The False Nine‘s Ethan Meade investigates the unfortunate rise of veteran has-beens on fat wage packets; ‘The Unsellables’…
What do Joe Cole, Andrei Arshavin, Florent Malouda and Sebastien Squillaci all have in common? No, not just the fact that they have all won domestic titles in their respective homelands – but also the fact that they all represent a very modern type of player – ‘The Unsellable’.
These are veteran players who sit on such lucrative contracts that clubs are finding it impossible to find suitors willing to match these terms, or pay anything close to what the parent club would consider any appropriate re-sale value. This of course isn’t an entirely new phenomenon – most will know the famous case of Winston Bogarde, a Champions League winner at Ajax and La Liga champion at Barcelona, who was signed on a free transfer by Chelsea in 2000, on a four-year contract, worth around £10 million. However, he made just 11 appearances for Chelsea in 4 years, earning a reported £40,000 a week, or close to £900,000 per appearance. He spent his final year at the club commuting from Amsterdam and training with the youth team. And yet, Chelsea were unsurprisingly unable to find any suitors, and so Bogarde was left to rot in the reserves.
Incredibly, lessons appear to not have been learnt, and as a consequence of the financial crisis, players signed on contracts during the financial boom now remain at these clubs, weighing down their finances. Clubs face two choices – take the Bogarde approach and attempt to force the player out, or try and reintegrate the player into proceedings.
Surprisingly given many people’s perceptions of Arsenal are a financially prudent club – and to be fair the profit statistics don’t lie – the Gunners are a club currently suffering as much as any of this problem. It’s clear to see from the outside that players such as Andrei Arshavin, Marouane Chamakh and Sebastien Squillaci don’t seem to have a long-term future at the club. And yet, Arshavin is reportedly the second highest paid player, earning a reported £80k a week, without making a great contribution. He spent the end of last season on loan back at Zenit, and one can safely assume that if Arsenal received a reasonable offer, he would have been off in the summer. But instead he remains, as an impact player, and without a shadow of a doubt, a pale shadow of the footballer who lit up the Premier League over three years ago now.
Worse though, is the situation with Squillaci. A centre-half who is clearly not up to Premier League standard, the Frenchman earns a reported £60k a week, more than the likes of Jack Wilshere, Wojciech Szczesny, Abou Diaby, Laurent Koscielny and Kieran Gibbs. With Wenger unable to offload him, Squillaci has been left in the U21 Development Squad, making the odd appearance on the Gunners bench, but yet to appear competitively this season.
Liverpool perhaps represent the best example of the problem of players with a low re-sale value, and inflated contracts. In 2010 Joe Cole – at the age of 28 – signed a four-year contract worth a reported £90,000 a week, or near £19 million over the four years. Peculiarly, the former Chelsea midfielder was not signed by then manager Roy Hodgson, nor did the England manager inherit him from his predecessor Rafa Benitez. Cole was brought to Merseyside by Christian Purslow, then Managing Director at Anfield and he has become a scapegoat for the club’s previous American owners who brought the club to its knees.
In two and a half seasons, the former England international has made just 23 league appearances for the Reds, albeit having spent the 2011-12 season on loan at Lille. With new boss Brendan Rodgers unable to sell the midfielder this summer, he’s been forced to attempt to re-integrate Cole with the first-team setup – a move anybody who watched Cole in his prime can sympathise with. However, any one who has watched Cole’s fleeting displays so far this season will have noted the vacuum his pitiful presence on the pitch creates; his on-field anonymity never passes without notice amongst the Anfield faithful.
It’s not just Cole’s wages that weigh down Liverpool’s finances like a millstone around Rodgers’ neck however. The Kenny Dalglish and Damien Comolli signings of Jordan Henderson, Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll, for a combined total of £70-75 millions, continue to hinder Rodgers’ attempt to revamp his squad. Carroll has been sent on loan to West Ham for the season, whilst Downing and Henderson appear to still be in Rodgers’ plans in the short-term – although the latter was offered to Fulham as a makeweight for the proposed Clint Dempsey deal in August – but one assumes that if Rodgers could get some kind of return on any of the three players, he would probably cash in.
Of course this problem isn’t consigned to these two clubs. At Chelsea, Champions League winner Florent Malouda has been frozen out. Earning a reported £80k a week, Malouda currently trains with the youth and Under 21 squads, a fate famously consigned to Nicolas Anelka under Andre Villas-Boas, as he was unable to find a compromise move away from the club this summer, despite reports of interest from Lyon and a clutch of Brazilian clubs.
At Manchester City, numerous players signed under Mark Hughes have proved expensive problems for manager Roberto Mancini. Press reports were rife in the summer, claiming that Mancini would not be sanctioned the funds for his prime summer targets if he didn’t move on sections of the deadwood at the club. Whilst many have been moved on, including Emmanuel Adebayor, it’s incredible to remember that Wayne Bridge and Roque Santa Cruz remain contracted by the club. On loan at Brighton & Hove Albion and Malaga respectively, it doesn’t take a genius to guess that the majority of their wages will still be paid by City.
An interesting case also remains at Manchester United – Nani. Whilst not in the same position as many mentioned in this article, Nani still appears on his way to the exit door at United. It was reported that Nani was merely a signature away from departing Old Trafford for Zenit, Sir Alex Ferguson finally losing his patience with a player who has flattered to deceive in much of the last two seasons at the club. However, his wages demands reportedly wrecked the move – he’s earning £90k per week currently, and reportedly has asked United for a rise to £130k per week, despite clearly not featuring in Ferguson’s first choice United team this season.
It is difficult to draw any lessons from the respective experiences of these clubs and players. One could easily say in hindsight that the clubs should not have paid out these wages to players who clearly don’t justify them, but then influential football figures – Arsene Wenger, Kenny Dalglish – sanctioned these moves. It is a problem which is only likely to continue, especially in the cases of clubs such as Man City, where players are signed for one phase of development – progression into the Champions League, but are not fit for the next stage – winning Premier League titles. Given that the task of shifting the entirety of Mark Hughes’ deadwood at Manchester City has proven beyond Roberto Mancini, will Harry Redknapp fare any better now at Queens Park Rangers?
All that can be learnt perhaps is not to offer such long-term contracts to players who are clearly a gamble. The Joe Cole scenario is the perfect illustration of the problem that occurs when business men are put in charge of footballing decisions. At least in the case of Henderson and Downing, the club could find some kind of re-sale value – key in minimising financial damage in cases of players not fitting the bill. Unfortunately, the likes of Cole, Chamakh and Squillaci have little or no resale value.
But then again, rumours are surfacing that Redknapp intends to offer Joe Cole the opportunity to rescue his career at Loftus Road. And so the vicious cycle continues…
Follow Ethan on Twitter: @ethanmeade