Contract twists n turns— Europe and an Italian restaurant.

14 Feb

Good Morning,

A number of years ago I found myself sitting in an Italian restaurant in the centre of Glasgow. Indeed it was rumoured that I was in there so often that people often wondered if I used it as a sort of unofficial office– which seemed ludicrous given that my real office– in a rather large town house building—- was only a few doors up. I will admit, however, that nipping out for a coffee to watch the world go by and to maybe exchange some words with some Glasgow “characters” was a regular guilty pleasure.

However, the restaurant was perhaps not noted for its space between tables. Accordingly, on more than one occasion you could quite easily hear every word of the conversation taking place at the next table– indeed depending on the characters sitting next to you and their voice levels, sometimes it was impossible not to hear a conversation and its detail.

On one such occasion, the table next to me was occupied by two men I recognised fully– although they would not know me from Adam– and their topic of conversation was a contract. To be precise, it was the offer of a contract and the detailed terms that were on offer— and of even greater significance– what was not on offer.

The contract concerned was one which would allow one of these men to play football for a well known football club in Glasgow– and here he was discussing it quite openly over coffee  and a bun!

The tenor of the conversation was that the player concerned wanted a basic salary of £20,000 per week — and the current offer fell short of that in his eyes and so the decision was quite clear. Despite a number of years at the club, he would say ” Thanks , but no Thanks”– and he would move on.

And so it proved.

I sometimes think we are immune to the realities of life– including the ability to match numerical reason and reality with everyday parlance and common word usage. By that I mean we are so used to hearing that footballers get paid this sum per week or that sum per week that we do not always take in the significance of the numbers concerned.

What my footballer in the wee tale above was looking for was a basic wage of £1Million pounds per year– and a wee bit more. With bonuses and so on, it would clearly be in excess of that. Plus, there would have been a signing on fee– probably amounting to six figures– which would have been paid in maybe three instalments over the period of a year or 18 months— that was the way football contracts went back then.

4 years at a million pounds a year or so.

Today, £20,000 per week is not seen as an excessive wage for a footballer at the very top of the game even in Scotland– and remember that for every £5,000 per week above that, we are really saying that the player concerned will earn an additional £250,000 per year.

None of the Juventus team or squad who turned up in Glasgow this week will be employed on anything like £20,000 per week– all will earn far more. Further, in transfer fees alone, Juventus spent over 50 Million Euros in the summer– let alone what they paid in wages and signing on fees etc. In the Christmas window they acquired the services of Mr Nicolas Anelka– a man whose transfer fees alone over the years could fund any team from Glasgow for at least a two year period, and who will not roll out of bed to go to a training ground for anything as paltry as £20,000 per week.

Now in case you are thinking that this missive is a belated commentary on the events of Tuesday night, I am happy to advise you otherwise. Instead, it is really a commentary on the riddle, wrapped up in a conundrum and disguised as a puzzle that makes up Celtic Football Club and its current status.

In my humble opinion, a young Celtic team, which had played extremely well and which had achieved great strides in Europe this season, simply hit a wall on Tuesday. Having lost a daft goal early on– something that happens to the best of sides– they played with vigour and verve for 70 minutes or so but failed to get a goal back or even take the lead which their overall play may well have deserved.

And it is there that they ran face first into something that they simply do not have in abundance– and that is experience.

For all that Juventus may be a good team– even a great team— what they showed on Tuesday was an ability to weather a storm or an onslaught in the knowledge that they were in front and not having to chase another goal. Equally, they were secure in the knowledge that if they held out and the Gods smiled on them to the extent of allowing them another goal, then despite all the skills and drive of their opponents the tie would effectively be over as another goal weakens the spirit and the thought process of the losing side.

After all, the game of football is played on a pitch of 120 metres long and 50 wide– and between the ears and in the hearts— of those who take to the field and so it proved.

If you wish to go further than the round of 16 in the Champions League– of course a knock-out competition by this stage— then you will need some experience in your side and on your side.

Unfortunately, given the very successful practices adopted by Celtic FC over the last two years– Celtic are not likely to be a side which boasts a team full of the necessary experience at this level.

Samaras– who was injured– and Brown aside, no one in a hooped shirt had regularly- or even occasionally– been here before.

What we saw from Juve players was the experience to play, disrupt, disturb and where necessary foul your way to what one might describe as an ugly victory. This is something I for one refuse to complain about– it is just a simple fact.  Football at this level is for big boys– and not for wee boys to trifle with.

Before the next Champions League draw, it is very likely that some of the young Celtic team will move on to pastures new– and so the experience gathered from this years campaign will be lost to the Parkhead Club. Others of course will still be there and will be wiser for their experience in the 2012-2013 campaign.

But how do you get to a higher level if you constantly lose those who have gained that experience?

