Personnel's 'personal problems' stymie Pilgrims' progress
A few weeks ago I commented on MK Dons striker Sam Baldock’s decision to favour heart over head and spurn newly promoted Peterborough’s advances. Baldock claimed not to have felt excited by the prospect of a move to Posh, and I praised his honesty, speculating as to how often the inane smiles of new signings paraded before fans and media ‘mask an expression of grim resignation at having been forced out of a previous club, the horrified realisation of having made a huge mistake or nothing but a smirk at the thought of the accompanying salary‘.
Sometimes, though, doubts are unwisely suppressed and then that ‘horrified realisation‘ simply cannot be masked. Take the example of Liam Dickinson, for instance. Having lost his way since a £750,000 move to Derby in 2008, and released by Barnsley after just four appearances for the Tykes last season, the striker signed up to Plymouth’s bid to bounce back into League 1. As Pilgrims manager Peter Reid suggested, the deal promised to prove mutually beneficial: ‘He needs to get his career back on track, I think it’s a great opportunity for us‘.
And yet less than a week after putting pen to paper Dickinson had left, citing ‘personal reasons‘. Acting chairman Peter Ridsdale grudgingly accepted the player’s decision, commenting cryptically: ‘We fully understand the reasons why‘.
And then came the news that lightning had effectively struck twice. Rochdale striker Anthony Elding agreed to join the Devon side, only to renege on the promise after ‘sleeping on matters‘. Once again, Ridsdale was forced into a humiliating public statement exonerating the player for his conduct: ‘He has compelling personal reasons for the decision, which we fully understand.’
The history books are littered with instances of footballers committing to contracts only to rip them up weeks or even days later. Sometimes this has been because bigger clubs came sniffing and they realised they’d sold themselves short. See, for example, Dietmar Hamann, who signed a pre-contract with Bolton only to be swept away by more attractive suitors in the shape of Man City a day later. Or Robert Jarni, the Croatian full-back recruited by Coventry after an impressive 1998 World Cup who was then poached by – or handed to, depending on whether you buy into the conspiracy theory – Real Madrid for an £800,000 profit.
For others, homesickness just gets to be too much. Oxford’s Joey Beauchamp signed for West Ham for £1m, but couldn’t bear the commute and refused to move house, so slunk off to Utd’s rivals Swindon without having made a competitive appearance. More famously, David Unsworth’s wife demanded a move north away from Upton Park and, dissatisfied with her hubby’s choice of Aston Villa, insisted on a return to Everton a month later.
Sometimes, one appearance is quite enough for it to be clear to both parties that things aren’t going to work out. Sol Campbell put in one shift for Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Notts County, in a 2-1 defeat at Morecambe, before his contract was cancelled by mutual consent, while the tale of Ali Dia, Southampton and Graeme Souness’ incredible gullibility is the stuff of legend.
So, what to make of goings-on at Home Park? What does ‘personal reasons‘ actually mean? Surely it can’t be a coincidence that two players have performed dramatic U-turns on the same grounds in such quick succession. TTU’s resident Pilgrims fan Lloyd has ventured – and I’m inclined to agree with him – that Dickinson and Elding both signed up without fully realising what they were committing themselves to: a club which remains in dire straits in financial terms, leeching cash and with few willing to offer a life-giving transfusion, and which is still unable to afford to pay its staff anything like the salary to which they’re entitled. It follows then that Ridsdale, assuming he attempted to pull the wool over the pair’s eyes, had little option but to allow them to escape and find gainful employment elsewhere (Southend and Grimsby respectively). Peter Reid must feel like a baby who’s had the candy snatched out of his mitts – or, perhaps more fittingly, a monkey repeatedly robbed of his bananas.
This rash of temporary transfers hasn’t only affected Plymouth, though. This week saw Cambridge Utd boot out new signing Steven Connors after just over a month for failing to disclose ‘a pre-existing medical condition‘. While wiping the egg off their faces, at least they can be consoled by the thought that they were consciously deceived and duped about Connors’ injury record – Kieron Dyer’s new employers QPR will have no such consolation if (or, rather, when) he ends up in the treatment room…