Consequences

The above title could be “Repercussions” or “Blowback” or “Stupid stuff I wish I hadn’t done”, because all of those apply to life in one fashion or another. In this space, we’re just concerned with the ones that have to do with football.

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For example, one set of consequences for stuff that probably shouldn’t have been done involved Philippe Coutinho, currently plying his trade for not-dream-club Bayern Munich. Klopp warned him: “Stay here and they’ll build a statue of you. Go there and you’ll be just another player.” This wasn’t an expression of the relative status of the two clubs (We have 6 to their 5…), but more a measure of how Phil would be appreciated by both club and fans. For better or worse, Coutinho was a star, if not THE star, while he was here. At Barca, no one was ever going to outshine Messi and, indeed, he’s basically the only one immune to criticism on their side. Former favorites Suarez, Rakitic, and even Pique have come under fire before and are now seen as disposable. But it was also a measure of just how the player fits in the style of the club and manager in question. Where Coutinho fit under Valverde was always kind of gray. It was an unknown quantity.

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That makes what’s currently happening to Emre Can at Juventus more of a shame. Can didn’t cause problems in the locker room. He didn’t fake injury to try to force a transfer. He just made a determination that he was going to try do something new and played out his contract, coming on for the last 24 minutes of the final in Kiev as his last game with the club. He went to a big club on one of the free transfers that they collect like sand on a beach, with a relatively long-time manager (Allegri) in place, and an understanding about what his role would be in a durable midfield. But, shortly into his second season, he’s not on the Champions League roster of new manager, Maurizio Sarri. Now, there was no way to predict that Allegri would take the fall for not winning the CL after five years as Juve’s most successful domestic winner. There was also no way to predict that Juventus would continue on a “buying” spree that not only placed him in competition with the already-present Miralem Pjanic, Blase Matuidi, and Sami Khedira, but also Aaron Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot, both of whom were obtained on frees, just like Can. In that group, he’s not even guaranteed a starting spot in Serie A or the Coppa, to say nothing of the club’s primary focus of European glory. What makes this even worse is Can’s assertion that the Juventus board promised him inclusion in the CL squad, only to be dropped from it, presumably by the manager.

So, I don’t agree with people suggesting that his and Coutinho’s situations are similar “grass is greener” scenarios. Coutinho forced a departure because he thought he was going somewhere better. Can played out his contract in a professional manner and departed for something different. As far as anyone can tell at the moment, he didn’t do any grave digging.

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Speaking of forcing moves with outlandish behavior, we come to Bobby Duncan. I’ll admit up front that I was less impressed with this kid than many other LFC fans, so I’m carrying a bit of a bias as it is. I don’t really care if he’s a “local lad” or that Liverpool was his “boyhood dream”. I just want to know if he can play. I saw a couple of the U23 matches he played in and, while I acknowledge that he’s capable, I didn’t see anything that said to me that this kid was the “next Robbie Fowler”. The other thing to keep in mind is that, having watched college (American) football for 45 years, you have to keep relative skill levels in mind. The history of the sport is littered with those who were superstars in college and declared as “sure things” for the NFL, but whom never materialized into much of anything. That’s because you go from the millions playing high school football to the thousands playing college football to the 1856 playing in the NFL. The transition from the U17s to the U23s to the senior squads of most Premier League clubs is a similar enforced winnowing, especially when you consider that many star players from outside England end up on the senior squad not from progressing through the academy, but from being bought. I know that’s a source of angst and anger for the Brexit-inclined among you cheerleading for the “local lads”, but that’s pro sports in the modern era. Want to keep winning European trophies? Bobby Duncan and guys like him may not be your answer.

So when Duncan forced a move from Man City’s academy to his “dream club” (here we go…) and then, one year later, essentially forced a move out of said “dream club” to an also-ran Serie A side, it’s appropriate to ask questions. When his agent, Salf Rubie, lets loose with a public tirade, dismissing Michael Edwards as a “glorified data analyst” and accusing the club of “bullying” his client by not letting him have what he wants, it’s appropriate to ask questions. What he apparently wanted was a loan to Fiorentina, without fee, and an option to buy next summer. In other words, a free 9-month trial for Fiorentina, in which all of the risk and cost is assumed by LFC until the Purples make up their mind. No deal. Having finally come to the terms of an actual sale with a 20% sell-on clause on the eve of the window closing, LFC at least got some money out of it (with more to follow if he, y’know, actually succeeds) and Duncan got his transfer away to a new “dream club.” Good luck convincing Fiorentina management that you’re the greatest thing to grace the Artemio Franchi at the age of 18. Apparently, the deal was also negotiated by Duncan’s previous agent, Rob Segal, since the Reds refused to deal with Rubie after his tantrum. That only highlights the fact that Duncan has apparently had no less than six agents in three years. Something tells me that Rubie won’t be able to get him the glory that he feels entitled to, either.

