Player power in football – What has happened?

“Footballers played for the club 20 years ago. These days, clubs do everything for the players”, according to former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger speaking to German newspaper Bild in 2018.  The topic of player power has become increasingly prevalent over the years, with high profile sagas from the likes of Kylian Mbappe and Paul Pogba dominating football media. The growing influence of players may lead the world of football down a new path and change the game forever.

How has player power grown?

The beginning of the growth in player power can be traced all the way back to 1995, with the introduction of the Bosman ruling. The ruling allows a player to leave a club on a free as soon as his contract expires, with players allowed to arrange a deal with other clubs 6 months before it expires. This gave players the ability to gain huge signing-on fees and wages from the lack of a transfer fee. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s 2015 book ‘Leading’, he states that when the ruling was brought in “all hell broke loose.” There have been numerous instances where players have taken advantage of clubs, to seal their desired moves, due to this ruling (Paul Pogba, Sol Campbell, and Robert Lewandowski).

The increase in money in football from broadcasting and sponsorships, leading to clubs becoming richer, has seen wages skyrocket. According to Planet Football, the highest wage in the Premier League in 2012 was Carlos Tevez (£250,000). Ten years later and the highest wage belongs to Cristiano Ronaldo (£515,000). A 106% increase between the highest paid players in just 10 years is startling, with many of Europe’s elite footballers desiring similar wages to Ronaldo. Couple this with the heightened media attention in football nowadays, and it’s very easy to end up in a transfer saga with an unhappy player over wages.

Player power – the potential future

While wages can be a driving factor in a player’s departure from a club, the club’s ambition, standing in football and ability to win trophies is also massive, as players want to leave their own legacy behind in football. Clubs are under huge pressure to meet the wage demands and ambitions of their star players, or risk losing them.

If players are unhappy at a club, and the club is unwilling to sell that player, it is common for players to refuse to play to push for their move. We saw this just last year with Harry Kane as his move to Manchester City never materialised, leading to unrest which plagued Spurs’ start to the season and saw a slump in Kane’s form on his return, causing then manager Nuno Espirito Santo’s sacking. Unrest can even be caused from meeting a player’s demands, as seen with Mbappe’s new contract at PSG this summer.

Manager and player feuds are also becoming more common. With players being seen as a more valuable asset to clubs than managers, if a star player comes into conflict with a manager the club is more likely to stay on the player’s side. However, this may change due to it becoming more common for players to run down their contracts, so clubs aren’t guaranteed money from a departing player if there are no buyers. This could lead to a switch in the clubs’ siding with managers rather than players.

Clubs must choose wisely and act accordingly with players, or risk being left behind in a football world slowly being taken over by the players.

Adam Festus

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