Home / Sports / How the power of the player has become a "thing" – and why it is now terribly acceptable in football

How the power of the player has become a "thing" – and why it is now terribly acceptable in football



In 1959, George Eastham's grievances multiplied. He was dissatisfied with his contract with Newcastle United and dissatisfied with the condition of his club house. He did not appreciate the nature of his second job and bristled that Newcastle had told him he could not represent the U23s of England. Frustrated, he informed the club that he wanted to join Arsenal.

Newcastle rejected his request. It was still the age of the retention and transfer system, which meant that clubs could keep the players' registration even if they were not contractual. As long as he was offered "reasonable" conditions, the player remained the property of the club and his career at his mercy.

Eastham's response was to call a strike at the end of the 1959-1960 season. He spent his summer in Surrey selling cork to a family friend. The effect was finally to force Newcastle's hand – and in October, they reached an agreement with Arsenal and sold Eastham for £ 47,500. He remains one of the first and most famous examples of player power.

But his legacy lies in the consequences. In 1963 – and with the association of professional footballers paying legal fees – Eastham brought his former employer to court, filing legal action for unpaid earnings and claiming that the retention and transfer system was a significant drag on trade.

Eastham won. This did not make him rich, and the presiding judge did not award damages, but Wilberforce J. concluded that "preserve and transfer" was unjustifiable. As a result, he forced the Football Association to change its arcane transfer system and strip it of its most restrictive elements.

The straight lines between Eastham activism and freedom of movement in modern football are easy to detect, even if they were not fully anticipated. Supporters of Newcastle might have smashed apples when he first returned to St James's Park as Arsenal, but it could easily be argued that his actions had served the greatest good – a goal in the world. beyond his ambitions.

And that's something missing in the many current controversies. At the time of writing, Neymar and Antoine Griezmann were absent without permission from their respective clubs and, on Thursday morning, Laurent Koscielny had refused to participate in the pre-season tour of Arsenal in the United States.

The three situations have their differences. Neymar is tired of life in Ligue 1 and wants to return to Barcelona. Griezmann publicly announced his decision to leave Atletico Madrid last season, but refused to show up for preparatory training, believing that confronting his injured teammates could result in "emotional stress." Koscielny, the least likely of the trio, has reacted badly to Arsenal's refusal to renounce his early release from his contract and redoubles his determination to return to France.

SEE ALSO The curse of the captain of Arsenal: how Laurent Koscielny exacerbates an already embarrassing problem

Of course, the common thread is not a great principle, but a truism about what happens when footballers are not allowed to make unilateral decisions. There are some extenuating circumstances in these three cases, Koscielny's years of service may give him some leeway, but overall they represent the standard of behavior expected.

Because it's not new. Even at the time of the Premier League, there are many examples of well-turned heads, misplaced minds and, in some serious cases, players categorically refusing to play as long as their transfer requests are not met. Pierre Van Hooijdonk, William Gallas, Yohan Cabaye, Luka Modric; prolonged sulking is an established tactic which, at the very least, tends to give rise to a new contract.

The reasons are less interesting than what the behavior itself describes. It is not original to write about the law and the ego, because these forces have gone through the sport for years. But as a study of what high-level footballers think is right – how much they will tolerate before resorting to radical action – these latest incidents are a stark illustration of how much the dynamics of the game have changed.

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Arsene Wenger talked about it in Blues, the documentary of 2016 retracing the fall and rise of the France team after the World Cup & # 39; 98. Wenger was referring to the revolt of the infamous players at the 2010 World Cup and said that in today's football, the main coaches only exercise persuasive powers. In reality, this authority really only exists if it is dressed to serve the interests of the player.

When translated to refer to the transfer market, this makes perfect sense. It would obviously be a hopeless generalization to claim that it applies in the same way to all gambling professionals, but this generally describes how much an inversion has taken place. While the players of George Eastham's generation were an oppressed workforce, kept under lock and key, his modern equivalents are terribly free to act on the compulsions with which they wake up. It is a culture of wanting and obtaining, and acting with pathological immaturity whenever these impulses are not accepted.

Next week, Antoine Griezmann will probably be a Barcelona player. Neymar may have joined and fearing more acrimony during a difficult summer, Arsenal would probably have agreed to let Laurent Koscielny go. Football is too big for it to fail in a meaningful way – it's undeniably true – but it has never felt so wild and unpredictable. Never has its shape been so sensitive to the wild whims of its only real commodity.

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