It’s a question raised on many a fan phone-in or internet message board; What distinguishes football from nearly all other lines of work where involvement in such a scandal would lead to either resignation or dismissal?
The answer is that footballers aren’t just employees paid by a company to perform the role of player, their purpose goes way beyond that.
Sports clubs are not like other businesses where a significant deal or good advertising campaign boosts revenue. They constantly have to contend with the mitigating factor of results. Every department in the club can excel, but if the playing-staff underperforms the whole business suffers.
In this sense players are the market forces that determine a clubs success and with difference between the Championship and the Premier league being an estimated £25 million you can see why clubs are desperate not to alienate match winners, because even one bad season can destroy everything they have built.
Players are also a club’s main assets; their images sell replica shirts, their performances fill stadiums and their popularity renews television subscriptions across the world.
It’s possible to describe those footballers at the very top not as individuals employed by an organisation but as companies themselves. They work in collaboration with another company (the club) to the mutual benefit of both parties.
It can even be the case that the player is the more powerful of the two. Clearly David Beckham was a much greater force in world football than La Galaxy when he signed for them. His arrival resulted in 11,000 new season tickets being sold, demonstrating how much of a financial asset just one star player can be.
A player who wins games or trophies is virtually unsackable. Rarely has a club parted company with someone who still produces the goods on the pitch because the potential repercussions are be far more damaging than just bad publicity.
The only big-name player in recent times to have been sacked is Adrian Mutu after he tested positive for cocaine in September 2004. However, Mutu received a seven-month ban for the offence, which effectively sabotaged his playing contribution anyway, so the club didn’t risking anything in cutting him loose. The lengthy legal saga that ensued where Chelsea attempted to recover the money they’d lost on their asset (despite it being a clear breach of contract) provided yet another major deterrent to clubs who may have considered pursuing this route, particularly in less straightforward cases.
If there is a moral question to be asked about unsackable players it is perhaps the fans or customers (as they have increasingly become) that should answer it. If supporters turn on mass against a scandal hit player those in charge are much more willing to listen. After all, any asset with a plummeting value is quickly disposed of.
The Chelsea board would have fewer reasons to defend John Terry if the ‘Captain, Leader, Legend’ banner was removed from Stamford Bridge in protest or shirts with ‘Terry’ printed on the back were boycotted by fans.
It’s an unlikely scenario, but until something like this happens it will always be victories on the pitch that determine whether a player stays or goes.
image: © Enrico Carcasci