Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Utility Players

It’s not often that an article about the airline industry lends inspiration for a post about Charlton, but this article did.

The Dutch airline KLM has reportedly asked its underused pilots, if they would be willing to assist with some rather more menial tasks, such as baggage handling.

One particular line especially made me chuckle, namely the one that trumpeted the idea that pilots might want to cast an eager glimpse ’behind the scenes’.

As if your typical dashing Captain, as capable of landing that pretty stewardess in business class as he is a Boeing 747, ever turns to his First Officer at a moment of rare introspection to admit, “I regret never having spent more time behind the check-in desk.”

For some time I’ve wondered whether footballers’ contracts specifically state that they must be employed as a footballer?

Certainly in the vast majority of cases, this is the most useful role they can fulfil, but in certain other cases such as injured players or out-of-favour players, surely there are other tasks around the club that they could assist in?

A typical employment contract would specify a main role, but would also state that an employee may be required from time to time to undertake other ‘reasonable’ duties.

In virtually any business, especially a relatively small business like a football club, it is almost a pre-requisite that staff are prepared to ‘muck in’, especially with regard to covering for absent colleagues, or undertaking some dull but necessary tasks.

Take Martin Christensen for example, a player signed in March 2007 by Alan Pardew who assured fans that, “…fans will be excited when they see him” Well Alan, we’re still waiting.

It is rumoured the Dane may be earning as much as £5,000 per week, not bad for a 21-year old with not even a place on the substitutes bench to his name.

So whilst the club eventually managed to loan him out (though presumably on a shared-cost basis), it surely would have been preferable in the meantime to have used him to do odd jobs around the club, rather than make him show up for training with no realistic prospect of graduating to the first team.

As a fit young man, he could have helped to unload boxes in the club shop, or perhaps help Paddy Powell tend to the playing surface.

I’m being a little facetious of course, but not entirely so. If it has been the lad’s attitude rather than ability that has held him back, then a few weeks in the ticket office might just be the tonic.

Likewise, I see no reason (particularly at the lower levels of the game) why an injured player should not be used in other roles, so long as they do not interfere with his rehabilitation.

The contract system works both ways of course, and until the Bosman ruling, even players at the end of their contracts were not permitted to leave for free.

However if that concept was rightly changed in favour of the player, surely likewise the case of a highly-paid player who is never utilized should be challenged in favour of the club too?

Former Chelsea full-back Winston Bogarde is perhaps the finest example, although by all accounts his attitude was unimpeachable, always being fit and available for selection. He just refused to move on that's all, as was his right.

In the end he only appeared eleven times in four years, earning nearly £10million in the process, as Chelsea’s increasingly desperate attempts to offload him failed unsurprisingly.

I’ve equally wondered whether there was scope for the ‘instant dismissal’ of a player for gross misconduct, on the back of a series of particularly disappointing performances.

It would certainly keep players on their toes if they spotted the Head of HR in the West Stand, poised over a P45 form with a pen at the ready.

Luke Varney (who would surely have been on a 'final warning') may well have slotted home that last-minute chance against high-flying Burnley for example, and then who knows what might have happened to Charlton's season?


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