Friday 20 April 2018

Loyalty always part of bargain when moves are afoot

Richard Sadlier

Richard Sadlier

Aware that my transfer to a Premier League club was virtually agreed, I called to the physio's house one evening seeking clarification on the extent of my hip injury. Actually, I was there to spell out the true extent of the injury and ask whether I would be able to pass a medical.

As was the norm for me, I had been lying about the pain I was in and sought his view on where to go from there. He wasn't surprised with what I said to him, but I was amazed with what he told me. "They're talking about nearly seven million for you, son."

The club in question was Sunderland, and I had been contacted directly through one of their players. They knew I was interested in the move and I knew our chairman was willing to sell at that price. If the deal had gone through, it would have set me up financially for life. My agent did what agents do and everything was ready to go. On the back of that chat with the physio, though, I pulled the plug on the whole thing. I rang to tell Sunderland how much pain I was in and that passing a medical would be unlikely.

In financial terms, it was an act of blinding naivety, but I wasn't thinking in those terms at that time. I apologised to our manager for the mere suggestion of disloyalty and didn't want him to think less of me because of it. He dismissed my concerns and told me to get fit. The opportunity would present itself again, he said.

Sunderland spent the money on Tore Andre Flo the following week and I returned to the hip specialist to arrange for more surgery. For many years after I retired it was the focal point of my self-pity and regret. Wondering how things may have turned out if I had acted differently was hard to avoid and I tormented myself because of it.

A chance meeting a few years later with the player who acted as intermediary didn't help matters either. He said he was amazed with my honesty at the time, because the deal would have gone through if I said nothing. It could easily have been put down as a minor setback in my rehabilitation and a full recovery would still have been expected.

I'm not sure whether he was commending me or criticising me, but, as you can imagine, this wasn't news I received with any enthusiasm.

There are decisions of great significance in every player's career, and Grant Holt has just made one of these at Norwich City. His desire to leave the club was made public on Friday evening with news of his transfer request, a move which prompted the usual accusations of disloyalty and greed. I can only assume he has a club in mind already, but Norwich turned it down leaving him in a difficult position. Rarely do matters like this improve by everyone knowing, but that's the scenario he now has to face.

Hindsight is very informative, but knowing when and how to act in the transfer market can dramatically change the life and career of any footballer. In my case it was trying to find the balance between personal ambition and disloyalty, concepts which, admittedly, are almost inseparable in professional football. The discussions were not made public at the time so I did not have to explain my reasons to anyone. It was not the only episode of its kind in my career, but had it

been leaked to the press my life would have been a lot trickier with our fans from then on.

With speculation also linking manager Paul Lambert to a move away from the club, it's hard to criticise any Norwich player for looking at all their options. This is particularly true for Holt, a Shrewsbury Town player only three years ago. He has played his part in getting the club from League One to establishing itself in the Premier League last season, winning player of the year in each of his three years there. He deserves a move and shouldn't be knocked for seeking one. There are moments of opportunity in any career, and this is one of those for Holt.

No matter how all this unfolds for him, he will sit down one day and reflect on a career that could have gone in many ways.

If my deal had gone through, some fans would have branded me a mercenary and begrudged my progress, while others would have congratulated me and wished me well. It was only in retirement I realised how little I cared about either.

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