The ‘Beautiful Game’ no longer knows the meaning of commitment

In the wake of Joey Barton’s lucrative transfer to Queen’s Park Rangers, we see yet another example of an employer/employee relationship gone awry. The football community is becoming all too accustomed to players leaving clubs because they feel hard done by. Whether this be due to the fault of the club itself, or just because the player decides he has had enough varies from case to case. One thing we do know however, is that the latter is happening more and more often.

When a player joins a team, he pens a contract as a stamp of intent, a symbol, if you will, of what he intends to do at the club and for how long. Post-transfer interviews will be filled with characteristic quotes such as ‘I’m happy to be at the club’, ‘ here for a long time and do my best’ and a favourite of Robbie Keane’s ‘dream come true’. All these phrases will be heard in the immediate elation after a player has signed for a new club, with the prospect of more football, and inevitably more money along with it.

The aforementioned Barton has now joined Premier League new boys QPR, on a four-year deal that will see him earning the same £60,000-a-week that he was on with Newcastle United. At the ripe age of 28, this contract will see the Twitter-mad Barton on £3million-a-year until he is 32, an age when many midfielders may decide to hang up their boots. Not a bad pension plan for some. Michael Owen said not long ago that he would rather be a bit player at Manchester United and win trophies than play a bigger role at a smaller club. This epitomises what’s wrong with the commitment of a lot of modern footballers and cannot be the mentality youths grow up with today.

In the modern sport, players are in the position where they are so publicised, that their each and every move can send a shockwave through the industry. Agents and advisors give instructions to their players on how to act and have a large amount of power in the game. Not that most players need leaders to execute their power. Modibo Maiga recently refused to train with his Sochaux teammates in order to force through a transfer to Newcastle after he heard that they were interested in signing him. Charles N’Zogbia was also rumoured to commit a similar act at Wigan Athletic ahead of his move to Aston Villa.

In a situation such as this, what sort of choices do the upper echelon and boardroom staff of a club face? They can either fine the player or let him get his way and move on from the club. The trouble with fining a player is that there are so many loopholes now, agents can wriggle and writher their way out of a fix if they need to. For example, Cesc Fabregas never made a formal transfer request away from the club, so was still granted his £4m contract fee when he left for Barcelona. Fair enough, the Spaniard let Arsenal keep the fee as a part of his transfer sum, but one can see how it could be costly to let a plyer move away short of his contract expiring.

Samir Nasri is another case of a player jumping ship and it’s no wonder that Manchester City are next to be involved (let’s face it, they were going to turn up sooner or later). Nasri hadn’t expressed any disconcertion at the Emirates Stadium before this summer. The French international may have grumbled occasionally about the club’s lack of trophies in recent years but generally gave the impression of comfort at the club. Whether there was hidden factors with the Gunners or not, Nasri decided to make the highly lucrative exchange to Manchester City. The Citizens doubled the wages that Nasri was on with Arsenal and heaped further woes on to the shoulders of their Premier League rivals.

The deal wasn’t quite on the same level of Sol Campbell mutiny, but Nasri bailing out of the North London side and then apparently slating the fans did not go down well. Manchester City contribute a lot in the demeaning of contract commitment. Unlike many other clubs, the Abu Dhabi-owned City don’t nearly have to watch out for a player’s contract to run down before they purchase him. Sure, a free transfer here or there may help but the fact is, since 2008 it seems as if they would be willing to buy a player if he had just joined a new club that transfer window. If that were in any way legal, they may have just tried it.

With the influx of foreign players the Premier League has seen over the past twenty years, it was only inevitable that we were going to see more and more of these athletes not honouring their full contracts. Let’s face it, if you were to come from the sun and sand of South America, the last place you’d want to be on a Saturday morning in January is sliding about on a cold pitch up in Sunderland. Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez are the latest ambassadors of ‘Anti-Britain’ in football, Tevez even going as far to say he would never come back. There is one simple solution to this however; don’t come in the first place. I think I speak for everyone when I say that Carlos Tevez has shown us some of the most entertaining football the Premier League has witnessed and yes, Mario Balotelli is a very entertaining character, but it’s for all the wrong reasons.

I wasn’t old enough to appreciate the last generation of footballers who signed a contract and saw it through but looking back, I imagine it was wonderful. The business side of football has got to the point where a manager is constantly on his toes to appease a player, and sometimes the only way to keep him on the books for another three years is to chuck more money at him. Nobody wants to see players staying away from the Premier League because somewhere else is offering them more money, but watching Carlos Tevez on the sidelines bored out of his skull at a club we all know he doesn’t want to be at is sometimes just as torturous.

The one-club footballer is dying out at the top flight of football. Money is paramount in today’s game and it was nice to hear Sebastian Coates turn down the opportunity of playing at Manchester City because of ‘the history at Liverpool’. That’s not to say Liverpool weren’t offering the Uruguayan more money, it’s just highly doubtful.

It was refreshing to see former hardman Joey Barton in a BBC interview on Friday without any of his badboy exterior, smiling as he was asked if he had a problem with authority. Speaking on his exit from Newcastle, Joey commented “I say things because they need saying, if someone doesn’t like the answer, they don’t like the answer”. This openness makes you wonder if the ‘Master of the Tweets’ really does get a bad press. If a manager has to strive to please a player, then the relationship is no longer working and it probably is best to part ways. Despite his recent departure, Joey Barton may be the closest link to a faithful player this new generation has.

Tom is one of our most experienced contributors, with over a decade of online publishing. A Man Utd fan, Thomas brings you all the latest news from UK football.

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