Thursday, October 12, 2006

For the money or the glory?

Ever since Roman Abramovich bought Chelsea in the summer of 2003, and even before that, there has been more and more talk of players only being motivated by money. Even the poorest Premiership footballer probably earning upwards of £500,000 per annum, up to players earning over £5 million per year (in wages alone). In comparison, 10 years ago the top players only earned around £1 million a year, and 20 years ago wages were even less. What I want to discuss here is the argument that big players only move to Chelsea for money and that some, if not all, top players are only motivated by money. Personally I don’t believe that is the case.

The accusation goes that all the top players who move to clubs on big salaries only move for the money. The Bosman ruling has allowed players at the end of their contracts to move clubs for a big signing on fee and high wages. On top of this clubs, of which Chelsea is a prime example, without the track record of success of a ‘big’ club like Real Madrid, Liverpool or Man Utd, and have been perceived by some not to be able to attract these type of players on merit. Therefore any big players, who move to these clubs on big salaries, are by definition only going there for the money. Money is their only motivating factor, and they will go to the club which offers them the highest salary. Many have levelled this accusation against Chelsea’s big three summer acquisitions, Andriy Shevchenko, Michael Ballack and Ashley Cole. Also, because these types of players are at their peak and have won most trophies going in football, there is a perceived lack of hunger or ambition, so the only motivating factor must have been money. People say these players move for 'one final big pay day'..

To me, this argument is very simplistic and to a certain extent judgemental. It tarnishes all players that move on big salaries with the same brush, and makes big assumptions. I prefer the other argument.

To a certain extent money is important to all of us. We need it to live and provide for ourselves and our families. If we are good at a job we want to get paid what we’re worth, or rather the going rate. If another company offers us a similar position at their company, on a higher salary with more opportunities for promotion, then a lot of us would be tempted to accept. Most top international footballers in their prime, as the three players in question are, are already millionaires several times over. In fact, these top players don't need a big final pay day, so that idea is ridiculous. As long as they are paid the market value for their services - which I believe is fair enough, and not greedy - in recognition of their marketability off the pitch and ability on it, and what they could be paid by most other clubs, they will be happy to sign. That is not being motivated by money. It’s getting paid the market value for their services. They probably bring in a substantial amount of what they get paid into the club in terms of merchandise, and that value is recognised in their pay packets. Top players by definition are surely ones whose motivation is to play football at the highest level for as long as possible and to win as many trophies as possible. If they are only motivated by money their commitment and hunger on the pitch will be much less surely. This argument says that to top players, although they want to be paid a fair wage in comparison to other top players, that they go to big clubs just as much to win trophies as anything else. This is the argument that I tend to agree with.

Frank Lampard and John Terry both earn £5 million a year and allegedly have clauses in their contracts saying they will always be the highest paid players at Chelsea Football Club. Yet no one questions their motivation or loyalty. Why should it be the same with any other players? Gianfranco Zola took a pay cut when leaving Chelsea, but only decided to leave when Chelsea didn’t offer him a sufficient contract, which was ironically more than he earnt at Cagliari. Even though the salary offered by Chelsea even pre-Abramovich was more, because the amount was not what he felt he was worth in terms of his experience and contribution to the club, he decided to leave to his hometown club. Even when offered what he wanted post-Abramovich he declined, having giving his word already to Cagliari. A big-name player, clearly not motivated by money, but still wanting to be paid what he was worth. An example which demonstrates this argument.

In the case of Michael Ballack and Andriy Shevchenko, both were offered contracts by other clubs of equal value to the ones they signed with Chelsea. Hardly the actions of people motivated by money. Ashley Cole publicly fell out with Arsenal, his boyhood club, because they allegedly verbally offered him one contract only to withdraw it, and failed to support him at all when he was in trouble with the FA. Indeed, he would probably have earnt more going to Real Madrid than he does now at Chelsea. Factor in that Chelsea are clearly the best team in England at the moment and have a better chance of winning major trophies than Arsenal, then the argument about money falls down even more.

In fact that applies to all players in relation to Chelsea now. Chelsea are the best side in England, back-to-back title winners and one of the top teams in Europe. They have one of the best squads and best managers in Europe, are now regualr qualifiers and are among on the favourites for the Champions League every season. Why wouldn't any top player want to come to Stamford Bridge?

There are exceptions of course. Players who demand a certain salary, or else threaten to walk out on their club. Or refuse to play unless their wage demands are met. Players like Winston Bogarde who happily collected £8 million from Chelsea and was happy not to play. That is a clear example of a player being motivated by money. But to me that is the exception rather than the rule.

Yes, the sheer amounts are staggering, and I’m not in any way saying that the high wages are justified. Nobody is worth that much money per year in reality. But the amount of money in football now means that comparatively the wages and fees for top players is increasing

It is up to you to decide which side of the argument you fall down on, but I would argue that players do not move just for money or just for the glory. They move to big clubs to achieve success and win trophies, and want to be paid what they’re worth in comparison to other big players - in rare exceptions, some are even willing to pay cuts. Let's make sure we don't assume too much.

For the money or the glory? You decide.