Chris McGrath: Time to forgive Mido after his grand gesture
Striker's £1,000-a-week deal with West Ham shows us not all players are mercenaries
Wednesday 03 February 2010
So that's what they mean by a salary cap. Your new striker takes it off his head when he gets to the tube station, and goes round collecting his salary in it.
Mido being Mido, of course, there will be plenty who reckon his agent deserves a bonus for finding anyone prepared to pay him even a grand a week. West Ham, who signed him on loan on the final day of the transfer window, are the 10th club to take a chance on the Egyptian over the past decade. His career has been full of fluctuations, not least in his waistline, but David Sullivan is nonetheless entitled to claim his signature – at £1,000 a week – as "one of the most amazing deals of all time".
In fairness, as West Ham's joint-owner also noted, "Mido is a rich boy, even though he is still only 26." And it seems safe to assume that he will have secured various bonuses, contingent on appearances or performance. Even so, it has come to something when – as must be the case, given the cost of tickets – appreciable numbers in the stand are taking home a better basic wage than a Premier League centre-forward.
No wonder Ruud van Nistelrooy and Eidur Gudjohnsen snubbed West Ham. Doubtless Benni McCarthy, who has also arrived at Upton Park, is poring anxiously over the small print of a contract reportedly worth £38,000 a week. But Mido says he is here to prove a point, and it is not a decimal one. Officially still on the books at Middlesbrough, he was banished to Wigan last season and then back to his homeland, to El Zamalek. Now he has resolved to show a sceptical public that not all footballers are mercenaries.
He is certainly entitled to be received in good faith by those West Ham fans who once required their manager at the time, Alan Pardew, to apologise to Mido for their xenophobic chanting, back in his Tottenham days. For here, on the face of it, is a bloke who just wants to play football – at any price.
Undeniably, it is difficult now to see Mido – fractious, disaffected, indolent – as some kind of exemplar. Until now he has always seemed a commuter on the gravy train, the man who put the roly-poly into role model.
But he apparently looks pretty trim at the moment. And to that extent, the Premier League could hardly have made a more vivid expression of its new, belt-tightening culture. For Mido's contract, like some smeared, improvised putty, sealed the transfer window that allowed an icy new draught into the game. For it is reckless wages, as much as transfer fees, that have opened the abyss for clubs like Portsmouth. Smaller clubs, of course, get far less slack than Manchester United or Liverpool. But it is the monstrous debts vested in the big "brands" that set the going rate for everyone, both in fees and wages.
This was the transfer window when clubs accepted they need to stop borrowing money, and start borrowing players instead. They must be kicking themselves at Pompey, to see relegation rivals paying a striker £52,000 p.a. But it is not as if the skewed economics of football are suddenly going to be corrected by Mido.
After all, the house of cards is ultimately held together not by the players, or the clubs, but by you and me. Fans profess revulsion for "obscene" wages, but are prepared to fork out commensurate sums for replica shirts or satellite subscriptions.
Moreover, we take unmistakable relish in our relationship with these undeserving millionaires. They do not "earn" their money in any way a nurse or teacher might comprehend. It helps, then, if Ashley Cole swerves off the road in disgust, yelping "55K!" It helps, come to that, if John Terry leaves his Bentley in a disabled parking zone, or indeed parks other things in places they don't belong.
Imagine if everybody were made to accept the reality that many elite footballers are pleasant, decent family men. Mido may not have made too many friends in the game, so far, but that makes him the ideal author of a heroic gesture like this. For we have made a Mephistophelian pact with football. For all its moral imperfections, our infatuation is helpless. And that, it is only fair to recognise, must be no less true of Mido himself.
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