Over the past few years, we have seen quite a few talented footballers opt to represent almost unheard of clubs. When I say unheard, I mean by virtue of absolutely no recognisable history or achievement. Why would Didier Drogba, at the pinnacle of football after Chelsea’s UEFA Champions League victory, choose to sign for the Chinese team, Shanghai Shenhua; to join Nicolas Anelka? Same goes for Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, who left Catalonian shores to play for the New York Red Bulls. So can money be deemed as an end-all factor, or is there more to the mix?
We have a number of footballers who are in the ranks of this infamous list. The aforementioned join the likes of David Beckham (LA Galaxy) and Samuel Eto’o (Anzhi) who have left at more or less, the same stage in their careers to find new pastures.
Now at a macro level, the first detail that catches the eye is the money involved. David Beckham left Real Madrid at the age of 33, Eto’o was 30, Henry left at the age of 32, Drogba is now 34 and Anelka is 33. Clearly, they are all nearing the end of their footballing careers and are moving to clubs which are star-struck and will pay obscene amounts to avail their services. This fact doesn’t actively try to denigrate these players as they are simply doing what every person does, setting up a pension fund to take them through their lives post retirement.
The transfer amounts were quite notable in most cases, and players like Eto’o were still riding high to leave clubs of greater stature and importance to leave for unknown rich clubs. But Anzhi Makhachkala gave him €20 million after tax, per season, which made him the world’s highest paid player then.
David Beckham left Real Madrid for a mean $32.5 million which was spread across the MLS as the move was seen as a boost to the entire league and not just Los Angeles Galaxy. This price was over 50 times the salary of the average MLS footballer and that in itself is a surprise, even for Beckham. Drogba too reportedly signed on the dotted line for £200,o00 a week.
This theory is a little larger than life and may seem to glorify the footballers in question. Maybe, just maybe, the footballers actually wanted to help augment the game in various corners of the world. Given football is already the most watched sport in the world, but countries such as the United States of America were still considered uncharted territory. Maybe Landon Donovan would beg to differ, but the MLS just isn’t followed as closely as some of the indigenous sports.
Post the arrival of the Beckham family, the MLS has certainly seen a boost, which has spread over ticket sales to shirts. David Beckham showed them how it is done and the clubs have lapped it up. Henry followed suit and now we have reports of how Red Bull fans are devastated post his injury today. That is the kind of following that was intended and the management has achieved it to quite an extent.
This one is a mix of the two theories explained above. A player may leave under the influence of better return and greater opportunity, to leave their stamp on a region’s football. But their roots stay strong and the anonymity of these new clubs force them to ask for a fairy-tale return to the ‘real’ clubs. Thierry Henry scripted such a return when he came back to pry Arsene Wenger out of a tough spot and even scored two winners in the bargain. David Beckham has already completed two loan spells with AC Milan.
Finally, all theories may be true, or none may hold significance. The point is that the footballing greats in the best leagues have now taken common sense in to the equation and have found ways to uphold their lifestyle choices after their footballing careers bid them a tearful goodbye. Here’s to their bulging provident funds and their business sense.