With Frank Lampard’s demands at Chelsea firmly on the agenda right now, it’s had me thinking about how sad it is that the trust I once had in players at the club has decreased in sharp contrast to their ever-increasing salaries.
Funny then, when reading an old article circa 2002, to realise that the Chelsea transfers and salaries deemed so ridiculous now, were (relatively) even more obscene pre-Abramovich when the club didn’t even have a Russian sugar daddy to fund them. Probably around the 1995-1996 time, we saw them arrive: Hughes at £1.5million; Vialli £1million per annum; Di Matteo arriving for £4.9million; Zola £4.5million (an absolute bargain), increasing steadily until 2000 saw Hasselbaink at a whopping £15million, before we arrive at the then questionable transfer fee of a pretty average West Ham midfielder in 2001 with an £11million price tag.
In fact, by 2002 Chelsea were struggling so much with their massive wage bill that ‘summit meetings’ were held over Hasselbaink’s future and the players were actually warned before the last game of the 2002-2003 season that failure to qualify for the Champions League that day would spell more than just financial disaster for all concerned. And yet a mere 30 days later, the arrival of Roman Abramovich ended the financial battle… and maybe started the financial war?
This war seems to have been largely around the effect vast sums of money have had on today’s game, culminating in constant debates of loyalty vs. money and reaching a ridiculous peak recently with the suggestion that the top players, despite earning more in a week than most of us will see in a lifetime, are no more than slaves. And whilst we all know Blatter is incapable of making any statement related to English football without a large dose of personal bias, one of the things his laughable comments indicated was that in terms of ‘rights,’ the pendulum seems to have swung firmly in the players’ direction.
Pele rightly questioned Blatter’s deluded rants, pointing out that slavery was never noted for either its use of contracts or a handsome wage and strangely enough, I can’t recall the car collections and celebrity status – complete with extra-marital activities – being enjoyed from my history lessons on the subject either.
Certainly, slaves were never, to my knowledge, given the nod to release themselves and hot-foot it to somewhere they felt their labour could be better suited and yet that almost definitely seems to be the case with today’s players. This summer has seen a fair few attempts at breaking contracts in search of better pay and/or conditions. But should this be allowed to happen? Shouldn’t players, who sign these contracts with no evidence of thumbscrews as part of the negotiation, be expected to fulfill their side of the deal?
I’ve seen plenty argue that if you look at your average employee, they might develop their careers within one company and happily move to another firm with a clear conscience. At least in football, the employers receive a substantial package for that broken contract and therefore any time and effort invested in his development is financially compensated.
But whilst this is all very true, football players can’t reasonably be compared to your average employee. With footballers, we’re talking about fairly short term contracts, contracts around which teams are built and subsequently, lives revolve. If one of my more competent colleagues left, for sure it’d affect the team but it wouldn’t cost us millions — and it’s doubtful it’d be mourned by millions in the papers over their cornflakes either.
You see, when some of these players sign contracts, they feel obliged to make very public statements that the more naive among us often take at face value. These pledges of devotion to those dishing out adulation and hard-earned cash in equal measure every weekend are duly noted, along with any badge-kissing that goes on, and taken as some kind of loyalty. And yet the celebrity status and lifestyle of today’s footballers has them so far removed from supporters, they have no idea of the level of faith invested in them and their ‘gestures.’
Take Stevie Me for instance. A Liverpool lad who flatly refused a move to Manchester United in the past such was his loyalty to his club. Fast forward a bit and selective amnesia saw that loyalty disappear just long enough for him to hand in a transfer request as he sought a move to Chelsea. The ‘supporters’ (and the threat of the odd hit-man) saw to it (once they’d finished burning shirts that is) that the move never took place and they continue to laud over him as if the whole episode was no more than a bad dream. But the fact remains, whether Liverpool like it or not, Steven Gerrard is no more loyal than the majority of today’s players.
Which brings me back to the ultimate ‘badge-kisser’ and the contract he’s managed to avoid negotiating – whilst professing unconditional love to his ‘people’ – for the past couple of years. The way he’s conducted this whole contract saga, leaving it to drag on and allowing the finger to be pointed at the club when the truth is there’s a deal there that he is refusing to accept (and probably has for two years), is totally wrong. And whether the vast majority continue to refer to him as a ‘legend’ or not, I’m not sure that’s an appropriate term for such classless behaviour.
The way I see it, whilst players are perfectly entitled to move from club to club, provided they’ve seen out their handsomely paid contracts first of course, they should do it in a manner befitting the sort of respect bestowed on them. Nobody is asking for, or probably even expects undying loyalty these days because the reality is, that really is a thing of the past. But the least supporters deserve in return is probably the biggest quality Frank Lampard has lacked since the end of last season — HONESTY!
Denise is a London-born Chelsea supporter, currently living in East Anglia. Having written on and off for a few years, this year she has dedicated most of that writing to football and when not working as a full-time Nurse Manager, spends some of her spare time writing for The Chelsea Blog — established to share her work with a wider audience.