Willian, Demichelis and the reduced importance of club contracts

With intense media coverage of transfer rumours and the increased influence of the money men such as agents in European football, it appears that putting pen-to-paper on a contract with a new club is not as set in stone as what it once was. There used to be a case where it was nigh impossible to see a player sold in the first couple of years after moving to a new club, but nowadays the transfer merry-go-round has seemingly spun out of control.

The mindset of footballers and those involved in the game has seemingly shifted from prioritising things on the pitch to those that occur outside of 90 minutes. The media’s seemingly busiest time of the year is orchestrating and covering transfer rumours in the summer and January, rather than actually covering the specifics of the game itself.

Players look to be more superficial these days, with waning club loyalty, a massive drop in ethics and the priority of making money rather than furthering their career. Agents want what is best for their bank accounts, not their clients, while the influx of oil tycoons and Russian billionaire owners has shifted the power structure in the game.

A number of transfer cases this summer have highlighted the evolving nature of the game in Europe. Once a contract was a legally binding agreement to be respected; these days it seems not worth the paper it was printed on.

Willian’s transfer from Anzhi Makhachkala to Chelsea is a prime example. The Brazilian playmaker had spent five-and-a-half seasons at Shakhtar Donetsk and moved to the newly rich Russians in the January transfer window. Despite this, eight months and ten league appearances for Anzhi later he is jumping ship again and moving to Stamford Bridge.

WillianThe South American signed a long-term contract with Anzhi, but the player nor the club seemed intent on honouring it. Willian has been vocal in the past about his desire to factor a move to the Premier League and has used the Russians as a short-lived stepping stone. Anzhi shelled out €35 million  to bring him to Russia, and recouped £30 million for him eight months later – a similar fee. It seems like the player and his agent’s bank balances are the main benefactors, with signing on bonuses and representative commissions ruling the roost.

An even-more staggering transfer is Manchester City’s purchase of Martín Demichelis. The Argentine defender left Malaga in the summer to join Atletico Madrid on a free transfer after his contract expired. However, Demichelis has just been unveiled as a Manchester City player, signing a two-year contract despite never playing a single game for the Spanish capital-city side. In total, the centre-half’s tenure at the Vicente Calderon lasted 52 days.

The media are not blame-free and seem to whip up storms in teacups on a daily basis to degrade the worth of a contract between player and club. Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder were just two of a host of players that signed for new teams in the January transfer window, only for them to be linked with another move this summer.

Demba Ba moved from Newcastle to Chelsea in January as one of the Premier League’s most lethal marksmen, but according to the press the striker’s time in west London is numbered less than a year later. Nicolas Anelka moved to West Brom in the summer on a one-year contract; weeks later there were suggestions he could retire before ever playing a competitive fixture for the Baggies, nevermind scoring a goal.

Maybe I am old-fashioned and need to embrace the trend of consistent ship jumping. It used to be that when a player signed for a new club he was committed to progressing as a player and helping his new side to subsequently improve. However, the example of the 52-day Atletico man Demichelis and the new environment and mindset surrounding the beautiful game show that this is seemingly no longer the case.

I am a freelance football journalist from Northern Ireland living in Broome in Western Australia. I have worked for top media outlets such as FourFourTwo, goal.com, Soccerlens, Football Fancast and Here is the City. I am a lifelong and long-suffering Tottenham fan. Follow me on Twitter at @90MinsOnline
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