Jermain Defoe... what a man, what a legend. In a weekend devoid of the usual football excitement he lit up the country with his attitude, skill, compassion and professionalism, and looks a shoe-in to go to the next World Cup if he can keep up his fitness.
And, because of his age it was his fitness that all the papers wanted to know about. But is 34 that old? I mean he’s a striker, he’s not playing end-to-end stuff, and with wingers and overlapping full-backs, his job was to wait in front of goal for the ball to come to him. Which he did very well. And I really don’t mean to criticise because I have nothing but admiration for the guy.
And for the regime he’s adopted to achieve and maintain his fitness, he's a shining example for how a professional footballer should look after themselves.
Firstly, the vegan diet. As a vegetarian/vegan for over thirty years myself, this is a no brainer. And don’t worry, I’m not going to espouse the downsides of eating dead animals here, but as far as Jermaine goes – first box ticked.
Second – teetotal. No booze – and again I can fully go along with this, tried it for a week once in the Nineties and felt great. And we all know the morning-after feeling:
‘His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum’ - Kingsley Amis
It takes you all day to get to the stage where you need another drink to make yourself feel normal again. So – no booze – right on, Jermain.
But it’s the third one that stops me from being an exceptional sportsman for my age, the one that Defoe called ‘discipline’. Which comes in many guises obviously, but he meant self-discipline, and more precisely, iced baths.
Now, I like to run around and get sweaty as much as the next guy, and a warm shower is compulsory afterwards, but I’m happy to wake up as stiff as a chocolate frog the next morning rather than step into an iced bath after exercise. I mean, who thinks of these things? It’s insane – there must be another way – and until there is, Jermain can have my place in the team any day. He deserves it.
So without the usual tittle-tattle to fill the back pages the papers are starting to speculate about big-money transfers at the end of the season, and none are bigger that Neymar, Manchester United's supposed intended target for a million billion pounds. And that got me thinking – with the amount of money involved in some of these transfers, what do the contracts actually say?
A swift peruse of t’internet was surprisingly revealing, with some actual contracts available to read, but whilst the complexity will vary with both price and ego the basics seem pretty consistent.
So basic salary – what you get for turning up, not even playing. In Wayne Rooney's case that's about £300k per week. Signing on fee - lets say about £1 million – easy money. Loyalty fees – and this one I found a bit more difficult – what triggers a loyalty fee? If no-one else wants you, you stay in one place and get paid extra for being useless?
Image rights – getting paid to be put on stickers and so on – apparently Joey Barton’s was worth £500k per annum at Newcastle, so it's not to be sneezed at. Then any clauses you wish to negotiate – and this is where the weird stuff comes in. If the Club are desperate to sign you then you can bargain. Manchester United gave Jonny Evans' dad a job at the Club to entice them over from Northern Ireland. To persuade Christian Benteke to sign from Liverpool, Palace agreed to sign his younger brother. Or they may have just kidnapped him and held him hostage.
And this is where the Club can limit the behaviour of the player, like being banned from sucking custard up their nose in the canteen, publicly accusing the Chairman of having an erectile dysfunction, or in the case of Stefan Schwarz when he signed for Sunderland – being banned from space travel for the duration of the contract.
Bonuses – players can top up their salaries from a bonus pool that is only limited by the imagination and the finances of the issuing club. If you score you’re entitled to a bonus, if you keep a clean sheet, the same. But if you provide the pass for the goal you may also be eligible, and at some clubs if you pass to the guy who provided the pass for the goal you may be eligible too.
Apparently at Chelsea if you’re the ball boy who handed the ball to the player to take the throw-in which led to the pass to the guy who crossed for the goal scorer, then West London is yours on Saturday night bonny lad.
Substitutes are a tad contentious, for they can earn a reported extra £5000 per game, but only if they come off the bench. Why then, on seventy minutes when the manager does that ‘behind the hands’ thing with his assistant and turns round to face the bench, isn’t he greeted with a sea of hands and a chorus of ‘me, me, me, me, me’?
Obviously not sitting near enough to the front was Ross Barkley, who was in the England squad for the Lithuania game, but didn’t have the opportunity to pick up his extra five grand. Nor did he for the previous game, nor the one before that. In fact his last seven call ups for England have resulted in zero time on the pitch.
‘We like him, he’s a talented player’, said Gareth Southgate, whilst making ‘which one is Ross Barkley?’ faces at his assistant. What he could have said is that he actually wanted Wilfried Zaha but the lad told England to go and do one, and decided his international career would be better spent in the Ivory Coast instead. And who knows, maybe it will.
However Southgate is determined not pick anyone unless they have an “inherent desire” to play for England and has reservations about following Sam Allardyce’s idea of selecting players merely through residency rules.
Apparently Sam wanted to call up Stephen Nzonzi until blocked by Fifa on the grounds that the player was French - duh? Residency rules may have made him eligible because he’d played here for six years. The way things are going you won’t be entitled to a library card in this country after living here for six years, so maybe we should be looking at these rules again?
We all know of players who’ve qualified to play for Wales because they bought a Manic Street Preachers album once, or for Scotland because they were conceived to the background drone of Mull of Kintyre, but if we want players to really want to play for their country, then we have to make it a more exclusive club. And being born there is a pretty good start.
Finally, Swindon may be going over one of their contracts at the moment – that of their Director of Football, Tim Sherwood. Sherwood took over in November in what was marked as a ‘new beginning’ for the Club and proceeded to sideline the existing head coach, Luke Williams.
They’re now one place behind where they were when he started, but all is not bad news. They’ve recently won three matches – all when Sherwood happened to be absent. Surely this is where the bonus scheme could come into his own – a bonus for non- attendance. Hell, Chelsea keep winning and I’ve never been to Stamford Bridge in my life – I could earn a fortune.