Contracts: Not Worth the Paper They’re Printed On

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With possibly the longest transfer saga in Liverpool’s history being concluded this week with Xabi Alonso’s transfer to Real Madrid the question arises, ‘˜Are contracts worthless?’

Alonso was publicly courted continuously by Real Madrid from last summer despite repeated comments from Rafa Benitez that the player was for not sale and the player himself stating he was happy at Anfield. Alonso by his own high standards had an average season that year and led to Benitez pursing an unsuccessful attempt to sign Gareth Barry with Alonso being sold to fund the deal.

Cue the start of the 08/09 season, Alonso was still a Liverpool player as was Barry still an Aston Villa player. A revitalized and determined Alonso, fresh from Euro 08 glory with the Spanish national team returned to put in some of his best performances in a red shirt during Liverpool’s most successful Premiership campaign to date, of which he was a vital element. The summer rolled round again and mega-bucks Real Madrid once again came sniffing, having already splashed the cash on superstars Ronaldo, Kaka, Benzema, Real were looking for an engine room, someone to dictate he play, for their new-look side and Alonso fitted the bill, pleasing fans for fulfilling the position and secondly being Spanish international, something which Real has lacked in recent years, compared with the other big sides in Spain.

Benitez’s pursuit of Barry could have left Alonso disillusioned with life at Liverpool and people may say he was treated badly by Benitez, but the truth is he had a bad season and Benitez thought it was time to cash in. Had Alonso not had the season he had last season more likely than not people would be saying Benitez should have sold him when he got the chance for a bigger fee than he would have got the following season. As it transpired he had a wonderful season and eventually got his move to Real Madrid for a rumoured fee of £30m rising to £35m based on bonuses. Liverpool only reached this conclusion by Alonso putting in a transfer request and Real Madrid agreeing to stump up the full asking price.

The thing is, despite Benitez’s desire to keep him (having this summer passed up the chance to make a lower bid for Barry), Alonso with three years left on his handsome contract forced the move by putting in a transfer request and refusing to commit to Liverpool in the press. Given the previous summer’s happenings you would think Alonso, as a professional footballer would have accepted he had a bad season followed by a great one and probably owes it to the club for giving him the platform to perform at the highest level not to mention going closest Liverpool have been to lifting the Premiership trophy, something so many fans crave so much, this is not a time for such an important player to be leaving the team, potential leaving them struggling to find a suitable replacement. (Aquilani deal announced during writing) Florintio Perez even stated something along the lines of ‘˜There are very few players like him in the world.’, hence Liverpool’s reluctance to let him leave, especially for less than they value him.

Of course this situation is nothing new; even our own Glen Johnson signed a new contact at Portsmouth only eight months ago but jumped at the chance to join Liverpool. In any other profession, if you sign a contact you are legally obliged to obey it. If you took out a contact with a builder to construct a house and he jumped ship to a build a bigger more glamorous house in sunny Spain you would be pretty pissed off and be under pressure to find a new builder to finish the house before the rainy season starts. Sure you might get some nice compensation but chances are you won’t be able to find a better builder.

Why doesn’t the same apply for footballers, they are paid enormous amounts to do which, at the end of the say is kick a ball around a pitch for 90 minutes once or twice a week. Obliviously once a contact runs down a player can go for free to another club but there must be some sort of agreement between the player and club that they should honour their contact to at least the last year of the contact or if a club pays out a but-out fee in exchange for the player.

The current rules are making the players in control of their futures which is fair enough, but when you are tied to a long term contact it should be honoured, otherwise what was the point in signing it? Ronaldo talked about being ‘˜a slave’ before his move to Real Madrid from Manchester Utd, which is pretentious beyond belief, I would gladly be ‘˜a slave’ to Manchester Utd should I be paid his wages to play football for a living, sleep with supermodels, crash sports-cars and spend the summer topping up my tan on a sun soaked beach with a brunette named Gloria. Contacts now only dictate how much a player can be sold for and bear no relation to a players commitment to a club, even though it works the other way with a club promising to pay the player for the allocated time, regardless of form or fitness.

Surely this needs to be addressed before the mega rich of Real Madrid and now even Manchester City plucking the best players in the land from their respective teams simply by waving wads of cash in front them. To which ‘˜smaller’ clubs cannot contend with, I suppose in a way it’s a new era of football with the big clubs in Europe being able to pluck the best from the small clubs around the world but now with the mega-rich, regardless of success can lure the best players to their team. Hopefully this is a temporary trend and will buck within a season or two. Shankly would be turning in his grave.

Brian Irvine

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