Cash in while you can
JAMES RICHARDS says players shouldn’t be criticised for seeking bumper contracts – because injury could be just around the corner
Why players should make hay
AS THE transfer window gets closer to closing, it’s clear that a lot of cash has already flown between some of Europe’s top clubs as well as into the bank accounts of agents and players.
It is easy to find this obscene in the context of deepening financial hardship for many families in the United Kingdom and, from a purely moral standpoint, it is just not right that an agent should pocket £40 million, as was reportedly the case in the Paul Pogba transfer of last summer.
As for players, though, there is another side to the argument that is often overlooked. What happens if a player has an injury that ends their career prematurely?
They will lose out on a lot of potential earnings and, for many of them, struggle to find meaningful employment outside of the game that they have been a part of for their entire life.
The reason this came to mind was that I was trying to think of players that have made a big impact on the clubs at the lower end of the Football League.
The name that eventually came to mind was Dean Ashton, a player who came to prominence with Crewe Alexandra.
The striker was 26 and at the peak of his career when he was forced to retire due to an ankle injury that he had picked up while on international duty.
He had come through the youth ranks at Crewe before becoming a key player for Dario Gradi’s side and, some might argue, the sole reason they managed to maintain their Championship status in 2003-04 and 2004-05.
The fact Crewe were relegated the next season lends credence to this suggestion.
In those two seasons alone, he scored 37 league goals, all the more impressive considering he left in January 2005 to join Premier League Norwich City for £3 million.
He was unable to help Norwich stay in the Premier League but stayed on at Carrow Road in an attempt to help them achieve an immediate return to the top flight.
He scored ten times in 28 appearances before signing for West Ham in January 2006 for around £7 million.
It was while on England duty that Ashton broke his ankle in training, apparently caused by a bad tackle from Shaun Wright-Phillips.
Suddenly Ashton would miss the entire 2006-07 season after showing huge promise. He did return for the 2007-08 campaign and managed ten goals in 35 appearances for the Hammers, but a sprained ankle early in the next season flared up his old injury - and that would be that for a player many considered to have the world at his feet.
It was a case that highlighted how precarious a top athlete’s career can be, especially when you consider the physical strains and stresses of the sport.
To put Premier League earnings into perspective, you may want to glance at some other big money sports. For example, ice hockey star Connor McDavid, a player for the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, landed a new contract worth a reported $12.5 million per year.
Now this may seem outrageous but when you consider the perils that a physical sport like ice hockey exerts on the human body, it is not far-fetched to consider serious injury a realistic outcome.
When you consider what sacrifices some top athletes have to make in order to reach the peak levels required, it is surely only right that they get well paid.
Most footballers will only play for around 15 years and not many will play at the top level where they receive these astronomical sums that are often reported in the media.
I am not an advocate of greed and believe that there needs to be some restraint when it comes to player wages.
It is not good for the game for clubs to laden themselves up with debt in order to compete in the Premier League and pay silly money to their players.
Neither am I an ardent supporter of a salary cap yet I still feel the financial fair play rules don’t go far enough. Anyway that is, perhaps, a debate for another time.
As far a player salaries go, next time you quickly deride them for earning more money than you think they’re worth, spare a thought for Dean Ashton and the many others like him who have been forced to retire early.
Cut down in his prime: West Ham’s Dean Ashton