David Flatman: I couldn't leave my best mates at Bath for France
From the Front Row: Tough to reject French club's offer, but I'm staying put for three more years
Sunday 20 February 2011
I want 250 grand a week, for the next five and a half years, muck me about and I'm off. This is what I said to the gaffer. Then I had my agent "accidentally" inform the press that I was bound to leave and not a thing anybody could say would stop me. OK, so that's not quite how my contract negotiations went, but I did conduct all conversations in a Scouse accent, just in case. Well, it worked for Wayne Rooney.
My contract negotiations are now over and I am delighted to say I have signed on for another three years as a Bath Rugby player. Without being crude, I can exclusively reveal that I didn't quite manage to get Man United money out of them, but I have been promised as much beer as I can drink after home games and unlimited use of the broken coffee machine at the training ground. We can call that a moral victory.
Naturally, these conversations can get a bit awkward, especially when the subject of salaries is raised, and that's where the agents come in. As I tell my agent (an old friend) every three years, these types should be seen and not heard; send the relevant emails, return relevant phone calls and take the relevant cut. This time, just like the last, he told me to bugger off, arriving hours later all hair gel, designer shoes and expensive aftershave. But, despite appearances, he managed to represent my wishes well enough that a deal was agreed, so I guess I've no grounds for any dress-code complaints.
If only things were quite this simple. As a professional, a husband and a father it would, arguably, be irresponsible to disregard any offer of employment and, this time around, I was fortunate enough to receive an offer from another club. I know, they clearly hadn't done their research. Perhaps they were really after Olly Barkley and mistook him for me, it happens all the time. This, one might assume, is the ultimate position to be in but, for a sensitive soul like me, it was actually rather tough. You see, offers don't just arrive in the post; there are meetings and face-to-face conversations. There are people, as in any profession, who attend these meetings looking for a lumpy offer that might be used as leverage against their current employer. Never mind how bad this looks, I just couldn't go through a meeting nodding and smiling, agreeing and gasping, knowing it was all lies. Each to his own – and I will never condemn another player for trying to maximise his earnings in what is such a short career – but I can't do it.
What was most enticing about this other offer was that it came from a club in France, which is the only place I would ever go from here. I know that as soon as an English player says the 'F' word, we all think the same thing: he's going for the money. Well, for a prop at least, there's more to it than that. Bath is my club and I adore it, but this was an opportunity to exist in the land where the prop is king. I'm not talking of fame and attention, just a slightly more romantic twist on the love we cuddlier types receive over here. There was also the prospect of giving my young family an incredible experience, one unlikely to present itself again.
In the end, however, my choice was made for me when, after a tough session at our shabby, beloved old training ground, I looked back at the group of blokes still out there and knew I couldn't leave them (please, feel free to cry a little, it's natural). It's these guys that make the environment what it is and any vision, no matter how glossy and ambitious it may sound, is nothing without men on the ground buying into it.
OK, it just so happens that soon we will be moving all training sessions to our quite sumptuous new headquarters where, rumour has it, there is a coffee machine that sometimes works; we'll call this a bonus. The real honour is that I will be here, trying as hard as possible to help a great club get back where it belongs with a load of blokes who happen to be my best mates. Beats working for a living.
So the decision is made and, with every day that goes by, I feel happier and happier about it.
Of course, Rooney wouldn't get out of bed for a rugby player's salary, but is his boss thinking of building dog kennels at their training ground? Thought not. Should have got a better agent, my son.
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