Premier League clubs now have leverage over ‘player power’

Berahino Stones

No soccer supporter enjoys seeing player power implemented to the extreme. But we’ve had our fair share of it down the years.

It’s probably why, with just minutes to go in the transfer window, West Bromwich Albion’s Saido Berahino put out what is now an infamous Twitter message suggesting he would never play for the club again; a last ditch attempt to force a move through to Tottenham Hotspur, perhaps? After all, in the past, this kind of brattish behavior has seen clubs crumble and players get their way.

“It’s just another example of player power,” said Jamie Redknapp on Sky Sports earlier this season when it became obvious the forward wanted out of the Hawthorns. “That’s how football’s going now—there’s not a lot you can do about, whether you like it or not.”

Despite that assessment, the Baggies stood firm. They’ve been criticized by some, praised by others, but they were the latest team to adhere to a trend of puffing their chest out when it comes to keeping players this summer. Everton kept John Stones, Stoke City kept Jonathan Walters and Norwich City kept Lewis Grabban; all high-profile examples of players who wanted out of their respective sides in the window.

So after momentum previously pushed player power to uncomfortably high levels, is the pendulum gradually swinging back the way of the clubs?

Sure, there have been examples of players kicking and screaming and eventually getting their way, Raheem Sterling’s ill-tempered departure from Liverpool to Manchester City being the most obvious case. But even in that instance, the Reds did things on their terms, getting targets in first, keeping Sterling waiting and then, eventually moving him on.

Also, clubs are getting a lot more comfortable keeping players in the squad that want out. So often we’ll hear from ex-professionals of how a wantaway figure can knock the dressing room dynamic out of sync and deteriorate squad morale. But there’s been some precedents to suggest otherwise.

Luis Suarez, serving a ban for biting Branislav Ivanovic, was on the front of national newspapers in the summer of 2013, begging to move from Liverpool to Arsenal. At that point, the club could have cut their losses on an unhappy and disruptive player. But they didn’t. The following term, the Uruguayan nearly dragged the Reds to the league title and he eventually was moved on to Barcelona after forging a deistic reputation at Anfield.

Soccer has become increasingly fickle and clubs are starting to realize that. Stones handed his transfer request in on a Tuesday, played for Everton on the Saturday and the traveling fans had already made a new song up for the defender, which includes lyrics referring to the saga. If he puts in some strong performances in the coming weeks, the transfer request will quickly be forgotten, as would be the case with most players in a similar situation.

Simple as it may sound, footballers want to play football too, not sit in the stands. Already there’s talk of David De Gea, whose move to Real Madrid fell through at the last minute, being reintegrated back into the Red Devils side for their next Premier League match. Stones has played throughout the speculation and although he’s suggested otherwise, it’d be no surprise to see Berahino don Albion colors again soon.

There are also financial implications to consider. While the spending in the Premier League this summer is the highest its ever been, with an influx of television money coming in next season, values will naturally inflate. Therefore, making sure key players stay put for one more year would see clubs reap more monetary rewards should they sell further down the line.

The bolstered wealth of sides in the middle section of the Premier League, who have typically sold to buy, means they’re under no pressure to cash in now either. West Brom, for example, have kept hold of Berahino, but still splashed out more than £30 million on new players. It’s a refreshed ambition shared by a lot of teams of similar stature.

 

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The renewed stubbornness from these club should be applauded. It’s always unsettling to see established footballing institutions be brought to their knees by the desires of a star player and hopefully the approach taken by sides like Everton, West Brom, Stoke and Norwich this summer will encourage others to follow suit. It may even discourage players to act out of line to get their way, a la Berahino and Grabban.

After all, it’s often said that contracts are not worth the paper they’re written on in modern football. But they should be. Berahino signed a new three-and-a-half year deal in November 2013, while Stones agreed a five-year contract in the summer of 2014. As such, while there’s nothing wrong with players wanting to move on to more illustrious sides, their clubs have every obligation to expect their employees to see out the their contracted commitment if they so wish.

Ultimately, it’ll make for a more competitive Premier League. While sides like Southampton and Swansea City have rightly been lauded for the manner in which they’ve sold on talent and reinvested smartly, it’s tough to breach the upper echelons of the table if a club continues to sell on their prized assets.

Players will still move on to bigger sides, that’s a natural process of the game unless you’re associated with Real Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. But supposed lesser outfits have a much greater say in matters at the moment and for those club still clinging onto the coattails of the game’s juggernauts, it’s an obstinate approach that’s long overdue.

Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball

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One Response

  1. Island Baggie September 3, 2015

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