James Lawton: Moyes' predicament shows why a salary cap is not such a mad idea

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The Independent Online

The idea may cause a certain amount of outrage inside these football borders but there is someone willing to give us the definitive analysis of the strange and disturbing case of Joleon Lescott.

He is the much reviled, former football genius Michael Platini.

He might just be able to draw a practical line between the rage of Everton manager David Moyes that his season has perhaps been irreparably sabotaged by the Manchester City belief that they can merely reach for their chequebook and summon a key player of a less wealthy rival – and the player's legitimate belief that, like most everyone else in the land, he has the right to accept the best available offer for skills he will enjoy only for a relatively brief phase of his life.

But then who is this paragon of wisdom capable of shedding some light on a problem that was solved only theoretically more than half a century ago when the fine England player George Eastham went to court and persuaded a judge that he and his fellow pros effectively had the status of slaves; and that if he chose to play for Arsenal rather than Newcastle United it was entirely his prerogative?

It indeed might be Platini, the president of Uefa and a former player of Juventus and France of magnificent vision, whose arguments for some form of salary-capping are beginning to look a little less worthy of Premier League scorn with each day of the new season.

Salary-capping is nonsense, an unwanted restraint on the thrilling exercise of power and wealth, Platini has been told. He must let the market always find its own level, even if it means clubs like Leeds United and Portsmouth can spend their way to the verge of oblivion and one like Everton, which with the help of Moyes' extraordinary ability to draw the best from the players he has, has operated with success for so long way beyond its financial means.

Yes, the North Americans do salary-capping with conspicuous skill but that is a different world with a different structure of player recruitment, Platini has also been told, along with the suggestion that he is the sworn enemy of English football. Here the rich must be allowed to enforce their rights and their advantages, even if the first victim is any sense at all of genuine competition beyond a few mega-rich clubs.

Such advocates should have been at Goodison Park last weekend when Everton, a few months earlier the proudly defiant opponents of oligarch-fuelled Chelsea in the FA Cup final, having conquered Liverpool en route, were scarcely recognisable, and least of all one of their most important players, Lescott. Moyes, beaten 6-1 by Arsenal, received the sympathy of Arsène Wenger, who had just sold Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Touré to City, and agreed that when wealthier clubs publicly coveted your best players it was "very difficult".

Moyes, as we have seen these last few days, was utterly inconsolable.

His decision to drop Lescott, to order that he trained on his own as though he was the carrier of some terrible contagion that threatened every aspect of the team's future, is troubling because it represents a collapse of the understanding that while managers know the financial realities of the game, and may hate them, they are required to get on with business.

Moyes has turned his back on that proposition. He has gone public with his belief that both Lescott's head and his heart have been turned by the City overtures and, heaven knows, it is not difficult to sympathise with his position.

Yet even as Moyes rails against the temporary spoiling of a player he has nurtured so brilliantly since his signing from Wolves, he does not exactly lose sight of the bottom line from which City refuse to stray. Every player has a price and Lescott's is, according to the manager, £30m – or £25m more than Everton paid for him.

The possibility of such profit makes the apparent self-orientation of Lescott somewhat less outrageous, perhaps, or at least hardly unique. John Terry, lauded as a supreme loyalist at Stamford Bridge, did not instantly and publicly dampen City's interest. He left himself plenty of negotiation time with employers willing to improve a contract that some would say was already generous to the point of fantasy.

What the man in the street, and no doubt many Everton fans, will struggle to grasp is how it is that a professional like Lescott can, allegedly, abandon even for a little while those qualities which made him so desirable in the first place.

It is a stinging commentary on football's current value system that a player, who may trot out the risible claim that his principal objective is always to pursue the great trophies of the game, can apparently become so swiftly separated from the need to get on with his job at the first sniff of a dramatically improved contract.

For City manager Mark Hughes, who in his own day was a player of notable and consistent commitment, there may be just be a little worry that while he is assembling talent of a high order, he may not be investing quite so obviously in a dressing room where loyalty to the cause is the most obvious driving force.

When Robinho signed, for example, there was the distinct impression that he had been more interested in the colour of his new club's money than their light-blue shirts. After his first full and largely brilliant season at Arsenal, Adebayor made it clear enough that his horizons stretched somewhat further than the Emirates. This is not so surprising, it might not even be particularly reprehensible, in the world that English football has created for itself. It is one, after all, where money has become the point of relentless focus.

Maybe Moyes and Everton will become strong again at this broken place. Perhaps Everton will get their price, Lescott his dream, and the fans will be buoyed by the fact that teenager Jack Rodwell's two goals in the Europa League on Thursday, show that there may indeed be life after the departure of a player who, when you really thought about it, had made it to the England team without ever suggesting he was the reincarnation of Bobby Moore.

However, English football cannot afford to forget quickly an episode which has highlighted, perhaps as never before, an inherent failure to understand what any kind of league should prize most. It is the integrity of its competition. At the very least we can hope that the next time Michel Platini speaks he isn't automatically shouted down.

Love of rugby runs deeper than blood and mud-slinging

The extent of rugby union's denial that it is confronting some profound moral problems is becoming an increasing obvious.

One extreme example this week was former England captain Will Carling's defence of his former England team-mate and friend Dean Richards, banned for three years after being found guilty of systematic cheating. To be fair to Carling, like Richards a superb competitor, he owned up to the fact that he was defending a friend and not his crime. He came to praise the best of Richards, not to bury him.

More disturbing is some of the reactions of the rugby rank and file. One of many hostile responses to criticisms of Bloodgate included a somewhat barbed invitation to Hastings and Bexhill rugby club, where apparently some feel comments in this quarter have been provoked by terrible humiliations on the rugby field and that there is a pressing need for some remedial treatment.

There were a few of those separations from natural dignity, no doubt, but happily they didn't prevent my biking six miles, mostly uphill, twice a week for practice at the local club – or cause me ever to stop loving a game inhabited by some of the finest men I have ever known, including Gareth Edwards, Barry John and Roger Uttley.

This is perhaps the key to rugby's problem – too many within the game believe it is impossible to love something while at the same hating that which most threatens its existence as a front-rank, well respected professional sport.

United fret without Ronaldo to strut his stuff

We can debate as long as we like the pros and cons of Cristiano Ronaldo's departure from Manchester United, but those of us who long criticised some aspects of his game and his personality are bound to recognise the moment when he was most missed.

It was at Burnley the other night when Michael Carrick stepped up to take a penalty. Ronaldo almost invariably consumed such moments.

Carrick looked as if he had been summoned to the scaffold. He needs to believe in himself a little more – as do the entire team, now that Ronaldo is no longer around to do everyone's strutting for them.

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