Earlier this season, Theo Walcott declared that signing a new contract was dependent upon whether Arsenal would play him as a striker.
He initially turned down a lucrative 5 year contract extension and claimed that the issue was not the money but whether he would be used in his preferred position.
Although his case may have been legitimate, how many other players are likely to use this reason as an excuse to force a transfer from their current club or as a bargaining tool to negotiate a pay rise?
We are used to players moaning about not playing, or being paid too little, and the standard response is normally a transfer or loan to another club, or a significant wage rise if they are deemed important to the future of their team.
Not much sympathy is felt for a sportsman who earns more in a couple of days than most people earn in a year. Talented individuals they may be, but the manager is in charge of the team and he is the one who selects the players and decides on their positions. Ideally he will put players where they are most comfortable and effective, to maximise their potential, but it may be necessary to play someone out of position for tactical reasons or to cover injuries.
In Walcott’s case, he has regularly been used as a right sided winger or attacking midfielder, mainly due to the electrifying pace which Arsene Wenger believes can be put to use in 1 v 1 situations against opposing left backs. Another reason for his position was due to the fact that Robin van Persie was the main striker at the club, and his goal scoring record over the last few seasons made it impossible to drop the Dutchman from the side. Only now that he has been sold to Manchester United has Walcott sensed his chance to make a point, especially since new signings Podolski and Giroud are not finding the back of the net with any consistency.
Should players speak up about their happiness at their clubs? What does a public announcement regarding such an issue say about the respect and loyalty to the club and manager?
Despite the fact that Real Madrid were champions of Spain last year, with Cristiano Ronaldo almost single-handedly dragging the team to glory with his incredible goal scoring exploits, he apparently wasn’t satisfied with life in the Spanish capital and claimed to be unhappy. The statement came completely out of the blue and transfer rumours began circulating that PSG and Manchester City were discussing eye-popping offers for the Portuguese star. The media reaction was unsurprisingly over the top, and Florentino Perez, Real’s chairman, immediately began discussions about an improved salary and a contract for life.
Footballers are human beings with feelings and emotions, and although to an outsider it might seem like Ronaldo has everything, he could well have issues outside of his professional life that affect his psychological state. This aspect is often overlooked by critics who say that top level players have nothing to complain about, and in financial terms they are correct. However, just because a player is successful and rich, he can still suffer from depression and similar problems to the rest of us.
The main issue with Ronaldo was that he made his feelings public, instead of discussing them internally with his manager. These matters should not be for the media to splash across the sports pages, and in Ronaldo’s case they portray the image of a greedy, attention seeking playboy. What was he trying to achieve by doing this? Surely he didn’t believe that people would feel sympathy for him, so the only conclusion is that he was hoping to spark transfer rumours, which in turn would result in an improved offer coming from Real Madrid? The end result was exactly that, therefore it is understandable why the public are sceptical when players with genuine problems come forward.
Another case of player power, or player disobedience as many would call it, was illustrated by Carlos Tevez at Manchester City. During a game against Bayern Munich he allegedly refused to come on as a substitute, much to the fury and disgust of his manager. Roberto Mancini immediately stated that he would never play Tevez again, the player was fined several weeks wages, and then placed on ‘gardening leave’, meaning that he wasn’t to appear at the training ground until further notice, despite being paid in full throughout this period.
He went back to Argentina for many months whilst City tried to find a buyer who was willing to take him in the January transfer window for an acceptable fee. Mancini would regularly give interviews stating he had no idea where the player was and that he had no permission to be in his homeland, although Tevez continued to enjoy himself in Buenos Aires, often going to support his former team Boca Juniors at their stadium.
Eventually, on 14 February 2012, Tevez returned to training with Man City, although he was considerably larger than when he left and looked like he had done very little to try and keep himself in shape. The only advantage that the club held was that his contract still had several years left, and his wage demands ruled out a transfer to all but the biggest of European teams. Plus it was highly unlikely that such a huge club would want to sign him considering his actions, and a manager’s worst nightmare can be an unruly player who upsets the atmosphere within the dressing room. These factors, combined with Mancini’s acceptance that he would consider him for selection again, meant that Tevez had no choice in the matter and so he decided to knuckle down and start applying himself properly.
At the start of this season he looked much fitter than before and seemed keen to show the fans that he really did care about the club. Perhaps the fact that he missed most of their title winning season, whilst witnessing compatriot Sergio Aguero blossom into their most effective striker, re-ignited his passion for the game.
Three different cases of how players have challenged their managers and clubs, but all highlight the general feeling that the grip of power has changed within football. Long gone are the days of Clough and Shankly, when to challenge your manager was an invitation to your own funeral. Nowadays it is the players who rule the roost, or as some might say, the lunatics are running the asylum!