To boo or not to boo: How former players can earn cheers or jeers
As everybody pointed out, the receptions afforded Richard Dunne and Gareth Barry by their former fans contrasted markedly on Monday night at Villa Park. City fans were commended, while Villa fans felt justified. Let’s consider the unwritten rules for players hoping to ensure a happy return after moving to a rival club.
- Don’t celebrate goals against your former club.
If you left on good terms, this enhances your respect status. Good examples are Richard Dunne on Monday and Carlos Tevez against West Ham.
It is possible to get away with a minor celebration with your new fans, and for people like Craig Bellamy and formerly Steve Claridge, who’ve lost count of their previous clubs, this is probably just as well.
Example of what not to do: Emmanuel Adebayor committed the cardinal sin of deliberately heading to the Arsenal fans to celebrate. A YouTube classic.
- Do make it clear you’re not leaving for the money.
This is where all City’s new signings struggle. If we recruit a new tea lady, she’d be accused of coming for the money.
- Don’t go to your old team’s biggest rivals.
A word with Sol Campbell about returning to Spurs in an Arsenal shirt might have given Carlos Tevez an idea of what to expect at Old Trafford.
- Don’t become the face of your new club.
It was a brilliant piece of marketing, but let’s be honest, the ‘Welcome To Manchester’ poster didn’t do Carlos any favours in his relationship with the folk over the road.
- Don’t be seen associating with your new club before you’ve left the old one.
Paul Ince getting photographed in a United shirt while still with West Ham was a timeless classic the Upton Park faithful will never forget.
Ashley Cole being caught talking with Chelsea while still at Arsenal was heaven for the tabloids.
Always let the agent take care of the tapping up. (Does anyone really believe that Joleon Lescott’s ‘people’ had no idea of the terms City might offer?)
- Don’t kiss the badge of your new club in front of your old fans.
Sylvain Distin was already getting stick for ‘mercenary’ behaviour on his return to Eastlands, when he responded by pointing to, or kissing the Pompey badge (I didn’t have a clear view of which it was). Cue outrage.
- Don’t bad mouth your former club, and especially the fans.
It’s ok for fans to complain about their own club and players, but don’t you do it from outside the club!
Adebayor went badly wrong in repeatedly talking of his hurt from being booed by the Arsenal fans as being a reason for leaving. Fans will always feel they’re in the right, no matter how ridiculous their actions. Arguing against that will only rub them up the wrong way. It’s their club. In fact, they are the club.
- Don’t keep going on about your problems with the ex.
This is where Adebayor triumphs again. Even City fans must be getting bored with hearing him pulicly talk through his issues with the Gunners.
- Don’t try to hard against your former club, or kick lumps out of former colleagues (Adebayor once more).
I remember Paul Dickov getting a good reception when he returned to Eastlands. Unfortunately he then went on to play his usual game of harassing opponents and soon found himself getting booed. Scoring and celebrating ensured more stick. I’m glad to say he’s since been forgiven (making a guest appearance on the pitch) as everyone prefers to remember his Play-Off Final heroics.
- Do play rubbish before you leave.
Nobody wants to see their best players leave. Arsenal fans were fuming when Barca and Milan hovvered around Adebayor after he cracked 30 goals in a season. By the time he joined City they were delighted to see the back of the lazy so-and-so.
- Do blame the move (though not explicitly) on an unpopular manager or chairman, who’s wrecking the club.
Fans may have some understanding if they can see the club is going to the dogs, and they’ll have someone else to vent their fury on. Shay Given may have left Newcastle in the middle of a relegation season, but after many years loyal service, he’ll be sure of a decent return, while the fans can blame Mike Ashley and his ‘cockney mafia’.
- Do try and go for an exorbitant fee, particularly when leaving a penniless club.
This is one of the few occasions it’s ok to acknowledge a monster pay-hike. Pompey’s former stars are ‘victims’ of the clubs mis-management, and who could argue against Ã‚Â£17m for Glen Johnson?
- Do try and make it appear your best years are behind you.
Arsenal fans can regularly console themselves that when their heroes leave, they did at least see the best of them (even if they go on to win a few trophies elsewhere, as Thierry Henry did, scooping a treble last season with Barca). Pipping your former side to the title as Gordon Strachan did with Leeds is a little more risky mind.
- Do appear to be forced out.
Elano may have been as inconsistent as the quality of my articles, but he maintained the sympathy of some when Hughes clearly didn’t fancy him. Playing Vassell instead, in the position Elano occupies for Brazil? Just cause for an exit in anybody’s book.
- Don’t let the transfer drag on to long.
This accentuates the pain for the fans you’re leaving. Gareth Barry didn’t even complete his transfer to Liverpool last Summer, but the damage was done. A truce rather than forgiveness oversaw his performances last year, and Monday night gave Villa fans the chance to finally vent their feelings.
- Do be wary of saying you’re moving for ‘footballing reasons’ or ‘to further your career’.
A player may think this puts him on a higher moral plain than saying he’s moving for the cash, but fans who feel their club is the best in the world may disagree – even if they’re currently penniless and languishing in the old fourth division.
It’s also particularly galling to fans of teams who think they’re close to challenging for honours. Lescott may well be right that City have a better chance of getting into the Champions League, but don’t try telling that to anyone at Goodison Park.
- Try not to have a Scrooge-like chairman or manager.
Daniel Levy is one who likes to squeeze every last penny out of a deal. Witness the classic situation this Summer when he valued Peter Crouch, the striker he wanted to sign, at less than Ã‚Â£10m, while trying to get Ã‚Â£16m for Darren Bent who was considered surplus. The player is then in no-mans land as a transfer stalls, and relationships with both sets of fans can be strained.
Fortunately for Bent, his swearing about Levy in a tweet was a view shared by most Spurs fans and he got away with it. Berbatov’s drawn out transfer to Old Trafford, which was only completed after City forced United to meet Levy’s ridiculous asking price, has ensured the Bulgarian will never be welcomed back to White Hart Lane.
- Do have a chairman or manager who recognises the real world.
It helps if the club which a player is leaving recognise ‘football is a short career’ and the player (and his agent) have to make the most of it. Surprisingly, old-school Dave Whelan comes up trumps here. ‘We won’t stand in the way if a player gets an offer from a top club’ has been his enlightened view, so long as he gets a decent fee. Examples: Wilson Palacios and Antonio Valencia enjoyed relatively smooth moves.
I may add to this list if I can think of any more. In the meantime, please add your own in the comments.