Laughing stocks

A poor performance while on international duty could have a more worrying effect on a player's domestic club than meets the eye, writes Neil Wills

When Martin Palermo missed three penalties against Colombia he unwittingly wrote him­self into the Copa America record books. What he probably did not realise at the time (hey, he probably had other things on his mind) was that his profligacy from 12 yards would have far-reaching repercussions for British football clubs in this age of the market.

Thanks to the poor performances of Pal­ermo and his Boca Juniors colleagues in the Argentinian team, their club’s share price div­ed nearly five per cent. Add to that the fall of Palermo’s personal market value (Boca had been touting a £13 million price tag for him before the match but have been strangely silent since) and the real losers against Colombia were Boca them­selves.

This started me thinking. Until now a British club’s stock market price has been det­er­mined by factors such as league placing, qual­ification for Europe, progress in cups and injuries to star players. No one to my knowledge has worked out the implications of what will happen when the UK market becomes more sophisticated and starts to take into acc­ount the performances of players on international duty.

Out of sheer self preservation – something at which the bigger teams have become adept – perhaps clubs needing to hold their share price will suddenly discover that their players are injured before tricky high profile international fix­tures but available for friendlies against Liech­tenstein where any poor performances will be less of a big deal.

Cast your mind forward to England’s last Euro 2000 qualifier. It’s not too far beyond rea­lity to imagine they’ll have to win it to keep alive their chances of qualifying. In the event, England are lacklustre and Beckham fails to deliver. Deep into injury time with the game poised at 1-1, Poland’s courtesy of a Neville own-goal, England are awarded a penalty.

With Shearer out injured, Scholes strides up to take it and whomps it into the fifth row. The next day the press blame the Man Utd play­ers for England’s exit. The value of Man­chester United plc drops by several million pounds as a consequence. Now, if this scen­ario has occurred to me you can be pretty sure that it has also crept across Martin Edwards’s mind.

What if seven or eight players in one side are under orders from their ­res­pective clubs not to take a pen­alty (and who knows what covert clauses go into play­­­ers’ con­tracts now­adays)? Should play­ers be coerced into ­tak­­­ing part in a shoot-out con­trary to orders or contractual ob­ligations?

Another side-effect could be that clubs will avoid signing too many players from the same country, in case that country’s failure to qualify for a major tournament reflects badly on their players’ clubs. After the last World Cup, no fewer than 11 players who had taken part were contracted to Chelsea. However, they played for no less than ten diff­erent nations, so the chances of a poor team dis­play reflecting badly on Chelsea were min­imal. As luck would have it, they fielded two players in the final and everything went well.

However, what would have happened if Ronaldo hadn’t been ill and Brazil had ripped apart the Desailly/Leboeuf defensive partnership? Chelsea Village plc might suddenly have looked a less rosy prospect. It might seem preposterously fickle to judge a club because its members have an off-day for their national side, but that’s exactly what happened with Boca Juniors.

So, what are the solutions? Clubs will either resort to pulling their players from matches or find themselves attempting to edu­cate the market not to put too much weight on international games. National team man­­agers may also have their work cut out.

If it were made a condition that all players on international duty were liable to take penalties should they be so requested, that might simply in­crease the num­ber of play­ers who fall prone to mysterious injuries before in­ter­national fixtures. Perhaps some deal will have to be struck by which only a certain number of players from the same club side can be asked to risk being the next Gareth Southgate.

If the market gets sensitive to such things, we could see the international penalty become even more of a lottery than it is now.

From WSC 151 September 1999. What was happening this month