It is very clear, that the same group of players who drew with Udinese and who lost to Athletico Madrid last year have come on in leaps and bounds. Were they to stay together and continue to improve at the same rate of knots next year then who knows what they could achieve?

Yet the simple reality is that some of those players will sit around a restaurant table, discuss what is on offer for the coming season at Celtic Park when compared to other places and they will say  “Thanks, but no thanks” and move on– just like the conversation from many years ago.

Yet, that too is a bit of a puzzle to me.

Look at the youngish players who have moved on from Celtic park in the relatively recent years to supposedly better things:

I wonder if Liam Miller looks back in hindsight and dwells on the fact that he may well have actually earned more money in the long term had he spent a few further years with Celtic– learning his trade and achieving greater exposure to the game as a whole?

Does Simon Donnelly regret the fact that after he left Celtic Park he would never again grace a European club stage at any level?

After leaving Celtic, Stan Petrov never experienced the Champions League music on the pitch again– and even his UEFA cup appearances for Villa were to be few and far between and never to the extent experienced at Celtic Park.

Gary Caldwell and Shaun Maloney are handsomely paid to travel to the likes of Southampton, Reading, QPR and Fulham— yes they visit the Emirates, Old Trafford and Anfield too— but they will never again need to seek out their passport in the middle of the week unless it is for a Scotland game.

For other players, like Didier Agathe, Bobo Balde and even big Mjalby– Celtic was it!!!

Yet there is another interesting trend to consider too.

Experienced players like Hartson, Thomson, Sutton, Moravcik, Venegoor of Hesselink, Nakamura and even Neil Lennon himself  came to Celtic to get Champions League or European football– even when there were other things on offer. Admittedly, some of these were paid larger sums of money than may now be offered to the youngsters plying their trade at Kerrydale Street— but the point is that these were bloody good players who wanted to play at a certain level and on a certain stage. And Celtic provided that stage when others could not– and that is still the case today.

Part of the price you have to pay to get to that stage may well be Inverness or Dunfermline on a February night– but is that really any different in terms of glamour when compared to a Hull or a Bolton or any of the other teams from smaller English towns or cities after a while. Or is it any different to Messi and crew having to head to Getafe or Levante?

Thanks to his years at Celtic I have no doubt that Scott Brown is a multi-millionaire and can keep himself in a nice lifestyle for the rest of his life. Perhaps he will not be as much of a multi-millionaire as say someone like Barry Bannon at Villa but who played at the higher level?

It should also be remembered that people like Paul Lambert and even Murdo McLeod saw beyond the baubles of England in terms of a move away and were undoubtedly richer in every way for the experience– and of course it was by repeatedly being in the European Window that lead to the talismanic international personality that we call Henrik Larsson. He could have earned far more playing for one of the middle tier clubs in England but in a successful Celtic side he was seen all over Europe— something that reaped a certain reward.

Further, when you look at all the sides who have made it to the last 16 of the Champions League, 15 of them are somewhat subsidised in terms of money and being able to bring in big name expensive players. One wonders whether Barcelona and Madrid are actually ran as businesses at all– with a need to balance books and so on.

The fair play regulations will make inroads into the imbalance between the clubs at this level although they will not close it altogether, but just as we are seeing reconstruction in the Scottish Game, so are there moves afoot to redress the ridiculous imbalance in Europe.

So where does that leave Celtic with its big support, tremendous atmosphere, talented squad and predatory richer opponents?

Well, if UEFA were to move to a full time European League tomorrow with a top league of 16 teams as  suggested by many as being suitable for Scotland — then using this years Champions League results Celtic would be in the top division. Last year Manchester United with all their might did not make it out of the group stages, and this year neither Manchester City nor Chelsea with their huge benefactors achieved the feat.

Celtic simply cannot afford to compete with such wealth– as can be seen by taking one look at the substitutes bench from Tuesday and comparing with Juventus. Celtic bring on £100,000 Tony Watt– whose star will rise and rise if he looks after himself– while Juve summon Anelka whose transfer fees alone would feed a small country.

At this level Celtic need a squad of far greater depth and quality than they have at the moment to be successful and that is not being disrespectful to the current playing staff– and that squad simply has to have a degree of experience to proceed further. Of course, there may be those who define “success” as something different to getting to European Finals– and I would not argue with them– but in terms of the rules of the competition ultimate success means winning and commercial success is measured against how far you get and the money brought in as a result.

The chap at the table next to me all those years ago went on to have a very good career elsewhere and no doubt gathered riches that were unimaginable to a wee boy who started kicking a ball about in a school yard. Mind you, the second man ( his agent ) also gathered great wealth as a result of negotiating moves for players– often being quoted as getting them contracts with headline figures that were far better than they could get in Scotland.

