James Lawton: Cash is King when future of a fallen footballer hangs in the balance

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The Independent Football

Wigan Athletic chairman and benefactor Dave Whelan shouldn't take this personally but he may find that the moral outrage which prompted him to instantly sack his newly imprisoned striker Marlon King has not automatically made him the white knight of football.

Rather he should know that if such a title exists it is not a likely reward for a gesture which will inevitably provoke considerable cynicism.

The most relevant point is that the 29-year-old King, sentenced to 18 months for an attack on a young woman he had sexually molested in a Soho nightclub, currently has negligible re-sale value, certainly not enough to warrant his continued attachment to a Premier League club who frequently announce their status as a family entertainment. However, the ensuing question is inevitable: if the player, who cost Wigan £5m when he moved from Watford in January last year, had retained any kind of significant value would his contract have been so promptly torn up?

Precedent in football says not. The Joey Barton case provides one unavoidable example. Newcastle United had every reason except an economic one to say that Barton had forfeited his right to wear what once were among the proudest colours in the English game but it was not until the arrival of Alan Shearer's brief tenure that anything approaching a moral issue was raised.

The club's position was unequivocal when they announced he would return to the team. They were offering their player redemption. They were getting something in return for some rather extravagant wages. They were also noting that among clubs desperate to stay in the top flight Barton, for all his crimes, still carried considerable market value.

For some it seemed an even clearer issue when John Hartson, then with West Ham, kicked his team-mate Eyal Berkovic in the face while he was in a kneeling position. Suggestions that the club of Bobby Moore and Sir Geoff Hurst might want to immediately cut their connection with Hartson were, upon reflection naturally enough, greeted with derision.

Hartson may have behaved in a way shocking enough to have mocked the club's traditions but he was was a big, useful striker who had achieved, along with his new notoriety, an enviable reputation for unnerving defences. Tear up his contract? Instead, West Ham bided their time and sold him to Celtic for £6m.

Whelan was in no mood for such compromise, however, when he declared, "The moment I heard he'd [King] got 18 months I said, 'That's it – he's out. Sacked. Completely finished'. I always questioned whether he put his heart and soul into football. I regret the day we ever signed him. We sent him out on loan and tried to off-load him, which tells you what I thought of him."

What it doesn't tell us, well at least not explicitly, is precisely at what point Whelan, a pillar of his community, concluded that he had an overwhelming urge to wash his hands of a footballer who already had a long list of criminal offences. There were 13 of them in all, including two convictions for common assault after chasing two women through the streets with a buckle and belt wrapped around his fist. Three years later he was fined for slapping and spitting at a woman. All we know is that somewhere along the line, and it may, let's be realistic, have been the moment King was sentenced this week, Whelan's instinct for discarding the player within the game he prized so much turned into a overwhelming urge to get out a bowl of water and a bar of soap and damn the financial implications.

Sports lawyers Christopher Syder and James Pike of the firm Davies Arnold Cooper, certainly offer us a view that is helpfully stripped of all but the legal and financial realities.

They say, "The Premier League's mandatory employment contract provides that the contract can be terminated on the grounds of gross misconduct providing the player is given 14 days' notice. Wigan could otherwise terminate it on the grounds that the contract is frustrated because he is now unable to perform his obligations under it.

"Wigan are treating King differently from some other footballers in the past. Joey Barton was kept on by Newcastle but he was a younger player of considerable transfer value who Newcastle would not want to release for nothing. Arsenal stood by Tony Adams when he received a custodial sentence for drink driving. However, he was the lynchpin of their defence – an inspirational figure who was also of considerable transfer value.

"King, however, is 29, on the fringes of the first team and has more than 18 months left to run on his contract. While Wigan paid £5m for his services he is unlikely to command a transfer fee at that level now, even if his sentence was quashed overnight. Therefore, commercial pressures point towards Wigan lawfully terminating his contract rather than standing by him because they will not recoup his wages from a subsequent transfer."

Ah, commercial pressures, they rarely linger long below the surface of what passes for football morality these days, do they? Meanwhile Big Sam Allardyce at Blackburn tells us that the King case is one in "isolation" and that only the other day he told Professional Footballers' Association chief executive Gordon Taylor that he should get out the word on quite how much charity work his members get through.

King's agent, Tony Finnigan, provides still another perspective, saying, "I don't want to name names but there are lots of players in this country who have fallen short of the law, done their crime, done their time and come out. I'm sure if you're sitting in a six-by-six you do have time to reflect on the changes you make as a person. Marlon King will be signed by another club when his sentence is finished."

Of course he is right – just so long as the numbers make sense.

Capello's serious approach to friendlies does England proud

Undaunted in his genius for seeing every issue entirely from his own perspective, Sir Alex Ferguson now declares that there is no point in England playing friendly internationals, especially in the middle of the desert, as they propose to do against Brazil next month.

Certainly there is no advantage to Manchester United, quite the opposite as the match is sandwiched between vital club matches.

However, England boss Fabio Capello will no doubt appreciate the time he gets with the players who will be at the centre of the nation's World Cup hopes in South Africa next summer. The Italian has already made clear his feelings about the value of non-competitive games and the insights they provide, up close, into the character and the talent of the players in whom he has to put his faith – or not – at the climax of a so far impressive World Cup campaign.

Unlike his predecessors Sven Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren, Capello uses friendlies not as some bizarre excursion for his Senior Boys club but as the classic building blocks of a real team. He hoards his time, every minute, and who can say that England are not an immeasurably better outfit for it.

Vaughan's stock falls after cheap shot at Trott

Michael Vaughan was a brilliant captain of England's cricket team but the image of a mature, hard-headed competitor lost considerable ground when his autobiography stumbled into cheap criticism of one of the most decisive contributors to last summer's Ashes success.

The Cape Town-born Jonathan Trott, who scored a superb efficient century at The Oval, is understandably indignant at Vaughan's claims that his congratulating of old friend Paul Harris after South Africa's victory over England at Edgbaston last year was somehow a betrayal of his adopted country.

"There were no high-fives," insisted Trott. "I was just saying 'well done' to a friend."

Still, Vaughan trundles on with his theory that what Trott did provided fresh evidence of the deterioration of the meaning of modern English Test cricket. It is nonsense. If we are going to have foreign-bred players like Trott, and the realities of England's currently available talent suggests we must, surely it is best that we have tough and able ones who also remember some of the old imperatives of sport, including good sportsmanship.

All in all Trott comes across as a thoroughly grown up, top-class performer. On this occasion, Vaughan doesn't make the same impression. He appears either desperate for a headline to help book sales – or just plain wet.

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