What price loyalty?
What’s going on? Lampard wants to walk out on Chelsea, Ronaldo feels Man United owe him after he won every title for them single-handedly, Robbie Keane has decided to go back on his desire to “finish his career with Spurs” and Emmanuel Adebayor – after a good half season – reckons he’s the new Thierry Henry!
Usually the summer season is dominated by players at the less successful clubs being sniffed around by the big boys who then jump at the chance to further their career. Sometimes it works (Michael Carrick – if you ignore the anonymous performances for Man U) and sometimes it doesn’t (Shaun Wright-Phillips, Steve Sidwell, Jermaine Pennant and loads of other examples).
But this season is unusual as stars at Man United, Chelsea and Arsenal have been hankering to get away for greener pastures. Let’s take a look at these individuals – and one or two others – and see who is being unreasonable.
Frank Lampard – Chelsea
it was rumoured for some time that Lampard might be on his way this summer. He’s taken flak over the years for being fat and useless but you can’t knock the goals he has contributed to the Chelsea cause, especially under Jose Mourinho. After two seasons without the Premier League and his club coming up short in the Champions League, Frank has decided, at the age of 30, that he’d like to join his old boss Mourinho at Inter Milan and have a final fling on the continent.
Lowdown: Lampard wants a five year deal but Chelsea (quite-reasonably) have offered four given that Lampard is over 30. Meanwhile, Inter Milan have offered Chelsea about £8m for a player who is in the final year of his contract and could go for free next summer.
Lampard has the hump and has threatened to walk away, buying out his contract if he has to. He is in a position of power given that he can sign a pre-contract agreement with Inter in six months and negotiate a huge signing-on fee. Alternatively he can try to play hardball and see if Chelsea cave in. Likelihood is that the fee will be fixed at closer to £10m and everyone will be happy.
Loyalty? It’s disappointing that what could be his final weeks at Stamford Bridge will end in such circumstances. He has been loyal and delivered for the club. But his demand for a five-year deal is a bit excessive and perhaps there’s a touch of the “lost the run of himself” about it all.
Judas rating (6 out of 10): Should he leave I think the fans will welcome Lampard back given his service and the fact that he probably won’t be that big a loss to the club.
Mathieu Flamini – Arsenal
Let’s start our Arsenal section with this guy. After reneging on a verbal agreement to sign a long-term contract with Marseille in 2004, Flamini joined Arsenal. He spent three seasons being something of a part-time utility player and it was only his excellent performances in central midfield last season that elevated him to the status of key player.
Lowdown: Arsene Wenger wanted to tie down the young Frenchman to a long-term contract but he chose a £50,000-a-week deal with Inter with the indications being that Arsenal’s strict wage-structure put paid to their chances of hanging on to him.
Loyalty? Well, he has form. He did it to Marseille and he’s done it again. He’s clearly a talented player but after three years of indifference he has a lot to be grateful to Wenger for who persisted with him and gave him a chance to shine.
Judas rating (7 out of 10): The Arsenal fans may not be entirely impressed with Flamini’s behaviour but I guess it really depends on what sort of esteem they held him in. If they reckoned him to be not as important as he thinks he is then they may be fairly welcoming on any return he makes.
Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal
Now this guy is a clown. He joined Arsenal for about £6m (estimated) in 2006 after a reasonable career in France. His start was passable but there were few indications in his first season that he could deliver consistently in the games that mattered. He changed that last season with 24 league goals although it is often mentioned that he got two hat-tricks against Derby County and leaving aside the second of those, he netted just twice in his last 12 league games.
Lowdown: Wenger would love to keep Adebayor and considers him a first-choice striker. However, the Togoloese striker insists that he is worth what Thierry Henry is, looking for his generous basic salary to be multiplied. Subsequently he has become a target for AC Milan and while publicly Arsenal say they don’t want to sell, they are not ones to look a gift horse in the mouth. £25m for a good, but not great, striker? Nicolas Anelka anyone?
Loyalty? His attitude stinks. After half a good season it beggars belief that he could behave with such contempt towards his mentor (Wenger), his employers and the fans. Good riddance.
Judas rating (10 out of 10): Horrible attitude and the boos when he returns will lift the non-existent roof at the Emirates.
Alex Hleb – Arsenal
Ok let’s draw the line at this guy. I’m not picking at Arsenal here but it’s just phenomenal that these guys want to walk away from a great footballing life in London where 60,000 fans are supporting them every fortnight. It’s not like they are not in the Champions League or putting up a bit of a fight for the Premiership every year. Hleb joined from Stuttgart for about £10m in 2005 and was mediocre for two years on the right wing. Last season he played in the “hole” and was much improved.
Lowdown: I’m not sure Wenger is that dismayed that Hleb wants to leave given the big money that Barcelona are willing to pay for him. Hleb was decent last season but overall he’s been quite ordinary and not in the same class as Tomas Rosicky or Robin van Persie. Having said that he still has to replace him if he goes so if he fails to net Samir Nasri from Marseille then it might put the breaks on the move.
