Tough decisions in 'moving season'
So we have arrived at a weekend which could bring “the mother of all fiestas” (David Silva’s words) or a surprise celebration for United, as well as tears for fans of either QPR or Bolton. It will also bring with it a few farewells, although in some cases the players and fans may not even know it will be the last time they meet on these terms.
Yossi Benayoun turned 32 on Saturday and celebrated by scoring a sweet right-footed goal against Norwich in what was almost certainly his last game at the Emirates for Arsenal. Just a few days earlier he told me he intends to return to Chelsea (to whom he is contracted), train and then see if he can land another club and play more regularly.
The Israeli is very mindful of the fact that he and his family enjoy an excellent quality of life in his Surrey home to the west of London. The pursuit of regular football could disrupt all that.
So he is one player for whom a move could be unsettling. For others, uncertainty over where they will be playing next year is no bad thing.
At the Football Writers Association Awards Dinner last week, I sat and listened to Robin van Persie give a highly diplomatic response to a question about his future. He said: “We haven’t set a date but I will have a meeting with the boss... we will be having a meeting about my future, and lots of other things.
He then caused universal gloom among Arsenal fans at the dinner by adding, "If you ask the likes of Robert Pires how he feels, what he feels like he will say ‘I feel like a Gunner’ – and whatever happens with me I will always be a Gunner.”
Change of any kind will be good for Robin – whether he goes to City or stays as part of a new-look Gunners set-up, he can enjoy his summer confident in the knowledge that he will begin next season a wealthier man and perhaps end it a more fulfilled footballer.
Of the other prime candidates for a summer move, some have far harder decisions to make than that awaiting Van Persie.
Take Clint Dempsey for example. The American has enjoyed a dazzling season, with 17 leagues goals (23 in total) to his name. Dempsey’s current contract runs until 2013 but he has been linked with the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool. The player described by Fulham boss Martin Jol as “indispensable” has refused to sign a new contract.
“I’m talking with the club,” said the 29-year-old, “but we’ll just have to see what happens.”
Dempsey finds himself with a tough decision on his hands. Not so much in terms of how it will impact his young family – wherever he ends up, he will be well taken care of – but rather in ensuring he picks a club (if he leaves) that suits him.
Jol is correct – Dempsey is indispensable at Fulham. Add to that consistent, undroppable, attractive to sponsors and in the prime of his career. If he continues to play and score at the rate he is (he has become the first American to make it to 50 Premier League goals) he can cement his reputation as one of the league’s finest players and also his position as the main man in the USA’s national team.
Make the wrong move and he could suffer the fate that befell Steven Pienaar when he left Everton for Tottenham. The Bafana Bafana international edured a miserable spell at White Hart Lane but fortunately was able to return to his Goodison Park comfort zone and has thrived ever since.
Not every player gets that lucky.
Very often, players whose moves are dictated more by agents’ greed than career development end up stagnating at clubs that don’t suit them.
Robbie Keane’s £20 million transfer to Liverpool in 2008 was a case in point and probably signalled the beginning of the end of his Premier League career. Fernando Torres’s departure from Anfield has looked, until only very recently, as another case of a move that benefitted his bank account more than his career goals tally.
There are several big-name Premier League stars (Emanuel Adebayor, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez) who will most likely move on this summer and earn another lucrative deal somewhere. They hardly have to worry about making the right choice between London, Madrid, Paris, Milan or even Shanghai.
But then there are the likes of Blackburn’s Junior Hoilett, Fulham’s Moussa Dembele, Wigan’s Victor Moses and perhaps Newcastle’s Demba Ba whose performances this season have put them in line for a lucrative switch of clubs.
Their fans will know they could be watching them for the last time this Sunday but those fans also know that come August 18 2012 they will be back, cheering on whoever it is that turns out for the new season wearing the club colours. The fans enjoy the luxury of certainty that some players do not have. Here’s hoping that all involved make the right decisions for all involved when the playing season ends and the moving season gets underway.