Slump after the boom

EVEN as leaders of the world's eight richest countries landed in the golfing greens of Gleneagles in Scotland to a `Make Poverty History' protest march, the manager of Europe's fastest growing football superclub, Jose Mourinho, all but echoed the slogan, `Make Transfer History'. In an interview with GQ Magazine, he said that he intended to do away with Chelsea buying players by the time his contract ends in three years.

N. U. ABILASH

EVEN as leaders of the world's eight richest countries landed in the golfing greens of Gleneagles in Scotland to a `Make Poverty History' protest march, the manager of Europe's fastest growing football superclub, Jose Mourinho, all but echoed the slogan, `Make Transfer History'. In an interview with GQ Magazine, he said that he intended to do away with Chelsea buying players by the time his contract ends in three years.

In the post Bosman times of European football, where wages have superseded transfer spending and when the transfer market is in depression, Mourinho possibly did not think that he should state the obvious — how he intends to spend Abramovich's funds. The latest bit of largesse that is likely to be promised to Chelsea by billionaire owner Roman Abramovich — a substantial part of the �780m dividend from his oil company Sibneft — would be spent in paying the wages of Frank Lampard, John Terry and Co., which are upwards of �120,000 a week.

The football-mad Russian tycoon would almost have had one more �100,000 or more a week player in his wings if Steven Gerrard had not mysteriously rediscovered his "emotions" for Liverpool yet again. Gerrard agreed to put ink to paper to a renegotiated contract at Anfield which will give him �100,000 a week at Anfield for the next four years when he had spent most of the last two weeks squabbling with manager Rafael Benitez and demanding he be put up for transfer by the Merseyside club, which refuted Chelsea's figure of �32m in what would have been the most exciting and colourful move of the dull summer break.

Half way into the transfer season, Europe is only a little bit closer to the one big deal that would inject much needed cash into the market and generate excitement among football lovers than what the G8 is to eradicate Third World poverty — an eternity. With Thierry Henry, Andriy Shevchenko, Adriano, Ronaldinho and Samuel Eto'o likely to stay on at Arsenal, Milan, Inter and Barcelona, it appears certain that the world record transfer figure is unlikely to be broken for the fourth year running since Real Madrid bought Zinedine Zidane from Juventus for �47m in 2001. Only once in the last 40 years has the bar not been raised for so long. Depressingly, the current situation comes in the wake of the bar being raised five times in as many years between 1996 and 2001.

Transfers have always been the prerequisite for a vibrant redistributive economy in which resources of bid clubs percolate to smaller clubs in exchange for the talent they have blooded in their youth academies, second and first teams. However, after the Bosman Ruling of 1995 by the European Court of Justice — which allowed players to move freely from clubs in one European country to those in another EU member State at the end of their contracts — players have been put in a powerful position to bargain their wages with their own clubs and with potential employers when their contracts are nearing an end. The wage structures of leading European clubs have been smashed by the movement of free agents and also by the wage demands of star players in the transfer market, who have to be paid much more than what a less talented player who got in as a free agent was given. The trend caused an alarmed FIFA President Sepp Blatter to say last month in a German football magazine that it is high time that clubs lowered wages so that they did not run into debt and for injecting life back to the depression-hit transfer market.

"Ask for �80,000," was the alleged text message sent by Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira to team-mate Ashley Cole, when the left back was renegotiating his contract earlier this year. Cole dutifully obeyed his captain's advice and Arsenal strangely developed cold feet over keeping an asset of theirs in their ranks. What followed is well documented — the scandalous meeting between Cole, his agent, the Chelsea chief executive Peter Kenyon and manager Jose Mourinho in a London hotel broke Clause `K' of the Premiership, which forbids contracted players from approaching future employers directly, and fines were slapped by the FA on all three parties. But, perhaps, the not so publicised consequence of what is now referred to as `Colegate' is that Arsenal has closed all its doors for Cole to other Premiership rivals, which means that football lovers have to wait and watch till the transfer window closes in August whether the left back will indeed be signed on by Real Madrid (as a replacement for the ageing Roberto Carlos).

A redundant Luis Figo, who is nearing the end of his contract, is likely to be the first galactico to be offloaded from the Spanish capital after a second successive season without trophies. If that has not happened till now it is only because a lot of other clubs would struggle to pay his wages. Newcastle manager Graeme Souness, armed with the cash after selling an expensive Patrick Kluivert, badly wants the Portuguese star to be brought to Tyneside, but even the �90,000 a week that Figo is demanding — a watered down figure from what he is getting at Real — is too big a burden for Souness. It could be too big for Liverpool also despite the nice cache of riches — in excess of �20m — that has come to Benitez after the Champions League win.

Age is still on the side of the other galactico who may find his way out of Madrid, Michael Owen, who is only one year into his contract. However, the England striker wants to start regularly in the coming season to be in form for the World Cup in 2006. And his supposed destinations are either Chelsea or Manchester United, where after the Glazer takeover, Sir Alex Ferguson will soon irritatingly find himself with an annual transfer ceiling of �25m. If Chelsea or Real Madrid do not do a last-minute swoop of Henry, Shevchenko, Adriano, Eto'o or Ronaldinho, it appears that the most exciting transfer this season — in terms of star value and entertainment though not in terms of money — would be the impending signing of emerging young Brazilian striker Robinho from Santos for upwards of �14m to partner fellow Brazilian Ronaldo and Madrid legend Raul up front. There is, of course, the perennial interest in Patrick Vieira by Continental clubs — this time the Frenchman is linked with Juventus — which is likely to fizzle out as usual by the end of August. Even if Vieira leaves Highbury, the deal is estimated to be in the region of �30m, quite a way off the existing mark set by his international team-mate in 2001.

To end on a more cheerful note, it may not be long before the Russian in West London sets apart �100m — the current estimated value of Ronaldinho — of the Sibneft money to go shopping in Catalonia.