Play­ers wield all the power

Forc­ing moves to other clubs is not un­com­mon any­more

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT -

TWO days be­fore Liver­pool start their Premier League cam­paign, the club are em­broiled in two ex­tra­or­di­nary trans­fer stand­offs that show how play­ers are shap­ing their fu­tures by wield­ing in­creased power.

Bri­tish and Span­ish me­dia have re­ported that mid­fielder Philippe Coutinho wants to leave An­field to join Barcelona, while Vir­gil van Dijk is keen to join Liver­pool from Premier League ri­vals Southamp­ton.

Each player is un­der con­tract un­til 2022, hav­ing signed ex­ten­sions to their orig­i­nal con­tracts, and both clubs want them to stay.

“Ninety nine times out of 100 it is a power game, a case of who blinks first,” sports le­gal ex­pert Richard Cramer of Fron­tRow Le­gal said.

“Player power is enor­mous. The re­al­ity is a club may make the right noises but player power is strong be­cause a man­ager does not want a dis­il­lu­sioned player who can up­set equi­lib­rium in the dress­ing room and cre­ate dishar­mony. Play­ers and agents are very ex­pe­ri­enced at forc­ing a sit­u­a­tion.”

Former Liver­pool player Steven Ger­rard be­lieves that in Coutinho’s case every­thing de­pends on how far the Brazil­ian is pre­pared to go to force a move.

“It comes down to Philippe Coutinho and his de­ci­sion and what he’s pre­pared to do, what type of war he’s pre­pared to cre­ate to get out, be­cause Liver­pool won’t make it easy for him,” Ger­rard said.

Such “wars” are in­creas­ingly com­mon in foot­ball and Van Dijk sparked his own this week af­ter sev­eral weeks spent train­ing away from the first team. He has now re­quested a trans­fer and re­vealed his un­hap­pi­ness by re­leas­ing a pub­lic state­ment.

“I have been left frus­trated by the club’s po­si­tion that I am not for sale and am dis­ap­pointed that en­quiries from mul­ti­ple top clubs have been con­sis­tently re­buffed,” said Van Dijk.

Al­though the Dutch in­ter­na­tional did not men­tion Liver­pool in his state­ment, Southamp­ton re­ported the Mersey­side club to the Premier League ear­lier in the trans­fer win­dow for an al­leged il­le­gal ap­proach to the centre back.

Liver­pool sub­se­quently apol­o­gised and said they had ended their in­ter­est in the player. How­ever, Bri­tish me­dia say they are keen to rekin­dle it should Southamp­ton agree.

That may not be pos­si­ble given the orig­i­nal “tap­ping up” al­le­ga­tion. Un­der Premier League rules, ne­go­ti­a­tions over per­sonal terms can only be­gin once a fee with the seller is agreed, but few clubs ad­here to the pro­to­col.

The two deals are sen­si­tive for Liver­pool, who are tread­ing a fine line be­tween keep­ing their own key player and ac­quir­ing an­other, par­tic­u­larly af­ter their fail­ure to sign Nabi Keita.

Cramer does not be­lieve much can be done to make con­tracts more en­force­able un­less play­ers are made to sit them out in the re­serves, an un­sat­is­fac­tory re­sult for all par­ties.

“Play­ers are very highly valu­able com­modi­ties. You would not want any of your most valu­able as­sets do­ing noth­ing,” he said, adding that most play­ers even­tu­ally get their way.

Prece­dent sug­gests that, for all Liver­pool’s bullish­ness, they will end up sell­ing Coutinho, with Fer­nando Tor­res, Javier Mascher­ano, Xabi Alonso, Luis Suarez and Ra­heem Ster­ling all hav­ing left the club in sim­i­lar cir­cum­stances.

The one ex­cep­tion was Liver­pool’s former cap­tain and tal­is­man Ger­rard, who al­most joined Chelsea in 2005 af­ter say­ing he wanted to leave. But as a Liver­pool-born player, his sit­u­a­tion was clouded by loy­alty to his home-town club.

“It’s very, very dif­fi­cult,” Ger­rard said of Coutinho’s sit­u­a­tion. “Es­pe­cially South Amer­i­can play­ers who al­ways go on record and say it’s a dream of theirs to play for Barcelona.”

The trans­fer win­dow closes at the end of Au­gust.

PIC­TURES: EPA

Philippe Coutinho and Vir­gil van Dijk want to move from their cur­rent clubs.

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