You gotta be kidding me. Predictably, Romelu Lukaku was the subject of racist taunts by the Cagliari fans in a game. Anyone who knows the history of Serie A and particularly its more, uh, provincial outposts has seen this story before. What they haven’t seen is the response from the Inter ultras, which is unusual, to say the least:

Let me rephrase the above: You gotta be fucking kidding me! Racism isn’t a “real” problem in Italy… because it’s a sign of respect? They’re not really racists because they’re just supporting their club? And Cagliari and Inter fans have always done that so it can’t be an expression of racism? I mean, apart from the usual asides and diversions (“we’re a multiethnic organization” = “I have Black friends!”), suggesting that all Italian football fans (and, by association, all Italians) can’t be racists BECAUSE they taunt Black players with monkey chants doesn’t even stand the tests of reason or logic. Throw in the extra credit for victim blaming (“You saying such things are racism is only making the problem worse!” Quick, someone find me a GOP campaign manager. This is gold!) and you have the perfect compilation of both privilege and willful blindness, aimed by the ultras of a club at their own player. Evertonian and Manc or not, Lukaku has my sympathy for being dropped into the profound idiocy that is the Italian ultra environment.

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Finally, a little history. More recent fans may not be overly familiar with the names Michael Owen and Alan Shearer, but the two were stars in the Premier League from the 90s into the first decade of this century. Michael Owen is perhaps best known to LFC fans for having been the top scorer for the club for seven years (1997-2004) before departing for Real Madrid, where he sat on the bench for a year, before being sold to Newcastle where he renewed his friendship with fellow England international, Alan Shearer, only to see said friendship dissolve under the pressures of a club headed for relegation and managed by Shearer for eight games in an attempt to save it. After that effort failed, Owen departed for ManU. Shearer, for his part, is both England’s and the Premier League’s all-time scoring leader and a boyhood fan (here we go again…) of Newcastle, which makes this kind of exchange all the more telling:

Owen released an autobiography today that details just how unhappy he was at St. James’ and it’s clear that neither Shearer nor most Newcastle fans have forgiven him for his lack of form and, supposedly, unwillingness to play to help save the club from going down because of an interest in getting a big contract from another EPL club (which turned out to be the Mancs, unsurprisingly.) Along those same lines, most LFC fans have never forgiven him for departing for Madrid’s cash in the first place and then moving from Newcastle to, of all places, ManU. Despite that, he remains an “ambassador” for Liverpool Football Club to this day.

Now, much of the spat between Owen and Shearer boils down to a “he said, he said” situation. Both are in the media as pundits. Both have books that tell their side of the story (I always love when people say “Read the book if you want the REAL answers”, as if their personal recounting of events is The Truth because it’s in print.) And, frankly, a lot of the frustration of both Liverpool and Newcastle fans is heightened by the fact that Owen was an extraordinary talent who was beset by injuries for much of his career and never quite fulfilled the expectations that everyone had for him; in the case of Liverpool, winning a league title; in the case of Newcastle, staying up (and, yeah, I guess winning a title.) He’s the definition of a footnote in the Madrid Galácticos era and there’s no doubt that he angled his later career toward the clubs that would pay him the most.

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But, in the end, that’s kinda what the game is about as a professional. Sure, everyone plays for glory and to win trophies. But there’s no doubt that Coutinho, Can, Duncan, and Owen all left Liverpool for the prospect of more cash, in addition to the “dream club”, the chance at more trophies, or simply playing time. The fact that none of those has really worked out for them (admittedly, Coutinho has 2 La Liga titles and a Copa to his name, while Can has a Serie A title) is just the cost of doing business, but I think it’s also a reflection of the kind of team and club that Klopp, Edwards, and FSG are building here. It’s still competitive on the pitch, but it’s a smaller squad because Klopp does actually want to give access to the academy prospects that deserve it. It’s still making money hand-over-fist (record profits, on the verge of a record kit deal), but is willing to commit long-term money and contracts to those it feels are committed to Liverpool. Plus, we are winning trophies for everyone who’s had the patience and commitment to stick around and see the project through.

So, yeah, there are consequences and repercussions for one’s actions, but sometimes those are positive. I’m just glad we have a team that’s able to see that and wants to stick around and enjoy it.

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