Real Ronaldo

Normally you wouldn’t find me defending Manchester United and, even in their defense, I honestly think they deserve what they are getting with this whole Ronaldo fiasco. But there’s a much, much bigger problem at stake here, one that all football fans should be against regardless of the fact that the world’s two least-classy teams are battling it out over the contracted services of the world’s least-classy player; what is the value of a contract?

On Friday the 13th of April, 2007 Manchester United revealed that they had just put pen to paper with Ronaldo and “locked” him into a 5 year deal.  And now, just one year into that deal, the player wants out. The same thing is supposedly going on with Arsenal’s Adebayor: except it was just this year that Arsenal “locked” him into a 5 year deal, gave him a pay raise, and handed him the starting striker spot.

For both of these players, and both of their teams, this should have been the culmination of a great business relationship between team and player. Both teams took tremendous chances signing these players and both teams held the faith with these players when they under-performed — as I’ve pointed out before Ronaldo didn’t really start to shine until this year and ask any Arsenal supporter what they think of Adebayor’s previous two seasons.

In short, the teams invested years of resources in these players and when it came time for that investment to pay off, they wanted assurances that the investment would pay dividends and so, signed them to long term contracts. It should be that simple, but it isn’t.

It’s not that simple, because FIFA and UEFA allow a club like Real Madrid and AC Milan (or Barcelona) to unsettle a contracted player. I know, they claim that they want to do something about “tapping up” as it’s called in Europe (here in America it’s called “tampering” and there are pretty strict rules about it) but whenever it’s reported to the authorities they refuse to take action. Both Arsenal and Man U have repeatedly said that Ronaldo and Adebayor are not for sale and yet, just today you can find multiple press releases by Milan or Real Madrid over their outspoken desire to sign these players.

How is that not tampering? These teams are literally saying, in press conferences, “I would pay Ronaldo double what he is getting at Man U and give the team an insane transfer fee… too bad he’s still under contract with them, huh?” They then contact the player’s agent and say “you know, if he was to come here, you might just earn yourself a huge bonus check. How does £10m sound to you?” Or in the case of Real Madrid, they don’t even have to contact the agent, they just have the tea-lady leak to the press that the agent might earn a £10m headhunter’s fee, and in that way they can maintain their “innocence” in all this.

It’s disgusting and potentially ruinous to all of football. If players don’t have to honor their contracts, if other teams don’t have to honor another team’s contracts, and if all you have to do to get around any sanctions is tell the story to the press, then what is the value of a player’s contract?

No team is innocent in this but I think we’re seeing the culmination of a loose policy toward contracts because this latest attempt by Real Madrid goes way beyond Wenger saying “I could see him playing for Arsenal.” Something has to be done, or teams might as well not bother signing contracts with players.  I’d like to see strict rules over contracts, something like what they have in the NBA, where it’s illegal to mention that you’d like to sign a player, much less leak what kind of salary that player might get.

But I can’t see that happening, FIFA are too busy worrying about the number of “foreigners” in the English Premier League to care about the fundaments of football as a viable business enterprise, and so we should all expect another long, hot summer of broken contracts.