Saturday 3 December 2016

Foreign fields can be an attractive way to keep the home fires burning

Published 14/02/2016 | 17:00

'Last week, it was reported that Dimitri Payet was wanted by an unnamed Chinese club which was prepared to sign him for €50m and pay him €10m a year in wages'. Photo: PA
'Last week, it was reported that Dimitri Payet was wanted by an unnamed Chinese club which was prepared to sign him for €50m and pay him €10m a year in wages'. Photo: PA

The Chinese transfer window shuts in 12 days, and any player who decides between now and February 26 to move from a European league will have to deal with accusations that all he cares about is money. I would probably have made the accusation once myself but I'm not sure I'd make it any more.

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Last week, it was reported that Dimitri Payet was wanted by an unnamed Chinese club which was prepared to sign him for €50m and pay him €10m a year in wages.

Payet signed a new contract at West Ham on Friday, and it must have been nice to have the offer, or the reported offer, from China as a negotiating tool, but if, at the age of 28, he had decided to move, some would have wondered if he was throwing his career away.

They fly around easily those accusations, but then you reach the stage I've been at until recently, and you start to wonder about your choices. When I was 28, I would never have considered a move to China if that had been a possibility. All I thought about was the Premier League and playing for Ireland. A move to China would have been crazy. I would have been giving up the Premier League and my international career for a season which would have secured my family's future.

If I was advising my 28-year-old self from my position now, I might say something different. There is nothing more important than your family's future, and if I could earn the kind of money in one year that is on offer, I'd head to China like a shot. I think anyone in any walk of life would.

Playing in England we are lucky. For years, the Premier League clubs have been able to compete financially with any league in the world which has meant no British or Irish player has had to consider moving to a radically different culture if he wants to make the best living he can.

We can sometimes feel superior to foreign players who play in England and who don't have the attachments to a club or an area that we do. 'He'd be off in a second,' we'll say as we look at a player who doesn't speak the language, doesn't understand what people are saying to him and who is bewildered by local customs. Somehow this stranger in a strange land can be derided as a mercenary for feeling less loyalty towards a world he doesn't understand when we forget he has already made the big sacrifice.

It was tough leaving home but settling in England is easy enough for any Irish lad. England has been good to me, and I've been lucky to be able to provide for my family in a country which wasn't that strange.

So I'm in no position to question the choices of those who might decide to go to China. I've fought for what I had but everyone has their own struggle.

Until I signed for Coventry a few weeks ago, I had been discovering that what they say about football is true: you have no friends. In those uncertain months since last summer when I didn't have a club, I found myself looking back over all the things I believed about football and wondering if they really add up. There are few loyalties and there are a lot more illusions.

I considered going to play in India and I would have had no doubts if someone had offered me a chance in China.

The big players might not be tempted, but they can stay and be heroes in the Premier League. But there is something heroic in looking after your wife's and kids' futures, and I would never criticise anyone who made that choice.

Sunday Indo Sport

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