This summer’s numerous transfer ‘sagas’ have produced a conundrum for clubs – can you keep an ‘unhappy’ player on the books when their desire is to leave?
First it was Wayne Rooney who requested a transfer back in May at Manchester United. The 27-year-old England number 10 suffered with form and fitness with the Red Devils in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season at Old Trafford, incidentally, following the arrival of Golden Boot winner Robin van Persie from Arsenal last summer.
Rooney’s desire (according to reports) is to sign for Premier League rivals Chelsea under their new leader Jose Mourinho. However, Rooney is still under contract at Old Trafford and recently-installed boss David Moyes remains adamant he is not for sale. The club even confirmed they had rejected two bids from the Blues.
Meanwhile, other reports have emerged suggesting the ‘old guard’ at United – supposedly Rio Ferdinand and Ryan Giggs – have come forward with their concerns to the manager over the affect Rooney’s potential departure is having on the dressing room – and that’s before the season even kicks off.
Meanwhile, over on Merseyside, Liverpool striker Luis Suarez has come out publicly to state his desire to leave the club after two years, citing their lack of Champions League involvement as his primary concern as he edges closer and closer to the exit at Anfield. He has, in effect, made his position almost untenable.
Down south in North London, Tottenham have been David fighting Goliath as they try to hold tight of PFA Player of the Year Gareth Bale and keep him from the mighty clutches of Real Madrid.
Bale has not said a word – at least not publicly- to give any indication that wants to go, or stay, for that matter. He has remained silent throughout the saga of which he is at the centre and has let the two clubs hash it out around him but I suspect if he has or does break his silence in-house and tell the club he wants to leave (if he hasn’t already) Spurs may take the bags of cash and bid farewell to their Welshman.
Last summer, Arsenal had much the same happen to them as star striker Robin van Persie engineered his move to Manchester United – the difference in his case, however, was that he was entering the final year of his contract which made his hand a little stronger and the Gunners’ all the more weak. However, their hands weren’t exactly tied – they could have kept him and let him run his contract down.
Which, incidentally, is exactly what Borussia Dortmund seem to be intent on doing in the case of their star striker Robert Lewandowski who has been ardently trying to engineer a move to Bundesliga rivals and European champions Bayern Munich.
Dortmund have kept a solid stance on the matter and repeatedly insisted he will not be sold to which the player has thrown his toys out of the proverbial pram and claimed the club have ‘betrayed’ him. Well, well.
Back to the question then, can you keep a player who is either ‘unhappy’ or who no longer wants to stay, at the club? Yes, you can, if he is under contract – that is, after all, why contracts exist and when players sign them they are supposed to be agreeing to ‘commit’ their future for the years covered by the terms of that contract.
Suarez signed his future over to Liverpool until 2018 – if he didn’t want to, he shouldn't have signed the contract. Rooney still has two years to go on his £250,000 a week deal that he signed in 2010. That’s the idea, anyway.
But, alas, in practice, players know they have the power to force a move – at least in the majority of high-profile cases – because they’re worth so much money to their clubs so no one wants to let them go on a Bosman free and, more over, managers are reluctant to keep players around that unsettle the squad and have a negative impact on morale and motivation.
That is the key here – if you keep an unhappy player around, they drag down the energy and belief of the team but I think the Lewandowski situation is fascinating because Dortmund are looking increasingly likely to set a real precedent in the situation.
Maybe, if they force him to honour his contract and the season starts, he’ll put up, shut up and get on with it – players are often ‘unhappy’ in the off-season when their name is being associated with a big club and a potential move but as soon as the season starts, it might be interesting to see if that player suddenly finds his inner peace and miraculously wants to actually play football. I wonder. I suspect the player in question would be happier on the pitch than on the bench. Unfortunately, it seems clubs are reluctant to keep those players around because it upsets the focus and commitment of the team.
In the old days managers would just send the kid to rot in the reserves to teach him a lesson but that's not really feasible in this day and age so they opt to take the money on offer and let the player play - elsewhere. Hate the game, not the player is the old adage and I suppose in these situations it's true - player power is here to stay and clubs are powerless at present to counter that in any way other than trying to pay higher wages to secure longer contracts but, as I said, especially in the case of Suarez, contracts are becoming completely irrelevant - they're effectively meaningless pieces of paper. What a waste of trees.