Not so long ago, the thing most likely to unsettle a footballer was the thought of having to play out of position. These days, professionals have to deal with much bigger issues, not least the very public advances of the richest clubs in the land.
No wonder Louis Saha likens today's footballers to "mini mobile businesses". He said yesterday: "We are a commodity, and that means that we have a value. We have a value within a team and we have a value as individuals. But the problem with this sort of thinking is that it does not allow for human feelings."
In Saha's case, those feelings are directed towards a dream move to Manchester United. But other up-and-coming stars are also being prevented from signing for a top-four club. Scott Parker was left out of Charlton's squad for yesterday's League game at Everton because his manager, Alan Curbishley, felt the midfielder "needed time to get his head back in order".
One wonders, though, whether Saha or Parker can regain their focus of old. The transfer window does not help, because players can only be sold in the summer or in January. Saha and Parker know they have only two more weeks to secure the moves they crave. Equally, Fulham and Charlton need to decide how long they can keep playing their poker game. Win, and they stand to make millions; lose, and the sale opportunity may be gone for good.
"We know what moneys are involved," Curbishley said, "but we are not a selling club at the moment. That said, I can't stop people bidding for my players, just as Fulham can't stop United bidding for Saha. All this talk means that the Scotty Parker situation could get messy as well. Every-thing is out in public now, but that's modern football."
Parker's future depends largely on how the 23-year-old reacts to being dropped from the trip to Goodison Park. He signed a new five-year contract with Charlton last July, and Curbishley hopes he will use the club's fortnight break from matches to pledge his future to the Addicks. "We've got two weeks without a game," Curbishley said, "and it may give Scott a chance to settle down. But it could be a long two weeks, too, because if he doesn't train he doesn't play."
Saha has not been frozen out in the same way as Parker, but the Frenchman's frustration has been just as acute. "The better we play," Saha said with a touch of irony, "the more we're worth; and the more we're worth, the more difficult it is to move. It makes no sense if you can't better yourself."
Saha's frustration is understandable, if only because he is trying to join a bigger club. "This would hardly be a move sideways," said the 24-year-old, who has scored 13 League goals this season. Money is unlikely to be the sole motivating factor for men in their mid-twenties who still harbour international ambitions. Saha and Parker are players who have impressed this season, and want to take the next step on their respective career ladders.
Equally, their clubs hold the moral high ground. Man-chester United and Chelsea cannot be accused of "tapping up" the players, but their tactics are nonetheless questionable. So far, Fulham have managed to prevent their prize striker from joining the defending Premiership champions, but how much longer can they hold on? Yesterday, Saha would only confirm that he still hopes to make the switch, before adding that he would continue to "give my all for Fulham in the meantime".
The feeling is that if Fulham have secured two more wins by the end of the month, and all but secured their top-flight status for another season, the Frenchman could be allowed to leave for £10m.
The same logic would seem to apply to Parker. Curbishley has appeared determined to put up a fight, but one wonders how much of this is a temporary front. With his point made to the buying clubs, Curbishley could soon sanction Parker's move to west London. Like his Fulham counterpart, Chris Coleman, Curbishley knows he cannot hold on to a player once he has stars in his eyes.Reuse content