Why Wenger may be crying wolf

Tim Collings looks beyond the posturings of the no-transfer debate
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The Independent Online

Agents and their players, sports lawyers negotiating ever-fatter contracts andforward-thinking clubs with orderly minds and astute advisers will be the chief beneficiaries of the impending and long-overdue overhaul of football's transfer system in Europe. Those without the vision, wit or organisation to see what is coming will perish and be replaced by men and clubs better prepared to cope with the modern world of football run without the crutches of transfer fees.

Agents and their players, sports lawyers negotiating ever-fatter contracts andforward-thinking clubs with orderly minds and astute advisers will be the chief beneficiaries of the impending and long-overdue overhaul of football's transfer system in Europe. Those without the vision, wit or organisation to see what is coming will perish and be replaced by men and clubs better prepared to cope with the modern world of football run without the crutches of transfer fees.

That is the clearest conclusion to draw from the frenzy which followed Thursday'sannouncement, by Fifa's president, Sepp Blatter, that proposed the abolition of the remnants of the traditional transfer system and its replacement with a compromise arrangement designed to ease the pain for clubs which rely on selling players' registrations in an inflated market to survive.

If the conclusion sounds familiar, it is because it is the way we all live and operate in our normal everyday lives. Work well and succeed. Work badly and struggle. Welcome to reality. Clubs will have to balance their books and operate within the laws of the land and the European Commission with the two main issues - freedom of movement for the players and the special status (like the arts) of sport in our society - balanced on either side.

All the hype and havoc of the last 48 hours will clear to reveal a sport that remains in rude financial health, bloated by television income and massive public interest, yet still in need of higher standards of professional administration to safeguard its future.

Shares, like those in Manchester United, which dropped in value on Friday, should rise beyond previous values because the champions' position, far from being weakened by the proposals (if adopted and executed), has been strengthened. Their players' values have not been wiped out, merely calculated by a different system. The players will earn more, too.

Ditto, Arsenal's. Arsÿne Wenger, therefore, may be crying wolf. The new blueprint does not prevent any club from recruiting players on multi-year contracts or from receiving fees as compensation if they leave before the end of the contracted period. Indeed, in Spain it is already common for clauses to be inserted in contracts specifying the fee to be paid if a player wishes to buy himself out of a deal. The onus, therefore, will be on all clubs to protect themselves similarly and properly.

Blatter's proposals are only the start of the debate, as the Uefa chief executive Gerhard Aigner made clear in a statement which indicated that Fifa may not find it has an easy ride in attempting to control these proceedings. "There is still a lot of talking to be done within professional football and with the European Commission," he said. "The meeting organised by Fifa was only one part of this process... The survival of European football is at stake and no one should reach premature conclusions."

Such common sense was welcome in the wake of Blatter's posturing on Thursday. As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, the vice-president of Bayern Munich, who represents the club at the G-14 meetings, said: "The clubs take all the risks, economically. They are responsible for the contracts. Mr Blatter is not. Therefore, it is not acceptable to make any changes without consulting the clubs, who are the employers."

Rummenigge, like Wenger, may fear that the old transfer system will die and not be replaced, but such fears are misplaced. The tabloids may have suggested that a player worth £20m this summer could be worth nothing when the new proposals are adopted, but that is not true. No longer, as Gordon Taylor, the English players' union's representative at last week's meeting, pointed out, will fees for registrations exchange hands, but fees for non-expired contracts and fees for compensation, for training and development, if the proposals are adopted. Players will still hold values, but these will be calculated in a more realistic and transparent way.

Good players of ability, character and honour, and good clubs of sound sense and stability, will be drawn to each other and want to agree to sign long contracts. If clubs are carefree enough to think otherwise, it will be their own downfall. The vision of wholesale change every summer, with players everywhere signing only one-year contracts, is pure scare-mongering.

Taylor, however, does fear that a new era of freedom for players could produce "a profession of fruit-pickers, hiring and firing every season" in his darkest reflections while acknowledging that such freedom would give the most highly prized mercenaries and agents a field day if the clubs are prepared to bow to demands.

As a guardian of the players' interests, of course, Taylor is mindful of the collective bargaining agreement which protects professionals in England, providing them with comforts, such as five per cent levied from every transfer in the land towards the union's pension funds, and disciplinary procedures which have restricted to less than five the number of dismissals, for bad conduct, of players in the last five years. He cites, also, the case of Pierluigi Casiraghi of Chelsea, whose chronic in jury could, in future, leave him cast aside and unsupported by his club if he had signed only a short-term deal and the potential loss of employment for many of his union's members if the smaller clubs in the Nationwide League abandoned full-time professional status.

Would clubs, like the prolific Crewe Alexandra, abandon their youth policy? No, not if, through prudent planning, they replaced the income from old-fashioned transfers of registrations with compensation payments for training anddevelopment, not to mention contractual buyouts.

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