Is ‘Player Power’ out of control?

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Anybody with even just a passing interest in football will know that this summer was dominated by three main transfer sagas. All eyes were on Gareth Bale, Luis Suárez and Wayne Rooney, as speculation mounted regarding where their futures would lay.

For some, it seemed as though none would end the summer with the clubs they started – after all three expressed their desire to leave. Player power is a term widely used in footballing circles and for many this looked as though it would prevail. Ultimately, however, only one of the three men realised his desire to move. So whilst Suárez and Rooney may have seen their careers moving away from the North West of England, their clubs stood firm and refused to allow them to leave.

Two London clubs, namely Arsenal and Chelsea, came calling for the want-away pair though both were knocked back in their pursuits. Though Rooney has not necessarily been Manchester United’s first choice striking option – since Robin Van Persie’s arrival just over 12 months ago – it is understandable that his club had no intention of selling a player with a league goals to games ratio higher than 1 in 2. He clearly remains an integral element of David Moyes’ squad, whilst accepting Chelsea’s offer would have only served to strengthen a rival already buoyed by the return of José Mourinho ahead of the 2013/14 season.

In the case of Suárez, Liverpool faced a similar dilemma. Traditionally seen as a member of the “Big Four”, Liverpool in recent years, have fallen away in to the chasing pack and selling arguably their most influential player could well have cast them further adrift of the Premier League’s elite. The fact that both Manchester United and Liverpool retained their prize assets after each one had expressed their desire to leave signified that, in some instances, the will of the club can outweigh that of the player.

Whereas Manchester United and Liverpool retained two of their star performers, Tottenham Hotspur reluctantly let their own marvel leave, as Bale departed to Real Madrid. Though the Welshman’s move at the end of August had looked inevitable throughout the summer, particularly after he made clear his desire to leave, the Spurs board chaired by Daniel Levy ensured that they would be the party who held all the cards at the negotiating table.

Whilst Levy didn’t publicly admit that Spurs were set to do business with Real Madrid, he went about spending the money he knew himself was set to come in, strengthening the club’s squad. By making purchases prior to Bale’s move, Levy ensured that Spurs were not held to ransom by clubs who would have known his club had just received a world record fee for a single player. Astute signings were added to André Villas-Boas’ already talented squad, with some claiming it was now perhaps better equipped to mount an assault towards the league’s summit than ever before.

Only when Spurs were ready would Bale be able to move and even then, Levy played the situation to his advantage, knowing that Real Madrid would be prepared to meet almost any terms in order to secure the attacker’s signature. Figures of up to £100m had been suggested throughout the summer, though finally an agreement was reached that saw a 24 year-old from Cardiff become the newest Galactico for a world record fee in excess of the £80m paid for Cristiano Ronaldo four years earlier. Whilst Spurs had lost their star man and Bale had got his way, it must be said that his former club had proven they were no pushovers and that the transfer largely hinged on their terms being met rather than solely on the aspirations of the individual player.

Whilst player power is often thought to have grown in the past few decades, this summer’s transfer window went some way to dismiss any notion that it had gotten out of control. Though Bale achieved his wish to leave Spurs, Rooney and Suárez’s planned moves didn’t come to fruition. Evidently it is clear that clubs still have a controlling hand in the transfer market, even if their omnipotent position has been somewhat challenged.

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