The GoatyGav Column
To What Extent Do Clubs Owe A Duty Of Care To Players?
He may not be flavour of the month at West Ham but, at the risk of flying in the face of popular opinion, I had some admiration for Jurgen Klopp last week. The reason I had for seeing the positive in the German manager was his handling of one of his young players – Nathaniel Clyne.
There can be absolutely no doubt that the Liverpool manager has acted in the best interests of the young player and not himself and/or the club. Putting the welfare of others ahead of oneself is one of the most admirable human traits. I wouldn’t describe myself as a religious man, by any stretch, but there’s a great deal that can be learned from the teachings of the various religious texts – and selflessness is the one that stands above all for me. Treating others as you’d like to be treated yourself encapsulates so many virtues it’s not surprising that it was voted the most important of the 10 commandments a few years back. So when loaning Clyne out, to Premier League AFC Bournemouth, Klopp ran the risk of leaving his own back line short on numbers. And so it came to pass that injuries depleted Liverpool’s back line however, rather than disrupt Clyne, and Bournemouth, the loanee was allowed to stay at the club where he’s learning and flourishing. Fair play to the German manager I say.
It’s not always the case that clubs operate in the way that Liverpool have in the case of Clyne’s loan. Casting my mind to one of our own club’s youth prospects I wonder if the same can be said. I don’t pretend to know what goes on behind the closed doors of West Ham, so I may be wrong, but it would appear that the club’s onwers have ‘hedged their bets’ in the case of Reece Oxford. When he burst on to the scene at 16, becoming the youngest player to play for the club in a league game following his debut against FC Luscitanos, he turned a great many heads in the press. The season ‘15-’16 opener, and first game in charge for Slaven Bilic, was one that West Ham were not expected to come away with anything from . After a terrific performance, and a creditable one nil win, at the Emirates Stadium many in the media were talking about how Oxford ran the midfield. Sadly Slaven Bilic withdrew Reece from the squad, after a couple more appearances, not giving the youngster a sustained crack at the whip. When compared with Declan Rice, who made similar errors to Oxford, it would seem that West Ham, perhaps, learned a lesson.
Reece enjoyed his time on loan to German Club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, and seemed to want to remain there. Having worked hard to get in to the first team an initial bid, reportedly for £15M, from Borussia was turned down by the club and the player recalled before, eventually, being loaned back to the German club again. It was reported that another bid came in for Reece after he, once again, broke in to the first team at Mönchengladbach but, once again, he was recalled. It seemd that West Ham neither wanted Oxford to establish himself in Germany or sell him. Once again I don’t profess to know what goes on behind closed doors, and it could be that Reece Oxford wanted to return to West Ham to fight for a first team squad place, but, on the face of it, it does seem that he’s been made to feel extremely unsettled and, to a degree, left in limbo following a further loan to Augsburg FC. In Oxford’s two games for Augsburg, one in Midfield and one at Center Back, the fortunes of the team seem to have taken a turn for the better with two consecutive victories before a loss against an on form Werder Bremen.
What now for the talented Oxford? At twenty years old he’s still developing and is, seemingly, in the best place to do so but will West Ham finally allow the player to move on?
Ultimately football is a business and players are assets. Anyone who thinks differently is, probably, being naïve. That said, and with the benefit of hindsight, it would have been sensible for West Ham to have taken the first offer that came in for Reece. As things now stand his contract runs out this June and, with that knowledge, it’s very unlikely that West Ham will receive any money for the twenty year old.
Many other clubs, especially those with large budgets at the top end of the Premier League, seem very keen to retain the services of as many young players as possible when the majority of them stand little chance of breaking in to the first teams. Jordan Sancho, while at Manchester City, was given the option of signing for another Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, who sit proudly atop the German top tier. Having made thirty three first team appearances for Dortmund, scoring eight goals, his development is coming along nicely. That was great for Manchester City and great for the player but, sometimes, the club will want to keep hold of their ‘asset’. Take Phil Foden, for example, who looks like he may have a bright future under Pep Guardiola. I’m not suggesting that Manchester City, or Liverpool, are perfect in their dealings with youth players however they do seem to have some guiding principles when it comes to their best interests.
It’s not just about youth players. A duty of care, of course, should extend to those at the start, the middle and end of player’s careers. There are countless examples of good and bad treatment of playing staff by clubs which I’m sure you’ll use to make your points on this subject.
In many cases, like the song by Sting goes, ‘Set Them Free’, rather than stifling players in the reserves until they become a free agent, is the best way to a win/win scenario. It’s incredibly hard to make it in Professional Football so why make it harder for all concerned?