There was one name missing from the team-sheets for last night’s match between Manchester United and Spurs, and it was a name that says a great deal about the state of the transfer market in modern football. In the clearest sign yet that he will be leaving White Hart Lane for Stamford Bridge, Luka Modric was a glaring admission from the Spurs team-sheet. Modric’s head, according to press reports, “wasn’t right”, to which the natural reaction is, perhaps, “yeah, too right it wasn’t”. His agitation to leave North London for West London is, of course, yet another example of the footballer as a mercenary.
He is, as we all know, a genuinely gifted talent as a player, and there has been no attempt at pulling of wool over eyes with this transfer story. This move may be about Champions League football. It may be about wanting to play under Andres Villa Boas. It may be about a grotesquely distended pay packet. At least, Spurs supporters may console themselves, there has been none of the mawkish bullshit that blight some – and we think we are safe in being able to assume that the readers of this site will be plenty aware of whom we are talking here – modern transfers, a phenomenon which is little more than an equivalent of badge-kissing, which has come to be regarded as one of the ultimate acts of rank hypocrisy that most professional footballers can commit.
So, Luka Modric is a Thoroughly Modern Millie of a footballer, a careerist only really concerned with maximising his own limited playing career. There is nothing, per se, wrong with or unusual about this – for many supporters, the scales have fallen from the eyes in recent years and a new pragmatism has come to rule the roost. Most of us have grown out of the antiquated notion that players perform for the love of the club that they are performing for. Yet Luka Modric’s behaviour can hardly be described as “professional”. Until his – probably now inevitable – transfer is complete, Spurs pay his wages and he is not employed for head not to be “right”.
Chelsea, meanwhile, may have their eyesight partially blinded by the bright lights of being able to bring another outrageously talented player into their squad, but some may even choose to wonder at the moral aspect of another club continuing the pursuit of another club’s player. It’s difficult to shed too many tears for Spurs in this position, though, of course. They may well behave as badly in their pursuit of Modric’s replacement as the assembled cast of Chelsea, Modric’s agent and the player himself may have done over the last few months. The sad truth of the matter is that most – if not all – clubs behave as badly as each other in the pursuit of players.
So in this respect, Modric is not unique, his agent is not unique and Chelsea FC is not unique. Perhaps it is the perception that only playing at the highest level matters that corrupts, perhaps it is the naked pursuit of money. It is probably both. Newcastle United have been reported to FIFA and the Premier League for illegally tapping up players but, on the whole, it feels as if there is little that the authorities can do in order to prevent the gravitational pull of bigger clubs when it comes to the acquisition of players, especially in a culture in which money and preconceptions of status count for everything.
In this case, as much as can be done, perhaps, should be to limit the damage done to the club that is to lose a player under such circumstances. The existence of tribunals to determine such matters is a doff of the cap in this direction, but the case of Luka Modric on Monday evening suggests that money may not be the only issue that needs to be addressed in this respect. Anybody that saw the match that he missed will be more than aware that Spurs were fundamentally weakened in midfield by his lack of rightness in the head. Similarly, Samir Nasri’s disinterestedness for Arsenal on Saturday can only really be seen through the prism of his impending move to Manchester City and Arsenal paid a price (exact amount – indeterminable, of course) accordingly.
As such – and, yes, it feels counter-intuitive to be agreeing with Henry Winter – perhaps the very least that the Premier League can do might be to bring the closing of its own transfer window forward to before the start of the season. Clubs may complain about the limiting effect that this would have upon their ability to deal in players, but it is worth pointing out that the clubs of the Premier League in England transfers between clubs in the same association can take place as soon as the last competitive fixtures for the season have been played, whereas most of their European rivals have a transfer window that doesn’t open until the first of July.
Spurs were playing Manchester United last night: what if they had been playing at Chelsea? Similarly, what if Arsenal’s match last weekend had been against Manchester City, rather than Liverpool? After all, the Premier League fixture list isn’t determined by which clubs might be signing which players. It won’t stop the circumstances under which players move from one club to another – there are too many vested interests working behind the scenes, quite asides from anything else – but it would at least be a small piece of legislation which might at least give the impression that the league at least keen be seen as being serious about this matter, and that would be a start.
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