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Saturday, Aug. 28, 2010

PREMIER REPORT

Transfer hopefuls refusing to play disgraceful


LONDON — Two Premier League players refused to play for their clubs this week — Liverpool's Javier Mascherano and Asmir Begovic, the Stoke reserve goalkeeper.

Christopher Davies

Yes, reserve goalkeeper.

Footballers constantly tell us how much they love the game and would play for nothing. Here, two internationals who are extremely well paid for a job most play for nothing in their spare time effectively went on strike.

By not playing against Manchester City, Mascherano was trying to force through his transfer to Barcelona, whose valuation of the Argentina captain is significantly lower than that of Liverpool's.

Begovic, who joined Stoke from Portsmouth for £3.25 million in January, was set to replace first-choice goalkeeper Thomas Sorensen in the League Cup tie against Shrewsbury. The Bosnian is wanted by Chelsea as backup to Petr Cech.

Barring injury to Cech, Begovic's first-team chances at Stamford Bridge will be restricted to the domestic Cup competitions. So he wouldn't be ineligible for the League Cup if the move goes through.

Begovic was "not in the right frame of mind" to play against Shrewsbury on Tuesday (his advisers say this was not a refusal to play, which fell on deaf ears).

This is the same Begovic who, the previous day said: "It would be nice to play in the cup because you don't want to let it be too long without a game."

The bottom line is Begovic would rather be a Chelsea reserve and play for the Blues in the League Cup, than be a Stoke reserve and play for them in the same competition.

The dilemma facing Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is this: he can stick his heels in and keep Mascherano unless Barcelona makes an acceptable offer by Sunday, two days ahead of Tuesday's transfer deadline; Mascherano then either continues to refuse to play and receives no salary or the player backs down and fights for his place.

Liverpool traveled to Turkey to play Trabzonspor on Thursday, leaving Mascherano to train alone.

Mascherano is playing a dangerous game because public opinion is very much against highly paid professionals acting like prima donnas.

It is not as if Barcelona desperately needs new players, and Mascherano is gambling on the Catalans increasing their offer, which they seem unlikely to do. If they don't Mascherano will stay at Liverpool, his tail between his legs, and try to rebuild his career at a club he doesn't want to play for.

Fans are unforgiving when a player asks to leave their club, and should Mascherano play for the Reds again he can expect the sort of welcome from the Kop usually reserved for Manchester United.

Of course, some may accuse Hodgson of hypocrisy, because two months ago he walked out on Fulham, which did not want to lose its manager, to join Liverpool.

Presumably, it's one thing for a manager under contract to be ambitious, but not a player. It may be difficult for Hodgson to preach the values of loyalty to Mascherano. We hear much about player power but little about manager power.

* * * * *

WHEN HARRY Redknapp took over at Tottenham just under two years ago it was a relegation candidate. Spurs are now in the Champions League, rubbing shoulders with Europe's elite.

Redknapp has a reputation as being a top wheeler and dealer in the transfer market, but there is much more to him than that. Tactically astute, he is a master motivator and is shrewd enough to know the value of having the media as a friend rather than foe.

His management faces its biggest test over the next three months when Spurs make their debut in UEFA's premier club competition. In one respect the draw could hardly be tougher as Spurs face holder Inter Milan, but Redknapp at least knows its new coach Rafa Benitez — debutants versus the champions.

Werder Bremen is an experienced, battle-hardened German team, FC Twente a rising force in Dutch football. As third seeds it was never going to be easy for Spurs, but if Redknapp can steer his team into the knockout stages it will be arguably the finest achievement of his career.

* * * * *

MIKEL ARTETA would undoubtedly strengthen the England midfield, in fact just about any country's team apart from his native Spain which is spoiled for riches.

The Everton midfielder is eligible for England, having worked in the country for five years. As fine a player as Arteta is, he should not get anywhere near to an England shirt.

Ironically the decision is in the hands of Fabio Capello, an Italian.

Qualification to play for a country should be only on bloodline, not working somewhere for a few years. Arteta is as English as paella.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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