However, a number of years later, another man came to see me– and this time it was an official meeting in my office in Glasgow. He had played for and against one of the big Glasgow clubs in Europe and had a winners medal to his name to show for the experience.

Yet, what became clear, was that he had actually earned more money in Glasgow ( and there was no EBT or anything like that involved ) over a period of time than elsewhere in his career. He had experienced regular European football over a prolonged period and the money mounted up. He was not a top top earner but had more than done ok– in all sorts of ways.

All of the players who took to the field at Celtic Park will end up very rich men in comparative terms if they have a prolonged career in football. The question that they must face is at what level do they want to play? Over the next few years there is the real possibility of a very good Celtic side playing in Europe at an advanced level– who knows what changes in structure those years will bring and what doors could open to players and club alike.

Of course to take advantage of the possibilities you have to be in Europe and playing in Europe…. and it should be remembered that the majority of players in both the EPL and the Championship will never sample that experience let alone gather what one might describe as “the necessary experience” for the later stages of European Football

For many the nearest they will get to Europe……. is a coffee in an Italian restaurant..

 

 

 

 

 

 

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7 Responses to “Contract twists n turns— Europe and an Italian restaurant.”

  1. Dermot February 14, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    Here that’s good,I like that one..good stuff old yin

  2. Carl31 (@C4rl31) February 14, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    This is another enjoyable read.
    Thanks.

    This could be a very good Celtic side, but they do have limited weapons in their armoury.
    Man U played a different way v Real Madrid last night, and the ability of a team to do that is down to the capability they have to vary the way they play – either to counteract a threat, or to pose a new threat of their own.
    The Celtic team v Juve seemed limited in their threats, and did not cope well with Juve attacks. Thats down to depth, I guess, but more down to adaptability of the players.
    I dont think they are adaptable enough to make them top class, with the exception of Wanyama.

  3. John Mac February 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Another brilliant, thought provoking read. You should send your CV into the Daily Record. If you promise to reduce your word count and stop making well reasoned and well thought out arguments that make you really want to read right to the end even though you are running late, you might get hired…

    Thank God for the Bampots, we would find out nothing without you.

  4. settingfreethebears February 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Brogan…

    “What we saw from Juve players was the experience to play, disrupt, disturb and where necessary foul your way to what one might describe as an ugly victory. This is something I for one refuse to complain about– it is just a simple fact. Football at this level is for big boys– and not for wee boys to trifle with.”

    I cannot agree. There is much to admire about the Italian game but let’s not admire its dark underbelly or we will be rehabilitating Racing Club next.

    If we follow that direction, with admiration and aspiration to imitate, then football becomes a game of simulation too. There is nothing more morally acceptable about a forward diving under no contact than there is over a defender impeding someone illegally. The level of blocking and wrestling displayed by Juve last night WAS out of the ordinary, even for Italians.

    I watched some of the Juve group games. I saw AC perform too without any practices as blatant as last night. I am as competitive as they come but there are some standards to which I will not stoop.

    There is nothing “big boy” about this. More “small man” really, especially if the ref feels they are too big to police fairly, a problem that undermines society elsewhere in Italy from Berlusconi to the Camorra and ‘Ndrangheta

    • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan February 14, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

      SFTB

      Let me be clear, I am neither condoning, nor admiring the conduct of the Juventus players and I agree totally that the referee should have been stronger and should have taken action.

      What I am saying is that I am not going to complain. If I were Lennon I would complain. If I were the players on the pitch I would complain– but there is little point in you or I complaining.

      Further, Whether it be described as a big boys game, a man’s game or any other type of game the players have to have both the strength and guile to deal with it. Against the same team last time out, both Larsson and Sutton were vociferous and clever in how they pointed out what was going on and how they dealt with it. Both had more grown up guile than our forwards on the field the other night– and so they should have as they were older and more experienced.

      And that is my real point– you have to deal with these guys and let them no you will not stand for any messing and you have to be able to pressurise the referee at the right time.

      The referee was shocking– very poor— and we did complain— but it could have been done with greater guile and greater presence. That comes with experience.

      • settingfreethebears February 14, 2013 at 8:57 pm #

        I appreciate the clarification that you were not seeking to complain as a supporter. My initial reading was that there was an implication that Celtic would be showing a “wee boy’s” attitude by complaining.
        I still do not agree that Larsson & Sutton were any more vociferous than Hooper and Brown in attracting attention from the referee. The major difference was in the reception of that message not in the quality of its delivery.

      • Brogan Rogan Trevino and Hogan February 14, 2013 at 9:05 pm #

        I totally agree that the recipient was not nearly as receptive as he should have been and obviously not as receptive as the ref in the previous encounter.

        Anyway, I am still of the view at this level we need more and deeper experience than we have just now.

        HH

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