Lionel Messi is the highest paid football player on the planet – his contract with Barcelona earned him €33million last year, closely followed by David Beckham on €31.M, and Cristiano Ronaldo on €29.2M. Wayne Rooney is the highest paid player in the Premier League taking home €20.6M from Manchester United last year.
However, Lionel Messi is undoubtedly the best footballer in the world presently – surely his talent and work-rate justify such a fee? In most industries, wages are based on the employee’s ability and performance to do a job for their employer. Those who are highly skilled and who perform at the highest level in their field are rewarded accordingly – why should football be any different?
After all, a footballer’s career is comparatively short, with careers at the top level of competition lasting somewhere in between ten and twenty years for out-field players, provided they remain fit and healthy. David Beckham is 37, having made 695 senior appearances since his Manchester United debut in 1992 when he was just 18.
Almost 20 years later and Beckham now plays for LA Galaxy where his name alone brings fans to the games, and probably accounts for a sizable chunk of the club’s gate receipts, merchandise sales, sponsorship deals, television rights, an so on and so forth.
Players aren’t just ‘employees’ these days – they’re products. Just like Lionel Messi is the product of the Barcelona youth system that has developed the likes of Xavi, Adres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, and Gerard Pique to name but a few.
As I write, Barcelona has scouts all around the world searching for children with the potential to become the next Lionel Messi and of the thousands they will watch, of the few hundred they may invite for trials this year, or the tens of those youngsters they’ll likely sign to youth contracts, and of those tens, perhaps six or seven will be offered professional contracts on their 17th birthdays, followed by, maybe three or four who will make it into the reserve team to prove themselves worthy of possibly one or two places in the Barca first team. Those players will spend every waking hour training to play football and yet the vast majority will never make the grade.
To the fans a Theo Walcott or a Wayne Rooney is a hero, an idol, but to the club he is at best an employee and, at worst, a very disposable product. Is it any wonder that the players show only the vaguest of loyalty to their clubs – their employers?
The fans may take it personally but, as Robin van Persie’s lucrative switch from Arsenal to rivals Manchester United proved – footballers view their careers just the same as a top banker might – and Robin van Persie was effective headhunted by Sir Alex Ferguson, just as Rooney was lured from his boyhood club Everton.
The fact of the matter is, regardless of the badge-kissing, chest-thumping, and pledges of a lifetime’s allegiance to a club – money talks, and, when you’ve been training practically since the day you could run, £75K a week doesn’t sound quite as appealing as, say…£100K a week. It’s not greed – it’s just common sense. It's nothing personal - it's just business.
image: © jeroen bennink