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Do modern footballers have too much power over clubs?

Do modern footballers have too much power over clubs?

With Diego Costa having finalised his move to Atlético Madrid, a transfer which he himself has forced through – are players starting to gain a newfound power capable of dictating when and where they want to play?

In January, the striker expressed his interest to leave the club, but Chelsea wanted to keep him for the season and now after months of speculation over the summer, the striker has secured a return to his former club. Chelsea manager Antonio Conte told Costa in pre-season that he was surplus to requirements and Chelsea’s star striker hasn’t been seen since.

The Spanish international was instrumental during last season’s campaign for Chelsea, scoring 20 goals to help them lift the title and this is part of the reason as to why he has decided to spend most of August in Brazil. Feeling that he was mistreated by Conte, Costa decided to take matters into his own hands, speaking to media and press about how he would only move to Atlético. Bids supposedly came through from the Chinese League and Chelsea wanted him to go but Costa refused, showing that in the world of modern football players seem to have more power than the club when it comes to where they want to end up playing.

We have had many examples of player power creating a huge impact on club decisions. During last season, Leicester City sacked Claudio Ranieri – a decision which shocked the footballing world. This was then made worse when it was claimed that key players such as Jamie Vardy and Kaspar Schmeichel had allegedly spoken to the chairman asking for him to be removed from his post.

There were also the examples of Virgil Van Dijk, Philippe Coutinho and Alexis Sanchez this summer, with all three wanting to transfer elsewhere but their clubs (Southampton, Liverpool and Arsenal respectively) all fought back, holding on to their players because they felt like they were too essential to let go. However, these players are now just starting to be in contention to play after various reasons for each of them not playing for their clubs for the first four game weeks.

It also now raises the question as to whether these players will perform at the highest level, with fans all knowing that they want to leave. So, in these situations, player power still seems to be a huge problem.

With today’s coverage of modern football, there always seems to be a problem where a player wants to move after hearing that a better club wants their signature. This causes a domino effect, leaving the club in sticky situations that they cannot control. Football chairmen now have a newfound problem which is getting bigger and bigger each transfer window and this problem doesn’t seem to have a solution.

Even though Costa wanted to leave, the way in which the whole situation has been dealt with is messy. If Chelsea could have kept him happy until they sold him he could have still been a key part to Chelsea’s season, but he is unsettled, so even if they wanted to play him, they wouldn’t have been able to because he wouldn’t turn up to training. This type of player power has been one of the strongest ones yet and shows that Diego Costa has not only evolved the way in which players will try and force a move but also shown how much power football players now have.

Will the Relentless Commercialisation of Sport Continue?

The monetisation of sport in the UK is hitting heights in 2016 that were scarcely conceivable just a few years ago.

Football has been revolutionised by the astronomical money that the Premier League TV deals have brought in. Cricket could be next, following a vote by English cricket counties that paves the way to the creation of an eight-team T20 Franchise competition that would be far more geared towards generating revenue.

The statistics are eye-watering. The summer transfer window outlay for Premier League clubs was an astounding £1.165 billion – breaking all previous records. The TV deal in place for the Premier League is worth an astonishing £10.4 billion. Manchester United recently recorded revenue of £515.3 million for 2016 – up from £395.2 million in 2015.

It seems that everyone is a winner in the world of football. Manchester United have the spending power to splash however much they want on whoever they want. Paul Pogba was signed for an incredible £89m – a world record. Pogba’s own £290,000-a-week wages make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. Even his agent, the erratic Mino Raiola, pocketed £20m from the Pogba deal alone.

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

Image courtesy of Carlos Chuqulllanqui on Flickr

The money set to change hands in cricket is dwarfed by the Premier League, with each country promised a measly £1.5 million a head in TV money – though it’s incredible to think that so much money seems a pittance. Yet consider the model that the English Cricket Board is looking to replicate – that of the Indian Premier League (IPL) and you realise the potential it has.

Cricket is the national sport of India, franchises are owned by celebrities, stadia fill out week-on-week and the biggest and best players are paid very handsomely for their participation. For this reason, it is nigh on impossible for the UK to emulate the IPL from a popularity perspective, or indeed for the money it generates.

The 2016 edition of the IPL was valued at over $4bn – a 19% jump from the previous year. Indeed, according to the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the 2015 edition of the IPL contributed $182m to the GDP of the Indian economy. This is all the more remarkable given that the IPL runs for just seven weeks.

The money available for players in endorsements is also spectacular – Indian legend MS Dhoni pulled in $23m from endorsements alone in 2016 – taking his overall yearly earnings to just shy of $30m.

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

Image courtesy of Windies Cricket on Flickr

If the English version of the Indian Premier League can generate anywhere near the level of interest that the IPL does (a tough task given that cricket is comparatively low down the pecking order in this country) the financial rewards for players are unprecedented. It’ll be tough, but if they get it right, sponsors will flock and with serious financial clout it could really take off.

What this all means is that there is now more riding on sport than ever before. Sport has been elevated from an entertainment and a past time to a full blown and very serious business enterprise.

