Another interesting side to the recent wall of foreign money hitting the Premiership – the other side of that wall, if you will – is that it’s called into question the idea that players are only motivated by the prospect of getting their share of the bricks. Dimitar Berbatov might look like the living embodiment of a red-top “Striker!” cartoon, but he turned down a better deal for himself to get to Manchester United.
Aaron RamseyÂ is another caseÂ in point. Of course, mindfulÂ ofÂ the West Ham squad list and the presenceÂ of Robinho, it would be daft to suggest that money doesn’t play a huge factor. But can you name more than two or three other playersÂ of the Brazilian’s calibre whoÂ have taken the shilling? Â I can’t see far beyond Chelsea here: Michael Essien – whoÂ wouldÂ have been at United but for Russian money; Sheva – who was praised by Mourinho this week; and Michael Ballack.
None of those three ever played likeÂ mercenaries for Chelsea – Shevchenko was quite clearlyÂ in a square holeÂ in England, which I can quite understand. Essien and Ballack wereÂ instrumentalÂ in getting Chelsea so close to a clean sweep of trophiesÂ last season.
Back to Berbatov and Ramsey, both men who takeÂ themselves seriously as craftsmen and players long beforeÂ income becomes a priority. Is it possible for clubs to attract this kindÂ ofÂ outlookÂ into their squad? What makes up a club’s “goodwill”?
Let’s rattle through some of the obvious points first.
- Opportunity – otherwise known as European football. Clearly. And the Champions League is the one they all want.
- History. Players want famous clubs on their CV. Spurs will always have more pull than Wigan, as we saw a season or two back when Wigan offered fabulous packages to a string of top players, all of whom refused. (Heskey accepted, and became a top player again. Anyone NOT very pleased with that outcome?)
- The person of the manager. Case in point: Roy Hodgson vs Lawrie Sanchez. A season ago, Andy Johnson would not have left Everton for Fulham with the intention of reviving his England career. At one stage, Hodgson was in the frame to become England manager, and we have spent the last ten months being reminded why. Likewise, Kenny Dalglish at Blackburn, pulling Shearer out of Alex Ferguson’s slipstream.
But mention of Shearer brings me onto the less tangible assets a club can have, and this is where the likes of Hull City come in.
Hull the place gets a bad rap. The worst-educated population, someÂ of the worst housing, highest unemployment, low overall standard of living… but although the peopleÂ of Hull doÂ have real problems to deal with, the overall picture is wrong. ItÂ has a decent university, a busy port, some good regeneration projects, good museums, theatre and music, a history of famous poets and a blogger.Â Â In re. the latter, throw in Hull’s adult education service, if he is any guide.
None ofÂ thisÂ is liable to pullÂ in any footballers besides Graeme Le Saux or Lee Dixon, and Hull need younger legs than theirs. So take a lookÂ outside theÂ city. Beverley,Â one of the most charming townsÂ in the whole of England, is minutes away; York not much further, and with York,Â the National Parks. Prosperity, quiet, privacy and beauty – all attractive to many top players, especially non-EnglishÂ ones who value places whereÂ they are not recognisedÂ or rated.
Newcastle, surrounded by glorious countryside, is another caseÂ in point. Allegedly, Alan Shearer – and this is where he comesÂ in – sells ToonÂ to potential incomersÂ on two points. One -Â the fans will love you. Two – you’ll be able to live somewhereÂ out of doorstoppingÂ reach, with London moneyÂ in a non-London economy. (Three – if you’re any good, your political clout within the club will beÂ incredible. After Michael Owen’s shameful treatment by Liverpool and Madrid, can anyone blame him for going somewhere where he’s wanted? I certainly can’t).
So, if a club can’t offer history,Â or Europe, or a top manager (remember who was Toon manager when Owen arrived) offer lifestyle, offer privacy, offer what Chelsea and Manchester United and TottenhamÂ and Liverpool cannot. At a time when Liverpool offer burglary, United offer Southport and Chelsea offerÂ the goldfish bowlÂ of Cobham(which has helicopters over it constantly these days as a result of the team’s presence), the Yorkshire Dales (rugby country!) andÂ the Northumbrian countryside look all the better.
What do the other clubsÂ have? Stoke are a short drive from the Peak District and more rugby country. QPR are forty minutes away from the Chiltern Hills, an area which isÂ only nowÂ puttingÂ in proper roads.. Southampton has the New Forest and Winchester; Reading has the Cotswolds (just about); Cardiff has the whole of Central Wales.
NoÂ one could ever argue that a smaller club can use assets such as these toÂ out-gunÂ the traditional giantsÂ of the game – but for now,Â they aren’tÂ competing with Spurs or Liverpool. It’s about that precious bottom half of the Premiership, which is open to new entrants, as Wigan and Portsmouth have demonstrated. The pathÂ there, as Metatone saidÂ here yesterday, is through selling the club to good but minor foreign players, or top-class last-payday types with a winning attitude. There aren’t enough Johnsons andÂ Bullards to go around these days, if there ever were, given English football’s perennial drink problem. Small clubs need foreign players with enthusiasm and ambition.
So surely it pays a club to pay attention to what it has around it just as a local council or a recruiting business would – to pay attention to what blind luck, geography and nature has given it – and to use those things to compensate for theÂ lackÂ of funds and foreign fussball.
This is all tediously obvious, isn’t it?
Hull’s Geovanni is 28, by the way. WhereÂ has he been!?