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Friday, Feb. 6, 2004

PREMIER REPORT

Player power and disloyalty becoming endemic in English game


LONDON -- There is a new game sweeping English football and the rewards can run into millions for the lucky winners.

Christopher Davies

It is called Anarchy and the rules -- basically the participants cannot lose -- are simple.

A player signs a contract which he is obviously happy with, otherwise he would not have agreed to the deal, but then another club comes in an offers him more money.

He then makes it blatantly obvious that loyalty does not exist in his dictionary and a transfer is the only outcome. This is achieved by (a) not pulling his weight in training or (b) ensuring his agent feeds the media quotes to put pressure on the player's current club.

Player power is becoming endemic in England and when the transfer window closed on Jan. 31, Jermain Defoe (West Ham to Tottenham), Scott Parker (Charlton to Chelsea) and Louis Saha (Fulham to Manchester United) were three examples of those who finally got their way against their clubs' best wishes.

Defoe, showing all the sensitivity of a bull elephant, asked for a transfer 12 hours after West Ham was relegated last May, as then-manager Glenn Roeder was at home waiting to have a brain tumor operation. The striker's timing could possibly have been worse, though offhand it is difficult to imagine how.

The request was never withdrawn and, as Defoe completed his move to Spurs, which also saw Bobby Zamora move to West Ham, the Hammers' current manager Alan Pardew left no one in any doubt as to what he felt about the player who has been sent off three times this season.

"When a player doesn't want to play for you there's no point in holding him against his wishes, as Charlton found out with Scott Parker. We did the best deal for West Ham." Chairman Terence Brown added: "It's been clear since Jermain put in the transfer request that his future was going to be elsewhere." And so it proved to be.

When Chelsea first came in for Parker, Charlton chairman Richard Murray said: "It hurts when a club with their buying power sees the club beneath them in the table and says 'let's spend a few million and take their best player.' Well, I say 'get lost Abramovich' and I think I speak for the rest of football, too."

But Chelsea benefactor Roman Abramovich got his man, of whom Charlton manager Alan Curbishley said: "Scott made it clear in more ways than 10 that he did not want to play for us anymore."

The same Scott Parker who pledged his loyalty and future to Charlton when he signed a five-year contract last summer.

Fulham manager Chris Coleman said Louis Saha would leave Fulham "over my dead body" but the inevitable happened and the Frenchman signed with United, with his agent receiving a large sum to facilitate a move his client was desperate for.

Does it bother players that, when they leave under such circumstances, they immediately alienate supporters who previously idolized them?

Not in the slightest. The usual scenario is for the wounded player to say how much he was hurt by criticism from the club who didn't want to sell him.

Ruud Van Nistelrooy said Saha showed "a lot of guts" to leave Fulham. He said: "It could not have been easy because Fulham had been good to him, but he wanted to come to United and everyone can see that."

One can only assume Van Nistelrooy doesn't do irony.

* * * Time for another game -- Devil's Advocate.

Luis Boa Morte, the Fulham striker, has accused Everton's Duncan Ferguson of calling him a "black" when the teams met at Goodison Park in the F.A. Cup two weeks ago.

For reasons best known to himself, Boa Morte did not report the incident to the referee, the police or the Football Association.

Instead, four days later his story appeared in two usually generous red-top tabloid papers which some see as weakening the player's argument.

If he was that upset, why didn't he go through the relevant authorities rather than have his agent release the "news" through the media?

Ferguson has strenuously denied the accusations and the F.A. has written to Boa Morte for clarification.

The problem with any type of insults is that there are invariably no witnesses. I have no doubt there are racist, nationalistic and personal remarks flying around on the pitch, though how seriously they should be taken is another matter.

Let Devil's Advocate begin . . .

Accepting sledging, as Australians call winding up opponents in such a manner, is part of sport, but where should we draw the line in the sand?

Ferguson is Scottish yet it is not against the law to call him a "Scottish"

Ditto, Irish, Welsh, French etc.

A vertically-challenged person can be called a "short ****"

Players who need only two bottles of shampoo per season can be called a "bald ****"

So why should color be treated any different?

Isn't an insult an insult whatever the details?

This is not to condone such behavior, though it is naive to think industrial or insulting language will ever be eliminated from society, let alone sport.

One player memorably revealed he had been called a "black *******" and said of his opponent: "He was correct on both counts. Yes, I'm black and yes, I was born out of wedlock."

Yet given the way history has treated black people maybe they have every right to believe this is where the line in the sand is not so much crossed but leaped over Bob Beamon-style.

On the other hand, when you are paid £50,000 a week, shouldn't you accept foul remarks like fouls as an ignominious part of the game?

The most insulted people in football are linesmen, who are not only abused regularly but also spat at by spectators in close proximity. And linesmen are paid a fraction of players' salaries.

Perhaps the best answer to any insult is not to show it had affected you, not giving the opponent the dubious pleasure of mission accomplished.

I remember former England defender Stuart Pearce being headbutted by a French opponent.

Pearce just stood motionless, I swear he did not even blink.

The message was loud and clear -- if that's your best shot, then you're in trouble. The opponent kept out of Pearce's way for the remainder of the game.

Whatever the rights and wrongs with Boa Morte, the Portuguese international should have made any complaint to the F.A. rather than the Sun or the Daily Mirror.

The F.A. will punish any player found guilty of racist remarks, but at the same time it has said that any such accusations need to be backed up by evidence.

Whether Boa Morte can produce this remains to be seen.

Christopher Davies covers Arsenal and the Republic of Ireland for the London Daily Telegraph.


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