I don't begrudge them a single pound, given that the working life of a professional footballer is extremely strenuous (all those early morning wake-up training calls), to say nothing of being tenuous, here today, gone tomorrow, a player's status dependent on his last season if not his last few games. Well, in a manner of speaking, if you know what I mean.
Besides, as I keep saying, it is useless railing over the obscene (relatively, anyway) salaries they receive, football being a form of mass entertainment in this television age and whatever the romance of yesteryear (all these players giving their all for more fame than fortune) I don't see, short of world-wide economic depression (and there are those who warn darkly of exactly that), us ever going back to those poor-arse (well, in a manner of speaking, if you know what I mean) days.
For example, at this stage of his career, the aging (only in football terms, only in football terms) Russell Latapy can hardly be commanding top dollar and yet his agent, John Viola, whose job, admittedly, is to get the most for his client, asked of the T&TFF's Jack Warner for the following as payment for "Latas" to serve as assistant coach to Leo Beenhakker from May 1 to October 12:
1. £20,000 (TT$200, 000 at the old exchange rate of 1£=TT$10) per month for four years
2. Accommodation provided throughout contract
3. Car provided
4. Mobile phone provided
5. First option on manager's position if existing manager (read here "coach") moves on
6. £100,000 bonus if team qualifies for the World Cup
7. £2,500 appearance money
8. £2,500 win bonus
9. Health insurance provided for Russell and family
10. Contract can be renegotiated if team qualifies for World Cup.
11. Russell can choose his backroom staff if he takes up manager's option
12. Return business class flights to Europe for Russell and family....
I suppose this was merely the opening wish-bag as it were but, in any case, the old Jack (himself made football-rich by FIFA) had counter-offered:
1. A fee of US$3,000 per week (TT$19,000 or thereabouts) free from all taxes when attached to the national selection, with business class travel on each occasion.
2. Accommodation in a fully furnished apartment, the use of motor vehicle and the use of a mobile phone for such durations as referred to as "1" above.
3. A bonus of US$100,000 should the team qualify for Germany 2006.
4. A fee of US$2,000 when the team wins a match and US$1,000 when the team draws a match.
5. Insurance against accident and injury.
6. A re-negotiation on the extension on the contract after October 12, should the team qualify for Germany 2006.
7. Nothing in the foregoing shall preclude Russell Latapy from being a player on the team if and when the Head Coach and Russell do agree to such a situation.
Later, in the face of what I presume to be Viola's resistance ("Jack be nimble, Jack be quick, Better start talking real money quick") Mr Warner upped the offer thus:
1. Weekly salary of £2,000 or £8,000 per month
3. Cell-phone allowance
5. International return travel
6. A bonus payment of £75,000 in the event that the team qualifies for Germany 2006
I doubt that any of this was conclusive but I have to admit to not being privy to any further information and, in any case, nothing seems to have come from all this, the reason (well, public at least) for the closure of the Latapy initiative being Latapy's lament that "the role and responsibility as assistant coach/player as initially conceptualised, discussed and agreed is no longer on the table and what is being requested of me, that is, to be a player only is inconsistent with my career goals and vision".
Thus said, "Latas" then went on to "respectfully decline the opportunity to be a player only, as this is inconsistent with my career, and I will now move forward to seeking new opportunities and challenges in my life".
All this, then, suggests that money was not the problem (although Latapy, it seems to me, would have to have conceded a lot for this to be the case). In which case, the question that, I find, sits up and begs to be answered, is who withdrew the assistant coach/player agreement from the table and why. As I began by saying the football professional, just like the labourer, is worthy of his hire and anybody who follows professional sports even, like me, in a less than focused manner, will realise the large numbers around which the game is played.
In which context I am reminded of Northern Ireland's coach, Lawrie Sanchez, on the subject. In the wake of the Wayne Rooney-inspired 4-0 thrashing his team received at the hands (make that "feet") of England a while back, Sanchez said about the "fabulous wealth thrown at young stars:
"At 17, 18 or 21, they don't have to worry about money for the rest of their lives, so they need to have other goals put in front of them...." Well, "Latas" is 36 and I'd be surprised if at this stage of his European career he has to worry about money for the rest of his life. Which means that the possibility does exist that the breakdown in negotiations didn't have to do with money but with those "other goals". I'd be lying, however, if I said that I wouldn't trade the racquet with which I won Harvard's table-tennis competition more than 20 years ago to find out how close Mr Warner and Mr Viola came to settle the money question now that the English pound is trading at one to more than 12 Trinidadian dollars.