Brands, marketers, influencers – everyone is going to continue to want a bigger slice of the Premier League pie and other sports are following suit.

Cricket will be particularly fascinating to observe, as the very format of the game is being changed to accommodate fans and create a more marketable brand. T20 is all about excitement and implementing a franchise system will also offer far more lucrative and enticing advertising, sponsorship and marketing opportunities. There is even talk of looking to use a major venue like the Olympic Stadium to host a match – imagine if it came off – making a success of such an event could have a seismic effect on the sport and catapult it back into the mainstream.olympic-stadium

And yet the flip side of this is the risk that is now attached to sporting ventures. There is so much money being poured into sport that a wrong slip can lead to disaster, we have seen examples of football clubs (think Leeds and Portsmouth) succumb to mismanagement of their finances. With more money changing hands than ever before, it is worth wondering considering how long it may be until such a situation arises again.

Reputations also matter more than ever before. With so much money invested in clubs and players, brands and sponsors want to know that their investment is getting the respect and return they feel it deserves. The margin for error is miniscule and the potential ramifications of any mistake are substantial.

There is more at stake for sporting brands than ever before, but what this brings is opportunity. Manchester United are evidence of how a brand alone can now pull in extraordinary revenue, regardless of on-pitch achievements. Whether it is sustainable or not in the longer term, it shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.

Leicester City: From the threat of relegation to the edge of glory in eight months

Image courtesy of Alex Hannam on Flickr

Image courtesy of Alex Hannam on Flickr

The Leicester City fairy-tale rolls on. Everyone said that they’d fade away, that Vardy or Mahrez would get injured, that the squad’s accumulative lack of experience would ultimately cost them England’s greatest footballing achievement. Yet none of these potentially derailing scenarios have come to fruition, and the Foxes sit atop of the pile, five points clear of Tottenham with just seven game weeks remaining. If they do go on and claim the club’s first Premier League title, there is no question that it would be regarded as the greatest footballing story ever known.

Exactly a year to the day, the Leicestershire side were bottom of the Premier League, six points adrift from safety and set for a return to English football’s second tier. However, a remarkable run of seven victories in their remaining nine games saw them comfortably steer clear of the dreaded drop to finish a credible fourteenth. Nigel Pearson, despite his somewhat questionable demeanour in the public eye, did a sterling job. It wasn’t enough to save him, however, and renowned Italian ‘tinker man’ Claudio Ranieri was entrusted with the formidable task of keeping the Foxes in the top tier.

Pre-season odds of 5000-1 to become champions reflected the widely thought belief that Leicester would again struggle, and even the few die-hard Leicester supporters who placed small sums on their beloved side to lift the title could not have possibly believed that they are on the verge of a handsome payday. Yet here we are, eight months later, with Leicester on the brink of the unthinkable.

The meteoric rise of Jamie Vardy from non-league to a Premier league record holder has been the story of the season, with even those in the glamorous film studios of Hollywood taking notice. A feature-length film is set to be made charting Vardy’s success, with his surreal season set to end in France, representing England in the upcoming European Championships. As well as Vardy, it is another relatively unknown player who has made Leicester’s unlikely season possible. Algerian Riyad Mahrez had played in England for two years before this fantastic campaign. Prior to the 15/16 season, Mahrez had just 7 goals in over 50 games for the club. This year, he has 16 goals and 11 assists and is being linked with a move to European giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Whereas Vardy and Mahrez have undoubtedly been Leicester’s two greatest performers this year, it is the work of the entire squad that has propelled them to the top. There are no egos such as Cristiano Ronaldo amongst this group of players. Not one considers himself too big for the club, and the unity between them is evident and a breath of fresh air.

It is not just the players that deserve credit however. Claudio Ranieri, one of the most experienced managers in the world of football, is on the verge of what would be his finest footballing achievement. The Italian, who has managed 16 clubs across Europe without one single league title, was considered a risk when he was appointed, with pundits and fans reacting in a mixed fashion. Yet Ranieri has proved many wrong with his heroics, playing an attractive brand of football as well as being defensively solid.

Ranieri has handled himself brilliantly, unnervingly composed in face of pressure created by the media, and managing to temper expectations by creating self-confidence amongst the players and a conviction in the team’s abilities. He knows when to put his arm over the shoulder and when to shout, proving himself both technically and psychologically. As a neutral, you can’t help but feel emotionally disposed towards him.  If Ranieri goes on to lead Leicester to the title it’ll surely be the greatest managerial feat in modern football.

Gary Lineker reacts to Ranieri's appointment on Twitter

Foxes Legend Gary Lineker reacts to Ranieri’s appointment on Twitter

Even if Leicester do not go on and win the title, it has been an incredible journey. They are all but guaranteed a place in next season’s leading European competition, and if you told Leicester fans at the start of this season that the likes of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez or Neymar could be gracing the turf of the King Power come the 16/17 campaign, they’d never have believed you. From a business perspective, this season has propelled the club’s image into the top echelons of the footballing world, with supporters globally enthralled by the unlikely underdog story and buying into the ‘brand’ that Leicester City have become.

