Turn off the tap

Tap up

Another “tap-up” situation has made the headlines. The only surprise is that it is one of the top clubs in the country being stung this time. The most recent “tapping up” episode prior (and I promise that’s the last time I’m going to use quotes with regard to that phrase), was Aston Villa’s futile attempts to lure James Beattie from a relegation battle to the race for 12th place. Their punishment? A small fine that probably would not have paid Ulises De la Cruz’s salary for a week.

So with that in mind, Chelsea saw fit to attempt to recruit their Premiership rivals (if not in terms of points, then relatively speaking) English left-back Ashley Cole. A not-so-secret meeting took place in a London hotel and was splashed all over the papers a few days later. Arsenal were a bit put-out, Chelsea refused to comment, Cole looked blank (no change there then).

Out of date

What this furore has suggested to me is that the rules regarding tapping up players are antiquated and totally out-of-date. In a nutshell, if a player is under contract he’s not allowed speak to another club without the permission of his current club. This leads of course to much skull-duggery and under the counter shenanegans.

We all know that clubs use the media to report their interest in a player and unsettle him enough that he or his agent will start nosing around to find it there’s any truth in it. Some clubs will just approach a player by calling him on his mobile or maybe get one of their players to mention his club’s interest to their quarry while on international duty with him.

So what’s the point in having these rules in place?

Incarcerate them!

Blackburn Rovers wanted to sign Robbie Savage from Birmingham. They make an approach, it’s rejected. The papers report it, Savage becomes unsettled. More approaches are rebuffed. Savage is now an outcast at Birmingham. They have no choice but to get the best possible deal for a player who is dead-set on moving for whatever reason. It then came full circle and bit Blackburn on the ass as Rangers interest in their former player Barry Ferguson became public knowledge. You can be sure that both these players knew roughly how much they would earn and how long the contract would be way before they and their agent were given official permission to discuss terms.

How can you stop them? Put them in jail? Hardly going to buy a player who is doing 12 months hard labour, are you?

Dock

The only viable solution is probably to dock points. In the case of Chelsea, fining them is not going to help much. You fine them £100k or £200k for tapping up Ashley Cole, it probably only amounts to a couple of weeks wages for him anyway. It’s not going to help Arsenal either who have lost their left back (albeit for a healthy fee no doubt). Deduct six points and maybe clubs might start respecting those rules and, in this situation, Arsenal would have something they can benefit from too if it reduces the gap between them and Chelsea.

But it’s all wishful thinking.

Permission to talk

It’s time to reconsider the contractual position of players. If Ashley Cole wants to talk to Chelsea about a move, then he should be permitted to whether he is under contract or not. This is the crux of the matter. The rules don’t stop players talking to other clubs – only the players themselves control that. Cole could very easily have declined, said he was happy at Arsenal and loyal to their cause. But the human condition these days is to see how much we can get and when we can get it.

And as far as I can see, this is the most blatant display of greed in some time. Cole should be ashamed of himself.

Hypocrisy

Hang on … what’s with all this hypocrisy in the media anyway? Hardly anyone batted an eyelid when Villa got caught chatting up James Beattie, or when Robbie Savage slid love notes under the desk to Mark Hughes. But one high-profile England international later and sudden…oh…I see. Chelsea are in that high-profile position where anything they do is going to attract ten-times the attention. And I think they have to accept that. You have to take the rough with the smooth, price of fame and all that.

The main thing is really the bear-faced arrogance of it all and the perception, rightly, that Chelsea see themselves as rich, powerful untouchables who can just throw money at a problem. People don’t like that, never have, never will. It used to be Manchester United who were in that position and they attracted their fair share of loathing when that was the case. Now the situation has changed and daggers are directed at West London.

There are plenty of discussion points with regard to how to put balance this sort of thing, namely salary caps and fairer sharing of TV revenues. It won’t quell greed and arrogance but it might make it a bit more difficult to express.

And finally…

Tottenham’s season reminds me of a game of snakes and ladders. Six unbeaten, six defeats, six wins, three defeats, convincing win… It’s same old Spurs, but it’s been our most entertaining and promising season in some time. Plenty to look at in my next column. But let me nail my colours to the mast regarding our two new main signings who debuted against Portsmouth. Reid – overweight, over-rated. Mido – a Kanouté with class.

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