So what does a world-class footballer do when they’re not happy and want more money? They don’t say anything publicly for a start.
Take Dani Alves. He wanted a bigger and better contract than Barcelona were offering him last year. His agent (his ex-wife) did the talking and let it be known that he was up for a move to anywhere which could afford his wages. With Chelsea trying to control their spending and mad Russian club Anzi no longer squandering millions, that meant either Manchester or Paris.
At the same time, Alves got things right on the pitch and finished last season very strongly. He gave nothing away to Barca, no indication that he would re-sign for them. If he did that then it would have weakened his negotiating position considerably.
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Dani Alves and Barcelona's three trophies behind him
Image credit: AFP
Another right-back, the former Man United defender Paul Parker, once revealed to me he’d always regretted telling Sir Alex Ferguson that he’d sign anything that was put in front of him. He did and then realised that United were going to pay him far less than what Tottenham had offered him.
Alves was smarter. When Barca played their last game of the season, he spoke to the huge Camp Nou crowd and gave the impression that he was leaving. Most bought the line. His team-mates came out in support of him, with Lionel Messi describing him as the best right-back in the world. When Barca won the Copa del Rey a week later and then the European Cup the following week, they buckled under the wave of elation. Outgoing president Josep Maria Bartomeu offered Alves a deal he was happy with and he’ll stay.
Sergio Ramos is similarly discontented at Real Madrid. Like Alves, he won’t say anything publicly, but his issue is threefold and principally with club president Florentino Perez. Ramos can lay claim to being the best defender in football, but he earns €6 million net per year and thinks he’s worth €10m. He’s got two years left on his contract but Madrid have not yet offered him a new one, which isn’t the norm.
Madrid have, though, re-opened contract talks with Ramos and met him at their training ground on Wednesday morning. If the Andalusian gets the €10m he’s likely to stay at the Bernabeu where he’s a club legend. In a poll of Madrid fans, 75% wanted him to stay. But the signs coming out of Madrid on Wednesday were not promising.
Pedro Riesco works alongside Ramos' brother Rene. Riesco was on Radio Marca this morning and said: "With everything that has happened it will be very difficult for Sergio Ramos to stay at Madrid. Sergio is a symbol of this club. He has nothing to prove. But so many things are being said about him. There is so much manipulation to discredit his name via spokesmen who behave like puppets (of Florentino Perez) saying he is not respecting the club and that he is just a money-grabber."
Ramos does not have a sophisticated set-up behind him. His brother is his agent and he was offered to Barcelona last month, but the Catalans have plenty of central defenders. They can’t find space for an excellent homegrown one in Marc Bartra and fear losing him in a manner similar to Thiago Alcantara two years ago when he played fewer games than a stipulation in his contract and was able to join Bayern Munich.
Ramos has a loose collective of Sevillianos behind him. Like Jesus Navas, the gypsy who didn’t like to travel before he joined Manchester City, or Jose Reyes, who was to the English language what Liverpool are to winning league titles post-1990 when he moved to Arsenal, there’s not a lot of sophistication.
He’ll go some way to beating another Andalusian, the former Betis winger Joaquin who once admitted: “My Mum breast fed me until I was six or seven. The doctor says that’s why I'm so strong”. When Joaquin was asked if his agent father was in Mexico negotiating a move for him in 2004, he replied: “My Dad in Mexico? Nah. He’s sitting on the sofa at home with half his arse hanging out of his trousers, as usual.” Maybe Joaquin senior was ahead of his time given the number of style icons who were soon to be seen doing similar.
With Ramos, the main issue is money and a desire for more of it. Perez will decide if he’s worth it and the president isn't afraid of letting big-name players leave. Then United might have a chance of being something more serious than a bargaining chip. Ramos is right to be annoyed. In his opinion – which you won’t get from him, only leaked sources – he thinks his friend Iker Casillas has been treated shabbily by a club he’s served so well. Ramos also rightly suspects that Madrid have been briefing against him through their favoured media channels to make him look like a mercenary.
There’s not a newspaper editor who objects to such juicy stories in a month where little of note is happening for it allows dramatic headlines like Wednesday’s ‘Drums of War’ in Marca. Madrid love to dominate everything including the news, but they’re showing that they and not the player have the power and if you get into the ring with them then you’d better be prepared to take some low punches.
United’s interest in Ramos – and Gareth Bale - is genuine, though they haven't been daft enough to make a bid amid the usual brinkmanship and posturing of the phony transfer market in June. The Old Trafford club hope to work a deal with David de Gea, who wants to leave, but United are aware that players are trying to use them. They’re also prepared to play hardball with De Gea to send a message out to him and others that a contract for an agreed number of years means just that.
Another United player linked with a move away is Angel di Maria. Again, he’s said nothing on the record apart from that he’s happy in Manchester. He was until March and he might be again in the future, but if PSG or Barcelona offered top money for him do you really think he’d want to stay in a country where he doesn’t speak the language and when he’s lost his place in the team?
PSG definitely want him, while Barca’s interest is overstated. They don’t even have a president until next month’s elections (see last week’s article) and Bartomeu wants to sign one of Paul Pogba or Ilkay Gundogan this summer, though they won’t be able to play for four months as Barca are halfway through a year-long ban from signing anybody after being rightly punished for continuously breaking the rules around signing new young foreign players.
Not that any of those considerations will stop the speculation, posturing and associated nonsense until the transfer window closes in nine weeks.
Andy Mitten -
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