Motivational technique

Manchester City may have the riches, but why would any of the world's top players want to join them?

Now that our best-known footballers are immersed in celebrity culture, with its attendant personal managers, press spokesmen and image consultants, they keep wanting to tell us how they feel. The players signed by Manchester City seem especially prone to baring their emotions. Earlier this summer, Gareth Barry explained his decision to leave Aston Villa by way of an open letter to the club's supporters in a local paper. Carlos Tevez has insisted that he opted to move across Manchester because he didn't feel wanted at United, the £150,000 a week being offered by City had nothing do with his choice. Then it was the turn of a player City failed to tempt.

John Terry apparently spent a month agonising over whether to stay with Chelsea or move to City who were offering a weekly wage of £200,000. Terry made no public comment about the choice facing him, quite possibly because he was too choked up with the emotion of it all. Frank Lampard, however, offered some insight into the dilemma facing his teammate, telling the Times: "When you're a successful player this kind of thing is going to happen and then you have to make a decision. John's a very honourable man and it doesn't come down to money and things like that."

Of course, any player with a club who won the FA Cup and were runners-up in their domestic league and semi-finalists in the top European club competition would be tempted to join a team who had just finished tenth. It's the challenge. Finally, at the end of July, Terry declared that there was "never a possibility" of his moving to City and that Roman Abramovich himself had told him how important he was to the club: "It's unbelievable to sit down there and listen to it from the owner himself. You can't put a price on things like that." But you could have a go.

Terry will now be opening talks about an improved contract that will take him from £125,000 a week to £150,000. That's considerably less than he would have got at City but perhaps his family can take in lodgers. The pattern is strikingly similar to Frank Lampard's dalliance with Inter last summer, which the press were alerted to by the player's agent having an Italian phrasebook clamped under his arm whenever he was seen in public. Frank touched on this, in terms possibly borrowed from a romantic novel, in his chat with the Times: "I had an option to leave last summer, to go with a manager who I love, but it came at a time in my life that, maybe, just wasn't right. But the situation made me think an awful lot." While he was cogitating, Lampard also signed an improved contract. Of course, Chelsea fans will be delighted that both players opted to stay but for the top wage earners in football, "loyalty" is just another commodity. Not that players should be blamed for taking whatever is offered to them.

The website Popbitch once ran a survey to find the most ridiculous backstage "rider" asked for by a celebrity. By common consent Maria Carey, notorious for making outrageous demands, was the winner with a request for "some cute puppies" to be distributed around her scented candle-filled dressing room, where they would presumably be expected to gambol engagingly rather than crouch in the corners cocking their legs. In such circumstances, you wonder who looks more ridiculous – the person making the demands or the people who cave in to them. Which brings us to Samuel Eto'o's dalliance with Man City in early July. City were said to have offered Eto'o £250,000 as a basic weekly salary, which would make him the highest-paid player in the world. The club even trumpeted their pursuit of the player as "a coup" as though they had artfully negotiated a cut-price deal. Eto'o had surely asked for an absurd weekly wage in the expectation that City would refuse to pay it – which would saved him the bother of having to turn out for a team who can't hope to be in the Champions League for at least a year.

The Eto'o negotiations serve as the best example yet of the Manchester City paradox. Their new owners want to barge into the top four as soon possible via lavish spending. But any big-name players who agree to come will be doing so entirely for the money, an attitude which is likely to prevent the reshaped team developing the unity and purpose they will need to match up to the current top four. If Mark Hughes's half-time talks are disrupted by players treading on fluffy kittens, City will only have themselves to blame. 

From WSC 271 September 2009