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is this football 2.0?

September 23, 2009

Sol Campbell, Notts County Free Agent.
So Sol Campbell has allegedly walked away from Notts County after making just one appearance for the ambitious League Two side, despite signing a five year contract with the club just over a month ago. Now technically speaking a contract is an agreement that legally binds two parties together under the terms specified within, and in regards this particular contract, it specifies that Sol Campbell has committed to playing for Notts County for five years and will be paid handsomely for doing so.

Of course, it’s of no real surprise that Campbell has seen fit not to honour such a contract as players are doing it more and more these days with several other high profile tantrums having been thrown after a player had recently signed a new long term contract and then demanded to leave – Cristiano Ronaldo and Joleon Lescott spring to mind. The question is though, with Campbell breaching an agreement signed just weeks before, does a contract really mean anything at all in football these days? Surely this is player power taken to the extreme.

Naturally, Notts County didn’t have to allow Campbell to walk away from the club, they could have insisted that he honoured it, but that’s not actually a very realistic option. After all, forcing Campbell to stay and play for the club is hardly going to motivate the player sufficiently to cause him to perform at his optimum level, and given the undoubtedly hefty pay cheque that he would be taking home, that would be a move that made little sense on Notts County’s behalf. So in many ways, they had little say in the matter – once he decided to go, they couldn’t stop him.

And this really does beg the question of how effective a contract is in modern day football. It used to be that you could get a player to sign a new contract and confidently expect him to honour it. If a player signed on for three years, a manager knew that he would be able to call on him for three years and a player knew that he would be expected to give his all in service of that club for three years, like it or not.

Now though, as soon as a player starts to feel a little homesick, or doesn’t like the food in the canteen, or doesn’t get his favourite shirt number, or – as seems to have happened in Campbell’s case – simply joins a rubbish team and have a poor debut, they can just breeze into the manager’s office and say “thanks, but I’m off” and then breeze out again. Of course, some formalities must then be sorted out but it would only be a matter of time until the player got his desired move away from a club.

This was illustrated beautifully in the summer transfer window just gone. Joleon Lescott, happy and settled as part of a successful Everton side suddenly heard wind that there were expensive watches to be had over at Manchester City and decided he wanted out. He suggested as much to David Moyes who told him to get back to training because he was going nowhere. Moyes continued to enforce the ‘dour Scotsman’ cliché for some weeks before it became clear that keeping Lescott against his will would achieve nothing apart from introducing a negative atmosphere and poor performances to the club. So Lescott got his move and quite probably, his expensive new watch.

This is troublesome though, because it seems to be happening more and more these days. Of course, I’m not saying that a player should be absolutely bound by his contract because sometimes things genuinely don’t work out. Indeed, the Bosman ruling is a good one, because it ensures that if a club is overly stubborn, they can’t actually enslave a player to their service. And that’s good, because footballers are people too and no one should feel enslaved to their employer.

However, likewise the club should feel comfortable in the knowledge that their pampered superstars who they are paying ridiculous amounts of money to on a weekly basis do retain some sort of obligation to them. They pay them a handsome salary and promise to continue doing so for a prolonged period of time not because they enjoy doing so but because they need to so as to guarantee a future for the club as a whole and to try and achieve success on the pitch.

However, if things continue on as they are, then life for clubs and managers is going to become very difficult indeed. How can any manager plan a long term strategy for their side if they know that at any time and no discernible reason a player may just turn around and storm out? A settled side, often built around a particularly talented player or players is a staple of football management: look at Alex Ferguson’s treble winning United side, the spine of which had been part of the club for years.

Imagine if in 1998 David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs had just decided that they fancied a change and perhaps a house closer to the bright lights of London and demanded a transfer. Would United have won the famous treble the next season? No, of course they wouldn’t. That Treble was the culmination of a decade’s hard work by Man Utd, bringing those players through the youth academy and into the first team. Ferguson built his side around them in the knowledge that they would develop together into a formidable unit.

Now though, such a thing is incredibly unlikely to occur. Indeed, one could argue that only at a truly top club could a manager safely assume that his top players will remain committed because they will not feel the need to move clubs to further their careers. However, the example of Cristiano Ronaldo’s protracted transfer to Real Madrid from Manchester United, with whom he won titles galore, suggests otherwise. No manager can now be absolutely certain of his side’s continuity.

In a way this is representative of the growing fluidity of not just football but our entire culture. In the modern world everything is speeding up all the time. Immense technological advances have brought the entire world closer together and made distant cultures and places seem accessible from this small desk in Wellington, New Zealand. This has given us a taste for change, we are no longer content to just experience a limited range of experiences and opportunities. We now believe we can have it all, and so we want it all.

And that’s what seems to be happening with these footballers. With all the money that is thrown at them they ave become used to the absolute power and luxury that an affluent lifestyle in our can-do modern world can provide. Thus when any facet of their professional life suddenly no longer fulfills their expectations of perfection they simply assume that they can find that perfection somewhere else. And they can usually, because footballers are now a commodity in their own right, and there are always people willing to consume.

Ultimately then, Sol Campbell’s decision to quit Notts County about five weeks into a five year contract is ridiculous but it smacks of the way our society has developed. Our demand for easier this and faster that has had an effect on the way we live our lives and is now strongly reflected in football too, and that’s a problem because it isn’t going to change any time soon. While a player should realise the commitment he makes when signing a contract, he in fact only understands it as part of the fluid and rapidly updating world in which we live our lives.

It seems that football then, is undergoing an update, it’s being brought into the 21st century and the installation of football 2.0 isn’t going to be an entirely smooth process. Gone are the old fashioned days of leather balls, steel toe capped boots and contracts that were equivalent to ‘giving your word’, and here to stay are the days of ridiculous wage demands and flimsy contracts, goal-line technology and who knows what other advances in technology. I just hope that the beautiful game itself isn’t lost in translation from the history books to the here and now.

Like this? There’s plenty more where that came from at They Think It’s All Over…


7 Comments leave one →
  1. September 23, 2009 11:02 am

    Campbell is a twat as i said yesterday. Contracts are worth shit these days but i think it is the same in most serve notice (whatever period that may be) and you bugger off. Football is no different. Loyalty should only exist with your family and friends, and not in the workplace

  2. blissbubbley permalink
    September 23, 2009 11:48 am

    I’m surprised he left, rumours today are that he’s going to be off to Newcastle now. I was as surprised as anyone he went to Notts County but didn’t think he quit after one game!

    • September 23, 2009 11:54 am

      I think the £10 million contract is why he went to County

      • blissbubbley permalink
        September 23, 2009 11:58 am

        Very true! Although now he’s kinda proved that he did just go for the money!

        I’m not a Campbell fan at all but this is going to be make clubs wary of investing in him, I’d HOPE he’ll only be offered a pay as you play contract from now on. I think that’s fair

  3. September 24, 2009 3:06 pm

    When things like this come up I don’t think that enough is made of the fact that despite Cristiano Ronaldo’s temper tantrums two summers ago, he was still forced to play for Manchester United for another season. It’s not unheard of for managers to actually hold players to their contracts. I think too many managers are just giving up on it, if they tried harder at least some of the change could be reversed.


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