s training ground for pre-season showdown talks with Jewell, so any hope the player might have of a sympathetic reception doesn’t look promising. So, why hold on to him? More broadly, isn’t it about time we – as supporters – lowered our expectation levels of loyalty in the modern game?

Talisman players like Gerrard, Terry and King are now the exception rather than the rule. Fact. Surely we need to accept that – Cashley Cole aside -when our club’s employ Johnny Foreigner; he is unlikely to possess the same attachment to our team a home-grown player might. Isn’t that obvious?

Sadly, most of the questions posed above, seem destined — just like Pascal’s Chimbonda’s transfer request — to go unanswered but maybe there’s an harsh life lesson we can all learn from his contractual imprisonment: You can’t make someone love you and doing your utmost to prevent them finding contentment with someone else, isn’t big, clever, wise or advantageous. In ANY sense.

Spread the word. Inform Amnesty International. There has been an injustice on Planet Football:

Free The Wigan One…

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