It is very important to stress that the title is far from won. Ranieri’s men still have a considerable amount of work to do before they can be crowned champions. Leicester must face four teams currently in the top 10, as well as Sunderland and Swansea who are scrapping for their lives at the foot of the table. An away day at Old Trafford will be tough, and can you imagine the story if, on the final day, Leicester face reigning champions Chelsea at Stamford Bridge needing three points for the title? What greater incentive would Ranieri, sacked as Chelsea manager in 2004, have to win the championship at his former club in front of the Russian oligarch that brutally axed him as manager of the London club?

Each win sees an influx of belief and a ramping up of the pressure, but they have proved they can cope thus far. They have coped with the pressure well to this point, and with their closest rivals facing some tricky upcoming fixtures, Leicester will ultimately cross the line victorious. Whisper it quietly, but Leicester City are going to win the Premier League.

More of our football stars should have media training

Reputation PR football The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of Metropolitan Transportation on Flickr’

Super Bowl XLVIII will soon be here, following all the build-up, showmanship and usual interest in the half-time show.

This year’s match-up is between the Denver Broncos and the Seattle Seahawks, and it is billed thus: Irresistible Force vs Immovable Object.

The Broncos has the best offence in the NFL, the Seahawks the most brutish defence. For those who enjoy American Football, it should be utterly compelling.

If you have ever been in the US when the Super Bowl is on, you ‘ll know it is a fantastic event, even just to watch on TV while you’re there.

I was once lucky enough to be in the US in the weeks prior to the big game and caught a lot of the build-up.

What stuck in my mind was not so much the fantastic game, but a performance I saw the New England Patriot’s star Quarter Back Tom Brady give.

Brilliant Brady

The brilliant Brady predictably ended up being named the MVP in the game as his Patriot’s narrowly triumphed over the Carolina Panthers (it was the Super Bowl also known for Justin Timberlake being party to Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction in the half-time show).  Brady has been a force in American Football and is one of only two QBs to lead their teams to five Super Bowls (the other being John Elway).

But it wasn’t his performance in the game to which I am referring, but a press conference he gave in the days before.

I remember watching the TV as he sat on a top table, facing a pack of sports journalists, not only from around the USA but the world.

Brady sat there alone, no press officer or PR man in sight (unlike the army of aides Premier League stars have on hand when they are facing the media).

Tom brady The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of WEBN-TV on Flickr’

Flying solo, he handled question after question with aplomb. He engaged in tactical discussion, faced the tough questions head-on, spoke his mind and was able to share light-hearted moments with the media.

It was nothing short of fantastic.

When I compare that to the way our footballers deal with the media, it really puts us to shame. Not just the players but as a nation.

Brady’s chat was cliché free, comfortable, and more importantly, confident. Most footballers stumble over their words with sentences littered with well-known but forever dull football parlance. Less a game of two-halves, more a tale of two very different cultures.

For a more in-depth look at how the NFL differs in the way it treats the media and is actually written into contracts, you can read this excellent Football Writers’ Association blog here.

Media Obligations

The thought of players being obliged to speak to the media is outlandish here in the UK. Sure, there are obligations which come with TV rights etc, but the system in the States is far superior, certainly from a fans’ point of view.

Some would point to the fact that Americans, as a people, are just far better than we Brits when it comes to talking. That is no slight on either us or them.

The FWA blog rightly points out the college system in the US. Not only does this expose players to the media, but while they are learning their sporting trade, they are continuing with an education.

Most football players in the UK are plucked from school as teenagers before signing pro forms when they are 17 or 18.

Media Training

NFL Logo, Reputation PR The PHA Group

‘Image courtesy of C_osett on Flickr’

But when it comes to sports stars, the fact that the NFL players are media trained is a huge factor.

It means they are equally comfortable in front of a camera or a reporters’ Dictaphone. They can handle most things which are thrown at them.

Fans might say they do not want their heroes coming across as too polished as it means they are not being themselves. In fact, one Premier League club’s media head honcho once told me that he didn’t media train his club’s players because they preferred them to give ‘organic’ interviews.

I beg to differ. Media training actually helps those who receive it – be it a top football player, a company CEO or a charity campaigner – be themselves. It gives them the tools to be confident enough to make their point naturally, to not stumble over words, to take a positive role in interviews rather than being lead through them. Interviewees are not being themselves and are certainly not communicating properly when they are getting in a nervous muddle.

It is true that some players are naturally better than others at speaking to the media. Some already have an eye on a job in the media after they finish playing and Gary Neville and Lee Dixon, in particular, have shown how to take punditry to the next level.  David Beckham’s whole image improved at around the same time he got better at handling interviews.

Making comparisons with a super-star like Tom Brady is tough on anyone, but there has to be a yardstick.

Often with the media, you get one chance to shine.

Leaving dealing with TV, magazines and newspapers to chance really isn’t an option.  A footballers’ coaching should also include media training.