James Lawton: United and Saha take advantage of game's lost morals

Frenchman's controversial move from Fulham to Old Trafford highlights football's lax rules over transfers and lack of respect for contracts

You could rail all day against the business methods of Manchester United and the lack of honour shown by their new signing, Louis Saha. On the other hand you might just say: "So what?" A brewery, after all, is not the best place to argue the virtues of abstinence; no more than today's football is fertile ground for the debating of right and wrong.

The behaviour of Saha and United is not exactly a new outrage. It is simply the way it has been going for the best part of 10 years.

We were surely reminded of this the other day when Stan Collymore, of all people, was asked, while chairing a radio discussion (sic), what he thought about Saha's conduct.

Stan's stance was somewhat evasive, but then what else could it be? Remember the antics he produced back in 1995 while contriving a move to Liverpool from Nottingham Forest, a transaction which should be engraved on the football headstone of the buying manager, Roy Evans? Collymore made it abundantly clear that he was crazy for the move to Anfield, for the usual reasons, of course. He wanted to expand his horizons, win trophies with a big club. And this passion, he conveyed on and off the pitch, meant that his feelings for Forest had dwindled to zero. His lack of enthusiasm for the cause was so pronounced that when he happened to score a goal - something he could do, when the mood took him, quite stupendously - his team-mates refused to join in the celebrations.

The move duly happened - it was as inexorable as Saha's to Old Trafford - but not before a development that stunned the Forest manager, Frank Clark. Collymore demanded a five per cent cut of the record £8.5m transfer fee on the basis that he had not asked, formally, to move.

Clark, who had fought hard to keep a superb talent, was outraged, and in the ensuing controversy one old pro, John Giles, in his Daily Express column, voiced the opinion that maybe the new generation of hugely rewarded players might just profit from a glance in the mirror. For his sentiment, Giles received through the mail a curt note from the Professional Footballers' Association - and a benefits claim form, which was thrown into the nearest bin with some contempt.

Collymore, whose new deal at Anfield paid him £10,000 a week, lost his appeal at a tribunal. Paul Stretford, Collymore's agent, said they would go away and think about the verdict.

It was at Nottingham that the much-travelled Pierre van Hooijdonk made his contribution to the shaping of football's working morality. He refused to honour the terms of his contract with Forest, who at the time were fighting against massive odds to stay in the Premiership.

If their circumstances had been different, they might have been tempted to let Van Hooijdonk rot in his inactivity. Instead, Van Hooijdonk got his move, and an appeal by the Forest manager, Dave Bassett, that the Premiership should set up a fighting fund so that clubs could in future stand against such blatant blackmail having been greeted with thunderous silence.

So that was some of the groundwork which went into Saha's rejection of even a hint of loyalty to the Fulham club which had brought him from the relative obscurity of Metz, to where he was returned by Newcastle United after a loan stint, and given him a spectacular pay rise. Saha said that Fulham's reluctance to sell him to United was base ingratitude. There had been no appreciation of what he had achieved for the club. A bizarrely one-eyed view of events? No doubt, but who is most to blame? The grabbing players? Or the amoral clubs?

Sir Alex Ferguson has got his way - again. He and Manchester United do as they please, which is why any upbraiding of Saha seems so futile. If football wants its clubs and players to behave with decency, if it wants to check the decline into irredeemably rapacious greed and self-interest, it has to start to make a few enforceable rules. It has to say that contracts mean something. It has to stamp on poaching and enticement. It has got to look at the role of agents.

Indeed, it is at times like this that everybody concerned needs to remind themselves of the precise meaning of the word "league". The Collins Concise Dictionary offers "an association or union of persons, nations etc, formed to promote the interests of its members". That may have been the definition that buzzed at the back of Dave Bassett's brain when he made the revolutionary suggestion that the rich should work to help the poor, for everyone's long-term benefit. Looking back, he probably feels it would have been as profitable to yell at the moon.

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister
TVSPOILER ALERT: It's all coming together as series returns to form
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvName confirmed for third series
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
art
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine