The agitation game – why players throw tantrums to get that move

THIS has been something of an unsatisfactory summer for the reputation of footballers and their commitment to their contracts. A string of major players have made themselves the proverbial “pain in the arse” in order to push for a transfer, mostly when they are in mid-contract.

The most recent example appears to be David Luiz, who moved from Chelsea to Arsenal in the closing minutes of the transfer window. This was an eyebrow-raising move, chiefly because nobody expected it and also because Arsenal were taking another 30-plus player off London rivals, a couple of years after signing another veteran in Petr Cech.

Luiz, who never comes across as an awkward individual and seems to have a decent attitude, apparently agitated for a transfer to Arsenal, becoming a disruptive influence at Chelsea in recent weeks. Bizarrely, Luiz signed a two-year contract in May, an unusual deal for Chelsea who have a policy of one-year deals for players over 30.

Arsenal themselves have suffered from a player manipulating a situation to gain a move – Laurent Koscielny refused to join his team-mates on tour as he turned his focus on Bordeaux. Koscielny, 33, spent nine years with the Gunners, but his manufactured move was mostly greeted with cries of “traitor” by the fans. The way he did it and the tasteless video produced, with Koscielny stripping off an Arsenal shirt to reveal a Bordeax strip, certainly inflamed the emotions.

It is happening all the time with players who are locked into a contract and need to find a way to finesse a move. The 2019 close season in England has been one of speculation about the future of Paul Pogba, who is under contract until June 30, 2021. Despite playing a role in Manchester United’s 4-0 opening day success, Pogba is still talking about a move. He claims he enjoys playing for United but “the question mark remains”. At the same time, Pogba is also said to be unhappy at Old Trafford. Real Madrid have shown an interest in him, but it does sound as though this may be a game of poker to see if an improved contract can be put on the table.

Over in France, Neymar has been angling for a transfer back to Spain, perhaps for different reasons. When he moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 2017, one thing he was craving was to move out of the shadow of the likes of Lionel Messi and win the Ballon d’Or and UEFA Champions League. It hasn’t happened and Neymar has only played half of the club’s Ligue 1 games in two seasons.

But Neymar has not only damaged his own credibility –  once more when you consider his move from Barcelona – by playing-up, the PSG fans have turned against him. The PSG faithful unfurled a banner telling Neymar, in no uncertain terms, that they wanted him to leave. Neymar didn’t play in PSG’s opening league game against Nimes as the energy builds behind a move. Most people don’t think Neymar has lived up to his price tag and PSG have lost some of their momentum, certainly in Europe. It now seems certain Neymar will leave Paris and his lawyers were recently spotted in Barcelona. The only stumbling block could be the price!

Luka Modric is another player who is apparently unhappy and wants to leave Real Madrid, even though an agreement was tabled to extend his contract until 2021. Modric’s wife has contacted Inter Milan, according to the Spanish media.

Inter have been in dispute with their star striker, Mauro Icardi, who still has two years of his contract to run. While Icardi wants to leave Inter, the club has said they will hold him to the two years if he does not move on. He has been at loggerheads over his contract since early 2019.

And of course, the Gareth Bale situation rumbles on. Zinedine Zidane has made it clear Bale does not feature in his plans, but Real stopped the player’s move to China at the last minute. One assumes they may want to use Bale as a bargaining tool to snap-up a key signing.

The whole agitation process seems to be a very disingenuous game of cat and mouse. If a player is under contract and has a couple of years to run, he is locked into remaining with his club. Massaging a move, if successful, can be lucrative for the player, but equally, if the club wants to keep him, and is effectively being held to ransom, the player will benefit from a new enhanced contract. Needless to say, agents will always play a big part in this process. Players invariably win whatever the outcome, although as we have seen with Icardi and Inter, an impasse can result in nobody winning and when that scenario continues, a professional playing career could be damaged.

Photo: PA



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