Arsenal had a wages policy that worked under Graham. It was a valiant attempt at holding back the rising tide of lunacy

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The Independent Online
A favourite among football anecdotes concerns negotiations that took place in Turin more than 30 years ago after Internazionale announced the purchase of an outstanding Spanish international, Luis Suarez, from Barcelona.

Indignant to discover that Suarez's salary surpassed his own, Omar Sivori, of Juventus, demanded an audience with the club's president, the Fiat magnate, Umberto Agnelli. "I want to see my contract," he growled. Upon being handed the document Sivori tore it in half. "It's an insult," he said. "You have said that I am the best inside-forward in Italy but Suarez is getting more money." Waiting for Sivori's anger to subside, Agnelli handed over improved terms. "Your new contract," he smiled.

The crazy escalation in transfer fees and wages and various pernicious influences make it probable that similar scenes will become commonplace in English football especially when the differential is confined to one dressing-room.

For example, news of the deal Arsenal struck with David Platt, said to be in excess of pounds 700,000 annually, must have brought a wry smile to the face of their former manager, George Graham, who was yesterday found guilty of misconduct by the Football Association.

If, during a period of great success, Graham did nothing to discourage the notion of a stubbornly parsimonious Scot, he was always subject to the wage structure laid down by his directors. To put to them the sort of deals Arsenal have now agreed with Dennis Bergkamp and Platt would probably have led to the suggestion that he spend some time under sedation in a dark, quiet room.

A good question is whether Arsenal have changed step on the advice of Graham's successor, Bruce Rioch, or that the more glamourously minded of their directors have simply got caught up in the stampede. If it is the latter who will be held culpable by Arsenal's supporters if things don't work as well as they imagine?

This brings us to the matter of harmony. Form cannot be guaranteed but when risking a wage differential one of the things managers need to be sure about is that the highest paid will set an example in play and preparation. If not they are asking for trouble.

Going back to Suarez, this was an important factor when Inter's renowned coach, Hellenio Herrera, advised his purchase from Barcelona. "I knew that not only were we getting a great player but one who would uncomplainingly do everything that was asked of him."

Born cynics, footballers sense a flawed attitude quicker than it takes Linford Christie to cover 100 metres. Thus the enthusiasm Jurgen Klinsmann displayed immediately on joining Tottenham Hotspur as their highest-paid player at the begining of last season was crucial to acceptance in the dressing-room.

Even when English footballers were held under a scandalously anachronistic maximum wage some first-team players were better paid than others and all had to accept a drop during the close season. Finding this unfair, one complained bitterly to his manager about an international's superior summer salary. "He's better paid because he's a better player," the manager said brusquely. "Not in the summer he isn't," came the reply.

Recently, I fell into conversation with a player much admired in the Premiership who was put out to discover that the salary he negotiated on renewal of his contract fell considerably short of that being paid to his club's latest signing. Not inclined to be philosophical he was seeking an adjustment. A rift in the offing.

The question of who gets what in football is not new but it creates more and more problems particularly when long-established players of great repute are affected.

Sometimes a sensible adjustment is necessary. This was precisely the case some years when the late Don Revie sent for Jack Charlton after signing Allan Clarke for Leeds United. On the basis of achievement and service Charlton had been the club's highest earner. "I know what's going on in your mind," Revie said, "so I'm increasing your wages accordingly."

As salaries spiral, in a majority of cases out of all proportion to ability, this is the dilemma that confronts all managers.

Arsenal had a policy that appeared to work while Graham was winning five major trophies. It was a valiant attempt at holding back the rising tide of lunacy. Despite the excitement raised in recent weeks will they come to rue the alternative?

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