October 22, 2010

What has happened to the beautiful game and “Jumpers for goalposts”… has the curse of money and celebrity finally ruined football the beautiful game?

In one week, we’ve had the debacle at Manchester United of Wayne Rooney‘s contract ‘negotiations’, Sunderland‘s Titus Bramble having rape charges against him dropped, Liverpool fans being stabbed in Italy, West Ham United‘s Manuel da Costa arrested on suspicion of sexual assault, Newcastle‘s Andy Carroll in court for assault and a subsequent arson attack on his car, Paul Gascoine convicted of drinking and driving followed by an arrest related to drugs and the sale of George Best‘s 1968 European Cup winner’s medal.

Contracts and Collapse

In what is described as ‘Player Power’ (a term that must surely enter the Oxford English Dictionary soon), Wayne Rooney (or his advisors) has ‘negotiated’ a new five year contract but, in so doing, dragged his reputation down in the eyes of many, questioned Manchester United’s ambition as a football club, and potentially undermined their current season, possibly offended some of his colleagues and definitely ‘upset’ the emotions of loyal supporters who effectively pay his wages.

Rooney has undoubtedly improved the contract terms and conditions (i.e. wages, bonuses and probably image rights) for what would have been the remaining two years of his Manchester United employment and extended them by another three years. For a player to hold a club of Manchester United’s stature ‘to ransom’ is unheard of and sets a precedent that can only lead to further risk and financial over-commitment of football clubs as they attempt to hold on to star players.

With the recent Liverpool ownership court case(s) and the key element of debt, it is surely time for clubs and associations to bang heads together and set-out a plan for harnessing debt, agents and most importantly player’s wages. Though potentially the sacrifice is ‘buying success’ and while Manchester United are not the worst offenders and have an excellent youth scheme, they cannot escape being tarnished with a reputation for buying success with significant outlay over the years for at least parts of their team.

The debts of clubs such as Manchester City and Chelsea to buy success are unsustainable when viewed through the eyes of supporters and ticket prices where the UK government’s austerity measures are likely to impact crowds and merchandise sales over the next few years. But still clubs pay exorbitant wages that leave players at the mercy of media and public alike, and threaten to wreck many a career off the field long before injury or old-age forces boots to be hung up and presumably affect both the player’s and team’s performances.

Assault and Court

With Titus Bramble having rape charges against him dropped, Manuel da Costa arrested and Andy Carroll appearing in court all in one week, the issues of being a ‘celebrity’ football star are coming to the forefront like a runaway train.

A more ‘normal’ lifestyle could only help the modern day footballer and make them less identifiable and more thoughtful about both their behaviour and the public’s perception of them.

Whether any of the above names have any charges to answer is actually irrelevant because all it demonstrates is that if you have the money to be a high profile party-goer or just a recognisable face in the media you are going to be targeted every time you step out the door and put your reputation at stake.

Money has always attracted begging and borrowing and there are many unscrupulous individuals (and this time we don’t mean agents!) prepared to make a claim against you to bring you down. It would appear that damage to reputation is just a day-to-day risk but many players don’t help themselves with their behaviour and the attentions they attract.

From a well-paid footballer’s perspective they can also afford ‘high quality’ solicitors and defence resulting in sometimes contentious court cases arguing about drink-driving or using a mobile while driving where the average man would simply have to be more honest or less manipulative of the legal system.

Putting aside personality and intelligence as contributory factors, if the problem is money then what is the solution? The references to investment in a team or its players should be exactly that and instead of ridiculously high wage payments, players should accept part payment and some form of investment of the remainder to prepare for that rainy day when their all to short careers are over. The immediacy of the cash is a drain on clubs and a temptation to spend, spend, spend that, in turn, leads to lifestyles that are unsustainable and too often are ending in tears.

When the Final Whistle Blows

With the final piece of jigsaw looking at two great players who failed to cope with the celebrity status (George Best and Paul Gascoine), we raise the question of whether they would have benefited from a more structured lifestyle.

George Best’s sister has sold his European Cup winner’s medal this week and cannot be criticised for this but had there been a more structured lifestyle for George maybe his genius wouldn’t have ended in such a high alcohol consumption.

Certainly at only 43, Paul Gascoine is in need of some worthwhile guidance and support before drink (and drugs?) wreck the remainder of his life. Again, the genius of his talent brought him the wrong attention and gave financial freedom to indulge in a ‘celebrity’ lifestyle but for what gain? With Wayne Rooney turning 25, it seems unthinkable to imagine that Paul Gascoine is only 18 years older and has had his day.

In the time it will take Kai Rooney to become an adult, his father needs to ensure that his career and personal life get back on the rails quickly and that he cannot be apportioned blame for the collapse of the beautiful game in years to come.

Last updated: April 27, 2012 at 3:25 pm