Man of principle whose pride was hurt by Chelsea

William Gallas' falling out with his club was fuelled by the frustration he felt at being underpaid and undervalued at Stamford Bridge, writes Jason Burt
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The Independent Football

When Claude Makelele chartered the luxury yacht Zoom Zoom Zoom for a month after this summer's World Cup he offered it to the Chelsea captain, John Terry, for a week and William Gallas for another seven days. Gallas, despite the pair's firm friendship, one that had hardened even further during the campaign in Germany, declined.

The French international, known as a man of principle, as well as an awkward customer, did not think it right that he took up such generous hospitality, given he had already decided to leave the Premiership champions. He had said his farewells to his team-mates in May following their title celebrations.

Gallas's mind was made up at the end of last season - even if Chelsea refused to believe him. Instead they chose to belittle him by dismissing his demands to leave as merely a bargaining ploy in his attempts to wring out the same stellar contracts enjoyed by Terry, Makelele - and more recently, and even more spectacularly, by Andrei Shevchenko and Michael Ballack.

Chelsea may well have been right. Gallas certainly felt underpaid and, therefore, under-valued. For him the two were inextricably linked and helped to explain why Chelsea's manager, Jose Mourinho, had deemed fit to switch him across the defence even though he craved to play in just one position.

Gallas rarely granted interviews, which is ironic given that it is comments attributed to him that have so provoked Chelsea's anger in the last few days. His last sit-down interview, with The Independent on Sunday in March, was his first in three years. But even then there were signs that he wanted to move on and that he yearned to be appreciated.

He spoke of his admiration for other leagues and how, if he came to leave Chelsea, it would be to Italy or Spain that he would turn - partly because that is where he believed the best defenders in the world played.

"I want to play in one position to give the maximum in my position and to show everybody," Gallas said. "Sometimes I hear that this player is the best or that is the best and I like the competition. I like to give the maximum and over the course of the year to be compared to another player. I want that."

Above all, he said, he wanted to be regarded as the best and, off the record, he added that it was mightily frustrating for him that, at Chelsea, he was not first-choice in any position. Bizarrely he said that the most galling thing for him was that he did not ever feature in anyone's team of the year come the season's end.

Money was important. As ever it plays its part and that is especially so in football. Gallas knew Terry earned close to £90,000 a week and was displeased that the five-year deal proffered by Chelsea would not place him in that bracket. Instead he would have had to settle for the not insubstantial delights of a £70,000-a-week pay packet.

But, from speaking to him at length, it is certainly plausible that his sporting reasons are more compelling, especially as Gallas, who joined Chelsea for £6.2m from Marseilles six years ago, believed he had served his time. It even came down, he said, to a matter of respect and, for such a proud man, not being granted his wish to leave meant he dug his heels in even more.

Indeed, during the summer he explored the possibility of testing new Fifa rules which appear to allow a player in the final year of his contract - Gallas's deal was due to run out in 2007 - to buy himself out. That provoked a withering response from Chelsea, who privately persuaded other clubs that it would be in no one's interests for a player to do such a thing and that it could lead to another "Bosman-style" shift in contracts.

More recently Mourinho has been rude about Gallas, especially after his pre-season no-show, saying his legs had grown heavy from all the running about he did during his holidays on his home island of Guadeloupe. That, too, helped to stiffen the player's resolve.

Maybe Gallas did make the threat to score an own goal, or not play to his ability or to get himself sent off deliberately. If he did then it was not only extraordinary but also disrespectful and hugely immature. Only Gallas and Mourinho probably know the truth of that - plus the context in which such comments were or were not made.

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