The Peter Corrigan Column: Why Bowyer must go to Bruce's reform school

Click to follow
The Independent Online

If Malcolm Glazer had a fraction of Lee Bowyer's sensitivity he would not now be imposing his version of sporting capitalism on Manchester United. Tens of thousands of United supporters insulted, ridiculed and threatened the life of the predatory Glazer as he proceeded to take over the club - many still are - but the American tycoon shows no indication of giving a rat's backside.

If Malcolm Glazer had a fraction of Lee Bowyer's sensitivity he would not now be imposing his version of sporting capitalism on Manchester United. Tens of thousands of United supporters insulted, ridiculed and threatened the life of the predatory Glazer as he proceeded to take over the club - many still are - but the American tycoon shows no indication of giving a rat's backside.

Bowyer, on the other hand, fled at the first signs of discontent over his transfer to Birmingham City on Thursday. It took only a website petition of a couple of hundred Birmingham fans protesting against his signing to make him recoil from moving there, even though his unpop-ularity at his present club, Newcastle United, commands a far higher figure.

"I'm not going where I'm not wanted," he said. That attitude, defiant as it may be, tends to reduce his options of finding future employment if it's a unanimous welcome he is seeking.

Bowyer, who is 28, is due to appear in court after his brawl with team-mate Kieron Dyer during a match against Aston Villa towards the end of last season. He has already been fined £30,000 by the Football Association and banned for seven matches.

In January 2003 he was suspended for six games for stamping on an opponent's head, and his previous history includes a conviction for affray in a restaurant. So, it's a mystery where he gets the idea that on his way to his next club, rose petals would be thrown into his path by the grateful citizenry.

Deep down, he may be a charming person, but there are great throngs of the footballing cognoscenti of this nation who will take some convincing after the steady stream of conflicting evidence he has been providing throughout his career.

I am not sure that this matter is over yet. Birmingham's manager, Steve Bruce, and owner, David Sullivan, are furious that a relatively small number of puritanical fans have scuppered a deal on which they had set their hearts. They immediately set up an alternative petition so that other Birmingham fans could demonstrate that the St Andrews stands contain plenty of those willing to shower Bowyer with love and devotion.

Bruce telephoned from his Portuguese holiday to say he was disgusted and devastated that this small demonstration of fan power should have ruined his summer transfer plans. He remains convinced Bowyer would be an excellent acquisition, and that the majority of fans would welcome a player of his ability.

Sullivan, whose business of sex shops and adult TV would make him sympathetic to any image-sufferer, said he was gutted, because English midfielders with Bowyer's qualities are hard to find. He is quite right, and it as well to remember that if Bowyer was a saintly figure of impeccable reputation Birmingham would not be able to afford him.

And while you can't blame football supporters if they prefer their heroes to be house-trained, it is part of the Premier League predicament that the less wealthy clubs have to consider doubtful players and, whether the doubt concerns class or character, chances have to be taken.

Inside every manager there resides a belief that he has the ability to reform sinners and to cultivate good behaviour in the most unlikely of hearts. There is not a bad boy in the history of the game who has failed to find some club prepared to take a gamble on him, even at the end of a career crammed with misconduct.

It so happens that the excellent job Bruce has done at Birmingham has been greatly assisted by his knack of producing the best out of players others have found difficult to handle. The Frenchman Christophe Dugarry is one, and others include David Dunn and Jermaine Pennant. Robbie Savage, who messily organised himself a move from Birmingham to Blackburn last season, was certainly not everyone's idea of a controlled and sensible footballer. Bruce is also said to have endeavoured to sign Craig Bellamy and El-Hadji Diouf, neither of whom are docile employees.

Birmingham seem to specialise in offering rehabilitation to those in need, and when Bowyer and his advisers mull over his decision to pull out of the deal they may believe he acted hastily and that he can overcome the antipathy expressed last week. Here is a man in dire need of redemption, and this may be the best chance on offer.

Muddle of the middle man

It was quite a week for people with unpleasant images to receive a rude shock. Liverpool's Harry Kewell was reportedly confident of winning his libel case against Gary Lineker in the High Court, and was distinctly unhappy when the jury couldn't come to an agreement on Thursday. They were discharged after failing to reach a majority verdict on whether an article under Lineker's name in the Sunday Telegraph about Kewell's transfer from Leeds United to Liverpool in 2003 defamed the player.

The case has so far rattled up costs of £250,000, and it has yet to be decided if there is going to be a replay. I understand it wasn't possible to settle it on penalties because Kewell isn't fit.

One hesitates to take sides in delicate legal matters like these, but I applaud the Sunday Telegraph in defending the charge. The newspaper and its sports editor, Jon Ryan, were alongside Lineker in the dock and denied libel, claiming that the article was fair comment. Lineker didn't actually write the article but gave his views to a journalist, Clive White, and stood by every word. As a fully paid-up member of the ghostwriters' union, I appreciate that. It's easy to blame the ghost.

Lineker also gave a good account of himself in the witness box. His criticisms of the Kewell transfer mainly concerned the part played by Kewell's personal manager, whose company received a £2m share of the £5m transfer fee plus a cut of the player's annual earnings. It was the activity of agents generally that engaged Lineker, and he argued that such deals were bringing the game into disrepute.

Since the case, I understand that Fifa have been taking an interest in some of the details that emerged in court, but we have to wonder what the authorities can do as long as clubs don't seem to mind how seedy or greedy are those with whom they have to deal. If there has been an occasion recently when a major club have made a conscious and public attempt to cut out the middle men in their transfer negotiations with another club, I have missed it.

Another agent was in the news on Friday when it was announced that Paul Stretford, who represents Wayne Rooney, has been charged by the Football Association for alleged breaches of regulations governing agents' activities. He faces a series of accusations covering his dealings concerning the young Manchester United and England star. Several FA and Fifa rules are said to have been broken.

Last year, Stretford was the chief prosecution witness in a trial against three men accused of blackmailing him into sharing the money he made from Rooney. The case collapsed after it emerged he had made false statements to the court. The FA statement says that: "In doing so, it is alleged that his conduct was improper and/or brought the game into disrepute."

Whatever the rights or wrongs of these particular cases, it is time that the authorities took a long, hard look at this perplexing part of the modern game.

Comments