On Tuesday, Chelsea confirmed that their leading goal-scorer, Diego Costa, returned to the training pitch after nearly a week away from it. The Spanish striker reportedly missed several days of training leading up to the weekend’s fixture against Leicester City, and was even left completely out of the match day squad, for an alleged bust-up with the coaching staff over a proposed mega-million dollar move to China.
Costa is hardly the first high profile player to hit out at his employers over transfer dealings, and you could argue that his scandal wasn’t even the biggest one of the week. One thing that puts Costa in a little better public light is that neither he nor the club made his alleged grievances public knowledge. Antonio Conte told the press he was left out of the squad against Leicester for injury reasons, and Costa made a post on Instagram cheering his teammates on.
On the other end of the spectrum, we have the curious case of Dimitri Payet. Last season, the Frenchman almost singlehandedly carried West Ham United into the top-six, and his performances earned him a well-deserved place in the Premier League Team of the Season. This year, however, Payet and West Ham have struggled mightily. The Hammers find themselves just outside the fringes of a relegation battle, and they were thrashed 5-0 by Manchester City in the FA Cup.
Rumors had already been swirling that Payet wasn’t happy at the Olympic Stadium before the embarrassing defeat to City, and before West Ham’s league match against Crystal Palace on the weekend, Slaven Bilic confirmed it. The manager announced that Payet was refusing to play for the club to force through a transfer, and also told the media that under no circumstances would he be sold during this transfer window.
Almost immediately following Bilic’s announcement, West Ham’s fans’ feelings towards the Frenchman took a 180 degree turn. Less than a year ago, the former Marseille man was viewed as a hero at the club, and before the match against Palace, fans were using his jersey as a door mat. They were also quick to change the lyrics to his chant to reflect their feelings towards him, but due to the language I’ll leave it out.
Costa and Payet’s situations bring attention back to an issue that is hardly new. For as long as these big money transfers have been a part of the game, there have been players that have tried to force moves by withholding their talents. In the last two years, we’ve seen Raheem Sterling sit out training for Liverpool so that he could move to Man City. Saido Berahino unsuccessfully tried to employ this tactic to force West Brom’s hand into a move, and even wrote on Twitter that he would never play for the club’s chairman again, but he still finds himself with the Hawthornes.
While it’s easy as a fan to look at the players holding out as money grabbers, and to throw them aside as disloyal to the club, I think that we need to look at it from their point of view first.
In the case of Payet, we’re looking at a player that may be at the peak of his game and at the age of 29 who knows how much longer he’ll be able to perform at that level. With that being said, I can understand why he would want to move to a more competitive club so that he’s playing his best football in matches that really matter. I’m not saying that West Ham’s matches don’t matter, but I think that he would rather be playing in a title chase, or European competition, than in a mid-table to relegation zone clash every weekend.
Unfortunately, for Payet, now that his situation has been made public, his image with the fan base has been almost irreparably harmed. That’s not to say that he can’t salvage his image a little bit, just look at Wayne Rooney. Wazza, on two occasions, told Manchester United that he wanted to leave Old Trafford and now he’s the club’s captain and on the brink of becoming the club’s all-time leading goal-scorer. It’s going to take a public apology and some outstanding performances for Payet to win back even a fraction of his once loyal fan base, but honestly, at this point, I think it’s only a matter of months before he leaves London.
With Costa, we’re looking at a 28-year-old striker who is being offered an ungodly amount of money to ply his trade in China. Yes, that looks greedy considering the amount of money he’s already making to play for Chelsea, but hold on a second. Let’s say that Costa stays with Chelsea for next season and suffers, god forbid, a serious injury that rules him out for several months, or even an entire season. At the end of that, his earning potential will have taken a devastating hit, and the injury will have left him with millions of dollars still on the table.
Now, let’s say that he moves to China next season and signs a deal that guarantees him £30 million a season. That’s more than three times what he is making currently at Chelsea. If that same injury happens to him while in China, it won’t leave as big of a financial dent and the money that would’ve been left on the table with Chelsea has already been guaranteed.
As much as I know that we want to bash players because they don’t want to play for our clubs, it’s important to remember that they’re people too. Just because we have a feverish devotion and loyalty to our club doesn’t mean that the players necessarily have that same desire, and that’s okay. They’re people that are just trying to get the most out of this unpredictable career as possible, and who can blame them for that?