Loyalty? He’s recently been quoted having a go at Wenger and Cecs Fabregas in the media although he later claimed “mis-quotion” as they often do. Up till then he had behaved with integrity so this might be the fly that spoils his Arsenal “ointment”
Judas rating (5 out of 10): Hleb is unremarkable so I’m not sure the fans will be that bothered by his departure.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Man U
The never-ending circus that is Cristiano Ronaldo. I’m surprised Sir Alex puts up with it given how he railed frequently against David Beckham’s profile and behaviour before flogging him to Real Madrid. Ronaldo spent last season doing lots of nauseating step-overs, dived a lot and threw his arms in the air when someone had the audacity to tackle him but – most importantly – he scored about 500 goals.
Lowdown: Just before the European Championships it was revealed that Ronaldo wanted to move to Madrid to realise his “dream”. Real aimed winks in his direction and the ball started rolling. Suddenly we were talking about world record transfers and the (so-called) greatest club in the world were left to feel very aggrieved that one of their players had found a club he considered “greater”.
Loyalty? You can only laugh at Ronaldo. He has negotiated this attempted transfer through the media, showing complete and other disrespect to the fans and management who have helped him become the star he is. But United can use the hype to their advantage because Ronaldo isn’t as good as he thinks he is and getting a world record transfer fee for a player who can be replaced for a fraction of the fee he will command is good business.
Judas rating (10 out of 10): Without question, one of the most unbearable people in football.
Robbie Keane – Tottenham
The wheels are turning on this rumour – Robbie Keane is off to Liverpool. Keane gave up his vagabond lifestyle to join Spurs in 2002 for £7m and although his form has been patchy over the years, his last two seasons alongside Dimitar Berbatov have been exceptional.
Lowdown: The word on the street is that Spurs have accepted that Keane wants to join the club he supported as a boy and he wants to play Champions League football before he retires. The other side of this is that Spurs are oddly accepting of the fact that Keane wants to go and thoughts are that manager Juande Ramos doesn’t actually rate Keane all that highly. A bid for Espanyol’s Luis Garcia Fernández for about £9m (half what Spurs intend to demand for Keane) indicates that Keane might be very well on his way.
Loyalty? As a Tottenham fan I feel disappointed that Keane would jump at the chance of leaving given how he has said in the past that he wants to finish his career at the club – but then again they all say that, don’t they? You can’t begrudge him a chance to make the step-up given that this is probably the only time he’ll get an opportunity to play for a top four Premiership side. Because, let’s face it, I don’t think any other top four managers rate him that highly.
Judas rating (6 out of 10): I think largely speaking Keane will be welcomed back after sterling performances over the last six seasons.
Gareth Barry – Aston Villa
As far as I can make out Gareth Barry formed Aston Villa in 1874. Maybe not, but he has spent 11 years at Villa playing in 327 games and really excelling in the last couple of seasons. Before that fans seemed to rate Barry as a competent but not a key player. His improvement under Martin O’Neill has been huge and he has even returned to the England team where he’s played quite well in most of his appearances.
Lowdown: As is Rafa Benitez’ way, he has thrown his eye at the clubs below him in the Premiership to try and cherry pick their best players. When it became apparent that he wanted Gareth Barry I was sure that Villa would only manage to get about £5m or so for a player that would be a utility squad player at Anfield. Benitez, for some reason, is willing to spend somewhere around £15m on him. Obviously Gareth Barry feels he has done his time at Villa and can’t turn down the chance to move up at the age of 27.
Loyalty? It’s a difficult one, this. Barry has done his shift for Villa in the same way that Keane has done his for Tottenham. In fact the situations are quite similar. Both have only one chance to play Champions League football given that it is unlikely Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester United will come knocking for either player this or next season. I don’t blame Barry for wanting to leave but at the same time I don’t blame Villa for staunchly sticking to their valuation.
Judas rating (4 out of 10): Rafa Benitez’ refusal to listen to what Aston Villa are saying (“£18m or go away and stop wasting our time”) has dragged this one out all summer and unfortunately painted Gareth Barry in a rather bad light. I think he’s a genuine nice guy, a very good pro and he deserves better. Hopefully when it’s all signed, sealed and delivered the fans will realise they’ve cashed in far beyond what they should have and got good service from a good player.
Sepp Blatter came out today and said that Man U should stop treating Ronaldo like a slave and let him join Real Madrid. He’s effectively saying that a contract is worth nothing.
It seems to be one extreme or the other. Up until twelve years ago the contract was everything and even players whose contracts expired could not move until the clubs had agreed a fee with a tribunal. The power used to be with the clubs and now it seems we’re not far away from players giving a month’s notice and walking out. Any of the situations above could be the one to trigger a legal challenge a la Bosman or Webster.
This week we saw Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan throw a fit after his 16-year-old, Tottenham-bound midfielder John Bostock was valued by a tribunal at £700,000, possibly rising to £1.25m. He wanted £2.5m but Tottenham were valuing him far lower (as they would).
And you can see his point. What is the purpose in these clubs spending money developing young players for bigger clubs to reap the rewards?
I do think that there should always be a sell-on clause for young players if the selling club wish there to be one. Jordan said: “We have an academy who have produced a world-class footballer for someone else and got paid two-and-sixpence for it.”
If Bostock is world-class like Jordan says then he will move for big money in the next 5-6 years. So how about a small initial fee, some add ons and then a 20% or 30% of his next transfer. If his career doesn’t take off and the club have been sold a “pup” then no harm done. That’s about the fairest way to do it.