Monday 18 November 2019

FA Cup tales highlight January transfer realities

In-demand striker Eoin Doyle was in action during last week's FA Cup second round replay against MK Dons, but for how long more will we see him in the colours of Chesterfield? Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
In-demand striker Eoin Doyle was in action during last week's FA Cup second round replay against MK Dons, but for how long more will we see him in the colours of Chesterfield? Photo: Clive Mason/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

There is an irony in the flowery coverage of the FA Cup which throws around words like 'magic' and 'romance' with abandon.

That's because it is a competition which actually tends to throw open a window to the unglamorous reality of life below the top table.

With Premier League clubs, including some who really should be targeting the trophy, prepared to rest their marquee names, it is natural that the focus falls on the profile of the underdogs.

And, from an Irish context, it gives us an excuse to check on the progress of players who spend the other 51 weeks of the year grafting for a living at the lower end of the industry.

Alan Bennett, the former Cork City defender, is one such example and ahead of tonight's FA Cup showdown with Liverpool, the AFC Wimbledon man spoke in terms that are familiar for this type of encounter.

"We're playing to pay the mortgage," said the 33-year-old. "The likes of Steven Gerrard are motivated by a completely different set of circumstances."

Bennett has actually spent the last month on the bench and, after completing a degree in sports journalism, he will one day be excellently placed to tell the full tale of life as a League Two substitute.

In the convivial month of December, he was travelling to Wycombe, York and Portsmouth without getting a run-out.

Bennett says himself that he's never quite viewed football as a career and always knew he'd have to work afterwards. For those lacking that vision, there is a sadness in their description of scrapping to stay afloat towards the bottom of the English ladder.

This juxtaposes nicely with the opening of the transfer window, a festival which rewards individuals that are in fashion.

The absence of loyalty is bemoaned as players follow the money and, in the upper echelons, it can be unattractive; even if it's often a case of lads just wanting the same wedge as their peers in a warped Premier League marketplace.

Further down the food chain, though, there is no option but to strike and seek the extra few quid when the iron is hot.


This brings us to Eoin Doyle, who is developing into a case study for the life-changing opportunities presented by a mid-season frenzy.

Strikers are always in demand as managers always believe they need an extra forward option up their sleeve for the run-in. It drives up the prices. Chairmen are malleable.

Doyle, 26, is now being watched by clubs who have overlooked him in the past. His 21-goal tally in all competitions and footage of his supreme confidence inside the penalty area for Chesterfield has led to a revision of his status.

This has caused some bemusement in Scotland, where he failed to really set the world alight with Hibs before taking a substantial pay increase to join Paul Cook in League Two.

His return in the Spirites' promotion last term was modest, but in his first crack at League One the Dubliner has been a revelation and that's why leading Championship clubs are curious.

This is where talk of loyalty comes into the equation. Given that it has taken Doyle a long time to turn heads - he was a slow burner at League of Ireland level too - the argument is that he should stay put where he is appreciated.

At his age, however, that becomes secondary to the vast difference in what he can earn from a lucrative switch. Rumours of multiple suitors can be used as leverage for an improved contract, but Doyle's current employers do not have the finance to match what's on offer elsewhere.

Cook appreciates that despite not wishing to lose an important face. Chesterfield know the game too.

Savvy clubs are generally opportunistic enough to sniff an unexpected pay day, hence murmurs they are prepared to look for £2 million this month although that smacks of a bargaining ploy as opposed to a genuine demand.

At schoolboy level, the desire to make a quick buck is an enemy of development, especially on these shores when parents are involved.

But for seasoned professionals who've never earned a wage that would provide any semblance of long-term security, it's just business.

Four years ago, a glut of goals for Kilmarnock secured Conor Sammon a transfer to Wigan that brought him into another pay-grade.

It meant that when he moved onto Derby, he stayed in that bracket. Sammon is on loan at Ipswich now and struggling to get a run in the side but he is extremely well paid - more than £10k per week - on account of capitalising when the going was good.

This may portray an unflattering image of a footballer, yet it is easy to judge from another pair of shoes.

Richie Foran, one of the sport's great characters, has openly admitted that he coped with a spell on the sidelines at Southend because he was on a contract he was unlikely to secure elsewhere.

Pragmatism is an attribute which is required to avoid a financial crisis further down the line.

Doyle, it must be stressed, is a different type of attacker to Sammon and Foran. He is a poacher who doesn't tick all the boxes outside the area; he's not exceptionally quick, nor does he specialise in brute force.

The calling card is his finishing, meaning that clubs who can create openings are intrigued, yet he might only get one crack at a Championship operation and there is no guarantee that it will work out. But if it can look after the mortgage or finance a young family, logic dictates the next step.

His exploits over the past five months have ensured that a standard League One salary will always be available, so it's a no-brainer to cash his chips in now.

Otherwise, the regrets could linger in an environment where romance is only a short-term fling.


Gerrard figures remind Robbie that profile can be as profitable as success

Steven Gerrard's rumoured move to LA Galaxy keeps us nicely on the subject of profiting from transfer shenanigans.

It is safe to assume that Robbie Keane is a very wealthy man, although there was weekend speculation that he has lost money in one of these investment schemes that consistently seem to catch out high-earning stars.

Keane still has no reason to stress about his lifestyle. But you could hardly blame him for feeling a tad miffed if figures reported by ESPN are correct and Gerrard arrives in California on a $6 million-a-year salary. That's $1.5 million more than what the MLS MVP is earning at the moment.

Considering that Keane was top scorer last term and central to a third MLS Cup success in four seasons in America, he wouldn't be completely out of line to seek parity with a new recruit.

Granted, Gerrard's current profile and commercial value was always going to place him on a pedestal, yet there comes a point where the man who has been there and done that in the MLS environment is held in the same regard.

Keane's namesake Roy had the right idea at Manchester United when his contract ensured that he remained on par with the highest-paid player at the club if a new signing came in on a monster wage.

Tallaght's finest, hailed as the best ever import to the league, would surely be within his rights to have a quiet word with his bosses about Gerrard's attractive terms and conditions.

At the very least, he should be looking to retain penalty duties so he can close the deficit through the medium of goal bonuses.

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