Underhand tactics cut both ways in transfer market
P ierre van Hooijdonk set the precedent over a decade ago. At the time, the idea of a player going on strike to push through a transfer offended everyone. It appears now the man was ahead of his time.
Last week two players chose to adopt the same tactic. Javier Mascherano refused to play for Liverpool against Manchester City last Monday night, while Stoke City goalkeeper Asmir Begovic did the same on Tuesday prior to their Carling Cup game against Shrewsbury Town. Both have been criticised heavily for doing so. The stick won't bother Mascherano much now that his transfer to Barcelona has gone through, and if Begovic ends up at Chelsea before this week's deadline, he won't be overly concerned either.
It disgusts fans that players would refuse to play for their clubs, but it is no longer that uncommon for players to adopt underhand tactics to force through their departure. If a player has his heart set on leaving, there are several ways to bring matters to a head. I played with lads who wouldn't try a leg in training just to annoy the staff, while others would fake injury to avoid taking part altogether. Some would speak to the press of their desire to move, while others would be in the manager's office daily demanding a resolution.
Ashley Cole is despised by Arsenal fans (and by most others too, I would imagine) for the manner in which he behaved prior to his transfer to Chelsea. While it was ill-advised to state in his autobiography that he nearly crashed his car with rage when he learned of Arsenal's final salary offer of £55,000 a week, he was perfectly within his rights to seek a move if he thought it would benefit his career. Clubs have always sought to shaft players they don't rate, so we shouldn't be too quick to hammer players when they do likewise.
Managers often victimise players who they want to force out of the club -- forcing them to train with the reserves, to train alone, to train afternoons when others have gone home, or to travel to away reserve games knowing full well they won't even make the subs bench. It is very common for players to be told they will never be selected to play for their club again, irrespective of how long they have left in their contract.
All of it is designed to force the player off the wage bill. Such behaviour is rarely newsworthy because it usually features players who aren't high-profile, but lads everywhere know how the game works.
Managers will complain when they lose good players who force through their move, but you can bet the majority of them have signed players who have acted in similar ways to leave their previous clubs. A simple way of ending such carry-on would be for clubs everywhere to refuse to buy players who won't honour their contracts, but that scenario will never happen.
The pressure on managers to do well everywhere means there will never be such lofty moral stances taken by any of them. Clubs have been abusing the rights of footballers for years, and are fair game for similar treatment from players as a result.
It is difficult for anyone -- fans, managers, chairmen -- to be too critical of players in these scenarios, because all have seen their squads improved by capitalising on the ambitions of players to better themselves and advance their own careers. Newcastle United fans, for example, will feel let down by the refusal of Steven Taylor last week to extend his contract (they offered him 40k a week, his agent wants in the region of 60k), but their loss will be someone else's gain. That's the way it has always been.
Putting to one side the audacity of such a player to place that high a value on himself, it is highly unusual for Newcastle United to act in such a sensible way. It seems they are at last prepared to behave prudently and pay players what they deserve and no more.
It has been a long time since that was the case, but the spending of others weakens their stance and it is to be expected players will seek a move if they can earn significantly higher elsewhere. As long as there are clubs prepared to operate on significant losses by over-paying mediocre players, transfers will be sought everywhere.
Begovic will be the subject of an internal disciplinary hearing at Stoke and it is expected he will be fined two weeks' wages for his refusal to play for his club. Coming only a day after telling the local press in Stoke of his desire to play football for the club, he has made himself look particularly foolish.
While that doesn't necessarily set him apart from many of his peers, it will matter very little to him if he gets the transfer he feels he deserves. Stoke will replace him if he leaves, and they'll do whatever it takes to do so. It won't concern them if they upset another club in the process. And so it goes.