For any footballer at a mid-ranking club, bereft of the sort of the perceived talent and reputation that attract admiring clubs like moths to a light, and a defunct contract, there’s an obvious fork in the road. To the right lies the safe path. Your club wants to offer you a new deal. It’s safe. It’s guaranteed. It means you can still provide for your family. The other road – the one leading to all sorts of left field possibilities – is solely reserved for the brave, or the foolhardy. It leads to, well that’s the whole point. You simply don’t know where it leads, and if your briefly itinerant excursion into the exploration of the unknown is a dead end, there’s no guarantee that you can retrace your steps and opt for the other road afterwards.
Such a choice faced Motherwell’s Scottish midfielder Paul Lambert, at the end of the 1995-96 season. Lambert chose left path, having “…always wanted to try to play abroad.” As he later remarked, “I had nothing to lose at the time and never knew how things were going to pan out.” Sometimes the right path is the wrong path. Lambert chose left and twelve months later with a Champions League winner’s medal in his pocket after a Man of the Match performance negating the talents of Zinedine Zidane, no-one was questioning his sense of direction. Continue reading →
The curtain-raiser for the new season was halfway through and Manchester City had eased into a comfortable 2-0 lead, with every prospect of denying their cross-city rivals from Old Trafford any chance of a sniff of comeback. During the break however, Sir Alex Ferguson, perhaps considering there was little to lose, decided to throw a young Tom Cleverley into the fray for the second period. When the referee brought the game to an end, United had turned the tables and won 3-2, with the young midfielder, fresh from a season-long loan period at Wigan Athletic the star turn.
A couple of years ago, Christian Benteke had burst onto the Premier League scene. Here was a player relatively unknown on these shores captured by Aston Villa for the princely sum of some £7million or so from Genk in Belgium. Muscular, blessed with pace and an apparent eye for a goal he seemed an identi-kit profile of a striker specifically designed to succeed in the English game.
In the 2013-13 season, the Belgian netted a striking 23 goals for the Birmingham club and in the July of 2013, he handed in a transfer request. Perhaps influenced by the siren whispers of agents, his head seemed to have been turned in search of richer pastures. It was a move the club were quick to rebuff and despite rumours of big money bids ranging up to the £30million mark at the time, manager Paul Lambert apparently convinced the player to stay in Birmingham and sign a new deal with the club. At the time many people, the writer included, thought it was a shrewd move by the truculent Scot. A mere eighteen months later, with injuries and long rehabilitation periods taking their toll, it’s interesting to speculate how many Villa fans think the club should have taken the money on offer. Continue reading →