Watching Alessandro Del Piero score a scorcher against AS Roma in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday evening brought back a flood of memories. The Champions League clashes between the Turin giants and the Galaticos of Madrid in the early part of the 21st century were a thing of beauty.
There used to be a time when football was embraced around the world as “the beautiful game”. The Brazilians led the way with their Samba style and everybody around the world wanted to play like them. Money, while playing a major role in footballing matters, was never (not usually, anyway) the deciding factor in a player’s career/ambition. Career growth and a willingness to play the game was always given preference over monetary gains.
But now, “player power” is on the rise. Players have a strangle hold on the game and are taking clubs for a ride. Take Gary Cahill’s move to Chelsea for example. Chelsea made an offer of £80k per week and Cahill rejected it outright, demanding £100k per week instead. A figure like that will leave an average human perplexed and incredulous. But as someone who’s been following the game for over a decade, I can assure you this is nothing new.
The Wayne Rooney transfer saga in the 2010-11 season was another example of a player taking his club to the cleaners. Sir Alex Ferguson might have staged a PR masterclass in the way he handled the whole affair, but it was Rooney who came out of the drama holding a new contract, which made him the top earner at the club. He currently earns £200k a week (yes, you read that right).
What has prompted this rise of the player cult? Why are players suddenly becoming bigger than the clubs they represent? Isn’t playing for a big club supposed to be the creme de la creme in a player’s career? So why is money suddenly the topmost deciding factor in a player’s decision? Where is the passion, the love, the need to play the beautiful game?
To really understand the issue, we have to get to the root of the problem – agents. It is no real surprise that the rise of player power has coincided with the rise of the “men behind the players” – the agents. In a world of cut-throat competition, agents have the uneviable task of thrashing out the best possible deal for their clients while making sure that they don’t disrespect the club.
Sounds harmless enough? It’s anything but. The line of disrespect has long been crossed and it shows no sign of stopping. Agents are holding clubs hostage while they scour the land for better deals for their clients. They use the interest shown by other clubs to demand a better deal (which bascially means a huge pay hike with added bonuses). If the club rejects the notion saying they can’t afford to draw up a new contract in the forseeable future, the player revolts more often than not on the advice of his agent, who obviously has a new destination in mind.
It is indeed a very sad day to see the likes of Manchester City, Anzhi Makhachkala and Paris St. Germain sitting top of their respective leagues after spending an incredible amout of money in the transfer market. Their rise has been more along the lines of capitalism rather than hardwork and passion.
So it comes as no surprise that Paul Scholes has never even had an agent. He’s never argued with Manchester United over “something as silly as a contract”. The deal in put on the table and he signs it without even looking at the terms. “I love football, why should I worry about the money?”, said Paul Scholes when asked why he doesn’t have an agent. This is the kind of attitute which has sadly gone missing from today’s game. There was once a thing known as loyalty, when players went hammer and tongs at each other (recall the infamous Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira incident and their rivalry in general) and not an inch was given.
One club players are almost non-existant now-a-days. When players like Del Piero and Giggs finally decide to hang up their boots (and that time isn’t far away), it will be the day football will cease to entertain and enthrall me as a sport. The game is dying a slow and corrupt death at the hands of money and it looks like a terminal disease rather than a temporary one.
Always for the love of the game, not the money. Never the money.