The Spoiler’s Mercenary XI
For some players, it’s all about the Benjamins
After being knocked back by Kaka and his ilk, it’s becoming clear that Manchester City will have to build their team of superstars from those who hold a big day in greater regard than loyalty and dignity.
Perhaps Robinho, Craig Bellamy and co should look at the example set by Athletic Bilbao’s Joseba Exteberría. The Basque legend – who has notched up over 400 appearances for Athletic Club since 1995 – recently signed a one-year extension to his contract that will see him play for free.
The Spaniard won’t go to sleep tonight on a huge pile of money surrounded by beautiful women (isn’t that what most Premier League stars do?), but he will have earned a helluva lot more respect from the European football community.
With this in mind, take a look at The Spoiler’s Mercenary XI. And before all the City fans start getting their sky blue knickers in a twist, no players from the blue side of Manchester made the cut…
Cudicini might frown at his inclusion in a list containing such a disloyal and greedy bunch, but we struggled to find a true mercenary to stick between the sticks. Cudicini gets the honour, however, as a player rivaling former Chelsea colleague Winston Bogarde for lack of ambition. Before the arrival of Petr Cech in 2004, Cudicini was Chelsea’s first choice shot stopper and one of the best keepers in the league (acknowledged by his ITV Premiership Goalkeeper of the season award for 2003/04). Since Cech has displaced him as first choice and now the Italian only manages a handful of appearances a season. Chelsea’s number two keeper should have more ambition than collecting a wage for bench warming – a man of his talents would make a decent number one at most European clubs.
Chimbonda put in a transfer request at Wigan Athletic straight after the final whistle of their last game of the 2005/06 season, earning him a move – and a pay rise – with Spurs. Last January the Sun reported that he told pals, “Kevin Keegan has approached me and they’ve offered me more money. I am definitely leaving Spurs. It’s all about the money. I don’t care about the final, I don’t care about the cup.” He got his wish joining Sunderland in the summer, and he is now engineering a move away from the Black Cats, with Lyon a touted destination.
Following spells at Barcelona and AC Milan, Winston Bogarde joined Chelsea in 2000. After Gianluca Vialli was replaced, however, he found himself surplus to requirements. Chelsea were keen to offload him but no one would match his £40,000 wages and Bogarde was reluctant to take a pay cut. “Why should I throw fifteen million euros away when it is already mine? At the moment I signed it was in fact my money, my contract,” he protested. He sat it out in the reserves for four years and continued to train with either the youth or reserve teams, safe in the knowledge he would still receive his pocket money. When his contract expired, with 11 appearances in four years and a reputation as the greediest and least ambitious man in football, he retired after a lack of interest in his services. Bogarde clearly has no qualms about his time in West London: “I may be one of the worst buys in the history of the Premiership, but I don’t care”.
Labeling Campbell a mercenary might be viewed as a little harsh unless you’re a Spurs fan. The north Lononers are used to their top stars leaving in search of trophies at a better club, but they don’t expect their players to move to North London rivals Arsenal. And not on a free transfer. His £100,000 wages also caused speculation that it wasn’t the challenge alone that inspired the move.
Before his not-very-secret Chelsea talks, Ashley Cole was adored by Arsenal fans, and everyone else didn’t hate him too much either. Then came the transformation to “Cashley Cole” when he forced a move to Arsenal’s blue rivals, claiming he nearly crashed his Bentley Continental when told of the Gunners’ contract offer of “only £55,000 a week” – a whole £5k less than he asked for. He joined Chelsea on a £90,000 weekly wage before endearing himself to the nation further by cheating on lovely missus Cheryl with an with a ropey old twelve-pinter.
The banner at Figo’s first game back at Barcelona said it all. “We hate you because we loved you so”. Figo left Barcelona for arch rivals Real Madrid in a £40m deal in 2000, receiving a pleasant £4m salary after tax. After five years as their favourite son, he became the fans’ biggest hate figure overnight subject to abuse, paper cups and the infamous pigs head.
Flamini proved to be one of Arsenal’s best players last season. Despite numerous contract offers he turned his back on the team that gave him his break (Flamini only had 12 appearances at Marseille before joining the Gunners), leaving on a Bosman. He agree a £50,000-a-week deal with AC Milan, where he now finds himself competing with the likes of Gennaro Gattuso, Andrea Pirlo, Kaka and Beckham for a starting spot.
West Ham fans were incensed in 1989 when Paul Ince was pictured in a Manchester United kit while still technically a Hammer. Ince has since argued that he was discussing a deal with the Red Devils at the time, and since he was going on holiday his agent advised him to pose in their shirt to save him cutting the break short for a press conference. Ince completed his move and played over 200 games for United before moving to Inter Milan. It was his choice of club after the Italian side which again enraged fans – this time of the prawn sandwich-eating variety. Devils fans were shocked and furious when Ince signed for rivals Liverpool – a move made by few ex-United custodians.
Carbome turned out for 16 clubs, one for every year of his playing career. His longest spell came at Sheffield Wednesday, for whom he was a cult figure, as his 25 goals played a large part in several successful relegation battles. He quit the Owls in 1999 for Aston Villa with team-mates scrawling “Beni RIP” on the dressing room wall. His loyal ways were best epitomized by his departure from Bradford City. “I love Bradford, the fans and the players – and they love me. We’re one big family. I signed for four years and I’m staying,” he announced. Two days later he joined Middlesbrough.
Anelka is the most paid-for-player in football history, commanding transfer fees of over £85m. He was labelled ‘Le Sulk’ after engineering a move away from Arsenal with help from his agent brother Claude. As with countryman Flamini, Professor Wenger gave Anelka his big break in football – he had only had ten previous top flight matches for Paris Saint-Germain before he was snapped up by the Gunners for £500,000. Arsene was rewarded by a transfer request as Anelka was lured by Real Madrid’s approach (although the £20m+ probably soothed the pain). He managed to frustrate Madrid fans, players and directors alike with his strops, and received a 45-day suspension for refusing to train. Nicky again reaffirmed his loyalty traits when he signed for Arsenal’s rivals Chelsea last January – the third of the ‘Big Four’ clubs he has played for.
Pierre Van Hooijdonk
Petrus Ferdinandus Johannes Stevenson van Hooijdonk is another nomadic striker. He left Celtic after refusing a contract extension in 1997, claiming the £7,000 a week offer was “good enough for the homeless” to live on “but not for an international striker.” He also managed to wind up his next employers, Nottingham Forest. After consistently demanding a move away amidst a relegation battle, Forest players once refused to celebrate with him after he scored against Derby – opting to instead congratulate the assister Scott Gemmill.
Manager: Sven-Goran Eriksson
To Sven, the word loyalty is as alien as showing passion on the sidelines. First, he cheated on his partner Nancy Dell’Olio with Ulrika Johnson and FA secretary Faria Alam. Then, he flirted with an affair away from the England job via meetings with Chelsea and the ‘Fake Sheikh’, with whom he discussed managing Aston Villa. For his loyalty, he received a £1.5m-a-year pay rise soon after, and a staggering £4m golden handshake when he left the England hot seat. He also received £2.5m from Manchester City after being sacked by owner Thaksin Shinawatra last summer.
Do you think anyone else should have made the starting XI? A certain C. Ronaldo, perhaps? Let us know below…
[Research: Danny Harris]