DES KELLY: Would you turn down a fortune?
This item could come as something of a shock. In fact, it might be an idea to have a vial of smelling salts handy before you read on, just in case what I have to say causes you to swoon and become thoroughly discombobulated. It's bad news. The word is a number of professional footballers out there not only earn a considerable amount of money, but actually have the temerity to embrace this wealth, too. What's more, many will switch clubs if they are presented with a chance to double their salary for wearing a different colour shirt. Traitors, eh? Judases. How dare they treat their professional career as a job? Look at that Gareth Barry. He left Aston Villa after 11 years and fled to Manchester City, a club that handed him a contract worth twice as much as he was previously earning. Instead of rejecting the £130,000 a week on the table, this greedy ingrate couldn't wait to sign on the dotted line, thereby proving, according to the prevailing wisdom, that he lacked ambition, was disloyal and greedy. If he wanted honours, we were told, he should have gone to Liverpool, a club that toasted Manchester United's Champions League demise with a large glass of Cabernet Empty; a club about to stage a fire-sale because they are being run by the Premier League's equivalent of Steptoe and Son. Others were aghast that Barry didn't remain at Villa, an institution that had decorated his mantelpiece with a solitary InterToto Cup medal in 11 years and then signalled their ambition by throwing away the chance of winning a UEFA Cup in order to clinch sixth in the table. They give out medals for sixth, right? He was inevitably accused of betrayal. Fans that would not hesitate to run him out of town if he dared to have three bad games in a row complained loudly about the fickle attitude and disloyalty of an employee who had racked up more than a decade of solid service. Some Villa fans said it with pictures, spray-painting pound note signs on the player's poster outside the ground (although I'd guess Barry knows what they look like by now). Quite right, the greedy sod. Because you'd never catch a postman, mechanic or office worker switching jobs to double his money would you? Oh, hang on. It's all nonsense. What a bizarre and contradictory attitude football has to money and success. Supporters roll out the red carpet and celebrate loudly when a foreign billionaire lands a helicopter on the centre circle and starts spraying around a tiny fraction of his accumulated wealth. It doesn't matter if he earned that cash whacking up tower blocks in the desert with slave labour imported from the Indian subcontinent, by siphoning off government funds somewhere in the Far East, or sucking oil out of some frozen tundra with workers existing on a pittance. Who cares, they say? He might sign Kaka! But throw some of that cash in the direction of the people this entire circus revolves around - the players - and all hell breaks loose. It becomes a moral issue. How dare these people earn so much? It has reached the stage where even managers profess to feel guilty. Donning his cashmere hair shirt, Spurs boss Harry Redknapp said: 'While I benefit from a good wage, I'm embarrassed about it to be honest. A lot of people in football are embarrassed.' It's a nice sound bite from a nice bloke, but who's really embarrassed? If a manager can move clubs in pursuit of better wages, a bigger transfer kitty and shorter odds in the scramble for honours (just for argument's sake, let's say from a club like Portsmouth to Tottenham) then why shouldn't players do the same? If Redknapp wants to wring his hands in dismay at the financial excesses in the game, maybe he should consider the case of a club that spent £50million, hustled 27 players and two managers in and out of the door, and yet achieved nothing except preserve their top flight status. Well done, Spurs. Every single day there are people earning wages far in excess of their talent. (No need to write in). Every single day there are good folk who earn considerably less than they truly deserve from their professions. I fail to see why footballers alone should be made to feel guilty about it. I have yet to see editorials demanding pop star salaries should be capped, or that Hollywood actors should be compelled to make mandatory payments to charity. Britney Spears puts aside her burgers, drugs and babies for long enough to wriggle on stage and mime in synch to some backing track and everyone says, 'well done girl for entertaining us all', have a few million quid. Try arguing that Cristiano Ronaldo deserves whatever money he can glean from the game by brightening up our lives every week and you are accused of contributing to the collapse of society. Who cares if Ronaldo's profile and performances have helped United secure the most lucrative shirt deal in British football history? It's a disgrace that he might want more money! Glean from the game: It's a disgrace that Ronaldo might want more money! Obviously, Villa fans will find it infuriating to see Barry scarper to City. He has been with them for years and developed into an international player of some quality. No doubt it is galling for the Holte End to see such talent whisked away by a wealthy Arab with a cheque book. Much as it was, no doubt, for Wigan fans when Emile Heskey disappeared to Villa midway through this campaign thanks to American Randy Lerner's cash. Supporters like to think players share the passion they feel and that they have the team's name branded on their soul. But the truth is most have about as much affinity with the badge they kiss as they do with the name of sponsor underneath. True fans make a lifelong commitment to one club and stick with it. But for players it's a job and they have the same regard for their manager as you do for your boss and the same relationship with the club as you do with your clients or customers. Barry has made a business decision. He is speculating he can not only earn more but also win more at City than he could at Villa or Liverpool. And right now, you would have to say he is probably the only one who has nothing to feel embarrassed about.
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