Everton’s manager David Moyes was forced to drop Joleon Lescott from last night’s Europa League game owing to his poor attitude following the Blues’ reluctance to sell him to Manchester City. This came after rumours that he asked not to play in Saturday’s mauling against Arsenal. With situations like this on the rise, is there any room left for loyalty in the modern game?
Moyes took a chance when he signed Lescott in the summer of 2006. Lescott had missed the entirety of Wolverhampton Wanderers’ Premier League campaign through injuries and there were doubts over his long-term future with his knee being a serious worry. The gamble paid off and Lescott has hardly missed a game for the Toffees with England recognition also coming his way. His performances and importantly his goalscoring record has made him one of the premier centre-backs in the league. Everton’s success in the last few years has been largely attributed to their excellent team spirit but the interest from Manchester City has seemingly derailed this. Watching Everton on Saturday was a humiliating experience and they looked like an entirely different side than the one that finished fifth and reached the FA Cup final. Which is strange was it was more or less the same team.
It would unfair to suggest that Lescott was the sole reason for the manner of the defeat. Arsenal looked on fire and ready to mount a sustained title challenge but surely the scoreline would not have been the same if the hoopla surrounding Lescott had never taken place. Moyes has admitted this week that the rest of the squad feel let down by Lescott. Despite the Scot’s protestations it seems only a matter of time before Lescott is paraded in the sky blue of City. This is not the first time that Everton have been blighted by a lack of player loyalty. Everton fans still recall the occasion in a FA Youth Cup tie that a young Evertonian celebrated a goal by unveiling a T-shirt adorned with the words “Once a blue, always a blue.” That same player is now proving himself one of the country’s top player with Manchester United. To be fair the slogan “Once a blue, until I’m a red” is not quite as catchy.
Indeed the game is filled with occasions that football players have proved they value loyalty as high as sensible cars, bland boots and in some instances their own fans. Think of Alan Smith leaving Leeds United to join hated rivals Manchester United. Sol Campbell moving from Tottenham to Arsenal on a free transfer. Paul Ince is still reviled at West Ham for his conduct before he moved to Man United. Nick Barmby crossing Stanley Park to join the red half of Merseyside. Even further a-field Luis Figo leaving Barcelona to sign with Real Madrid.
There is an argument that players do not owe anything to the clubs they want to leave. In Lescott’s case Everton are likely to make a huge profit on him after signing him for relatively little money. He has no roots at Everton and is just interested in doubling his pay whilst possibly furthering his career. Lescott’s example highlights the individual goals of the player more often than not outweigh the value of the relationship with their fans.
Any player who earns £40 000 a week and argues that he is not in the right frame of mind to play a football match is slapping the fans in the face. Most fans will not see £40k in a year nevermind a week. The gulf between the players and the fans has never been wider and it is only going to get worse. Make no mistake about it – players hold all the power in the current game. Contracts are no longer worth the paper they are printed on. At some point in the future there will be no contracts, just a release fee that clubs will have to pay if they want to sign a player. Simply blaming agents would be an easy and contrite solution but there would also be a lot of truth in it. A few years ago Harry Kewell’s agent, Bernie Mandic, received £2m of a £5m transfer fee for the Australian’s transfer from Leeds to Liverpool. No doubt this sort of arrangement is commonplace in football, this case was just highly publicized. Agents, player power, high ticket prices and fan disaffection are all part of a vicious circle that is dragging the game away from its proud roots. The real tragedy is that it is hard to see anything changing.
A Different Week
Michael Owen’s move reminiscent of The Boss – July 10
The City Circus – July 17
Beckham – End of an American dream? – July 24
Trouble at the Toon – July 31
Chester’s plight reflective of modern ways – August 7
What will happen – August 14
Joleon Lescott and the ugly side of a modern professional player – August 21