Main Menu
What's New
For love or money
By Nick Grundy
I read an article in the paper recently about Steve Bull; it took the form of a brief resume of his career, followed by the usual rather trite predictions about how his team (Wolverhampton Wanderers, as many of you will know) are going to do in the first division, and a moment of praise for his loyalty to the club. The hack responsible for the article had mentioned that Wolves had bought Bull from local rivals West Bromwich Albion, and that he had proceeded to score twice against them in (I think) a 4-2 victory, thereby prompting the Wolves fans, with breathtaking ingenuity, to roll out the chant "Thank you very much for Stevie Bull, thank you very much for Stevie Bull". The journo's article ended by asking how many more players of Bull's loyalty we were likely to see, and then printed the line "Thank you very much for Stevie Bull..."

Twee though these sentiments undoubtedly are, the question is a good one - how many more players are we likely to see who are going to spend ten years or more of their careers at one club? There are a large number of reasons that this sort of loyalty is unlikely, most of which centre around money; without wishing to get bogged down in the football-as-business-or-not argument, these do merit brief explanations. The most obvious one is the current impact of the Bosman ruling, by which I mean the option players now have of moving to another country in the EU for free. The obvious example of this for Watford fans is David Connolly, for whom we received a one million pound offer from Wolves shortly after our relegation from Division One. Having rejected the offer, we saw a patchy season from him as we failed to return to Division One at the first attempt, and then saw him move to Feyenoord on a free transfer. Part of that deal is rumoured to have involved his signing-on fee making him a millionaire overnight - in effect, he got the million quid that Wolves had offered us for him a year previously. That sort of financial lure is hard to refuse at the moment - how many of you, if you can imagine that you were a professional footballer, would turn down one million pounds to move clubs?

If we accept the apparent relation between the size of fee we were offered for Connolly a year before he left and his signing-on fee, then we can assume that for as long as the current trend towards larger and larger transfer fees continues, so too will signing-on fees increase. It's a reasonably safe assumption to make, too, that the more money you offer a player, the more likely he is to move clubs. If you examine the current crop of foreign players in the Premiership, the likes of David Ginola and Lars Bohinen spring to mind as players who, while talented and reasonably committed to their team's cause, are, to quote the last Supergrass album, in it for the money. Bohinen, after he found an escape clause in his Nottingham Forest contract designed to allow him to return to Norway should his move not work out, promptly used it to move to Blackburn for £750,000 or so - by all accounts less than he was worth - and said of his move and new-found wages "It's like winning the lottery." Such players, while motivated more by money than love, do at least exhibit some desire to do well for their clubs. There is a host of foreign luminaries, however, who have done nothing of the sort: Marco Boogers and Florin Raducioiou of West Ham, Uwe Fuchs and Sergei Yuran of Millwall and Itzak Zohar of Crystal Palace leap to mind in this category. There are, of course, players who've come from abroad and played like they actually care about their clubs (some might wish to dub this sort of thing "team spirit", or even "professionalism"), but they're becoming rarer and rarer.

And it's no good saying that this has always been the case. Certainly, there have always been failures at clubs, but I'd venture to suggest that events like Millwall's public fallout with Yuran (and their corresponding fall down the table) - or George Graham's fallouts with Yeboah and Brolin, or Bryan Robson's with Emerson and Ravanelli, or Blackburn's with George Donis, or even (despite his timely and highly financially rewarding return) Alan Sugar's with Jurgen Klinsmann - have never before dominated the broadsheets and the balancesheets to such a great extent. Of these players, Yuran went to Millwall on loan, Donis (and Klinsmann?) were free transfers, while Emerson, Ravanelli, Brolin and Klinsmann were all big-money signings on big wages. Ravanelli was reputed to be on £40,000 per week, and this was also the figure being touted by the papers before Klinsmann's recent return to Spurs. This money bred laziness and inaction - why bother playing when you don't need the appearance and goal money to live like a king? You can sit in the reserves and earn a packet, as many of these players have done. At Watford, we've seen this sort of attitude from a couple of players recently - Darren Caskey, for instance, came to us on loan knowing that he could always piss off back to Spurs if he didn't like it and duly attempted to do so during several of our games. If, as seems to be the case, the Bosman ruling creates larger signing-on fees and wages for players, then so too will it breed laziness among a proportion of players. It isn't even really appropriate to call them mercenaries - mercenaries at least knew that they had to perform to get paid.

And, from this summer I believe, the Bosman ruling will apply to domestic transfers of all players over 24. God knows the effect this will have on football in this country - quite apart from the effect loss of transfer revenue is likely to have on lower division clubs (which, incidentally, is being ignored to an almost criminal extent by the FA and their henchmen), little clubs also rely on a thing called loyalty to stay afloat. Loyalty not just of fans, but even, on occasion, of players. Player loyalty really falls into two categories: there's the sort of player whose desire to do well for the club is so palpable that it fires up his fellow players and crowd alike - Tommy Mooney and Richard Johnson fill these boots at Watford - and the sort of player who stays with the club when you would hardly blame them for leaving. Kevin Miller is the best example of this; his comment after we were relegated sums this up: "The players got us into this situation and it's up to us to get us out of it", as does his signing a new one-year contract shortly after saying this, the dignity with which he conducted himself in his transfer dealings over the following summer, and while the fact he screwed Bassett to get more cash and a reserve keeper for us is probably more due to the lure of the Premiership, it was still pretty wonderful. I think David Holdsworth did much the same thing when he stayed with us until the end of our relegation season before moving at the start of the next, and various sources suggest that Gifton Noel-Williams has resisted a number of overtures from Premiership Arsenal.

These players don't just bring money into the club, they bring a sense of pride to it and to its supporters at the sort of player we can produce or attract and at the sort of passion and commitment they show for our club. To return to the player I started with, Steve Bull is more than just a player to Wolves fans, he's more than just a financial asset in terms of goals or on the balance sheet, he's a part of the club and a part of the soul of the club. While the influx of cash into the game is unlikely to change players of that ilk it will certainly reduce their numbers. The theft and commercialisation of football by Sky, by people like Jack Petchey with us, or Bellotti and Archer at Brighton, or Robert Chase at Norwich is, paradoxically, cheapening the game in ways they can't possibly understand.

That's one of the reasons the current incessant comparisons between Watford and Fulham annoy me so much - it's not really the fact that we've shown a profit on transfers since the summer of about a million quid despite the Connolly scenario and an entire team which cost less than £800,000 as against their £6 million outlay, it's that we have been bought by Elton John, a lifelong football fan, as against Fulham's Mohammed Fayed, a lifelong businessman and no more - and the press dare implicitly to compare the two. Heaven only knows why Fayed has bought Fulham (a tax dodge of some sort, perhaps?), but I know why Elton has bought Watford, and that's because he loves the club. He's a loyal supporter, and I hope that means far more to most Watford fans than the fact that he also brings large sums of money to the club, if only because I would trust him with the future of the club in a way I seriously doubt if any Fulham fans can trust Fayed.

For love or money, then? I think it's fair to say that Elton has re-bought Watford for love, and equally fair to say that love has very little to do with Fayed's purchase of Fulham (although perhaps he once nearly bought his son a Fulham scarf - you never know, do you?). I think it's equally apparent from the current trend we're seeing amongst foreign footballers towards a nomadic, mercenary existence, that money is becoming the driving force for many players as well. Generally speaking, I agree with most of what has been said on BSaD about the financial impact of the Bosman ruling, but we should perhaps be concerned more the moral, mental and even spiritual losses that the ruling brings with it.