Monday 1 September ~
Players are commonly said to hold all the aces in transfer dealings these days, but sometimes you wonder whether they have spent enough time in the card school on the team bus. What, for example, was Shaun Wright-Phillips thinking of when he moved from Manchester City to Chelsea three years ago? You may want to fill in your own answer, but for anyone concerned about his career, the British national teams or healthy competition in the Premier League, it always seemed a troubling move.
Three years later Wright-Phillips has returned, having made 43 starts in League games. He has played 15 more times for England without holding down a regular place – which he says is a key factor in his return. “But my main aim is to get back playing football.”
That is a pretty sad state of affairs for a fit 26-year-old. Nor is he the only example of a player on the fringe of international football who has gone backwards (or sideways, at best) after a move to Chelsea: Wayne Bridge (71 league starts in five years), Glen Johnson (35 in three), Scott Parker (eight in 18 months) and even Steve Sidwell (seven in one season) might all have been better advised to move to clubs where they would get more regular football. There have been times when Joe Cole appeared likely to go the same way, having to fight off challenges from the likes of Damien Duff, Arjen Robben and now, perhaps, Robinho, for a place.
Of the big three, Chelsea are by far the most likely to buy a young British player; Man Utd the most likely (still) to bring through their own trainees; Arsenal to ignore Britain entirely. None offers a convincing path to convert young talent into the finished article – which may help explain why David Beckham, Emile Heskey and David James are still in the England side.
After all, what is the alternative for a player such as Wright-Phillips, Stewart Downing or Gabriel Agbonlahor? No matter how brilliantly they may play for their current club, they are unlikely to win domestic trophies or play in the Champions League. If they want to progress and play with the best players they inevitably look to the top clubs – but the top clubs either don’t want them, or maintain such grandiose squads that they are unlikely to play regularly. Unless, of course, they want to think about taking a pay cut and trying their luck in Italy or Spain (or soon, perhaps, Russia). But what kind of agent is going to suggest that? Mike Ticher