Wes Brown was repeatedly given a hard time by Sir Alex Ferguson when it came time for contract negotiations. In October 2004 the club had offered Brown what they believed to be a reasonable deal and weren’t prepared to budge.
“We’ve made the boy an offer and he’s turned it down,” said Ferguson. “It’s his decision. He can please himself – there are no more talks planned that I’m aware of. If he wants to stay we would love that. But if he wants to look elsewhere that’s up to him – there’s nothing you can do with modern-day footballers. He has changed his agent – I don’t know why. He’s got an agent that has given him advice that I do not understand. I think the problem is with the agent, not the player.”
The following month a deal was agreed and the manager was delighted, claiming he “couldn’t bare to lose him.” Maybe both sides were prepared to give a little and the situation was resolved. However, when the next extension came to be discussed, history repeated itself. Midway through the 2007-2008 season, the club were offering him just £45,000 a week on a new deal. He wanted £55,000 a week.
To give some context, in 2003, John O’Shea was offered a contract of around £35,000. “The one thing I don’t want is for people to say I can play anywhere,” said a 22-year-old O’Shea. “It’s fine for this season because it’s done me the world of good but over time I want to stay in one position.”
Four years later and O’Shea had failed to nail down a place in the starting XI but certainly was a very useful utility player. He was rewarded with a contract worth around £50,000 a week.
Back to 07-08, Gary Neville was out for the season meaning Wes was our first choice right back and with 52 appearances, played more games for us than any other player. When you consider this was the season we won the Double (with Wes missing just two league games all season and supplying the assist for our only goal in the European Cup final) it added further weight to his argument that he should be rewarded for his importance to the team. Yet the club still tried to take the piss out of him. Why? Because they thought they could.
“Players of today live in their agents’ pockets,” Ferguson said two months before Wes eventually signed. “It’s a situation which depresses me at times, it really depresses me. Wes has been with us since he was 13, but I don’t think that matters these days. Players’ agents live their lives for them and if you are happy to go along with that, you get the situation you have got just now. But Wes knows this and the other players have told him. We wouldn’t have made the offer if we hadn’t had faith in him. It’s in his hands. It’s amazing really given that he has had such a good season and has had such a good run of games while Gary has been injured.”
So, because Wes had been with the club since he was 13, he should settle for any old salary whilst lesser players earned more. O’Shea was megging Figo when he signed his first big deal in 2003, skipping out on the lesser contracts most players his age who have come through the ranks sign, the kind of contract Wes will have signed at that age. This meant by 2007 they had to bump it up even further, despite the fact O’Shea hadn’t fulfilled that early promise and was used as a utility player.
Then think about how much money Rio Ferdinand was earning every week when he was banned for eight months through his own stupidity, only to then take months agreeing a new and improved contract when he returned. There was no criticism of him by the manager though.
The fans booed Rio during the 2005 pre-season friendlies and rather than agreeing with us, claiming that he was in his agent’s pocket, Sir Alex defended him. “I’m not entirely happy with the reaction of the fans,” he said. “Players who go on the field and hear their own fans booing them is not encouraging at all.” David Gill and Carlos Queiroz offered similar statements of support, “You have to think about your worth,” Gill said. “I respect him for that.”
The foreign players or the bigger names we bring in are afforded time and support whilst ridiculous sums of money are put in front of them and rejected. But the local lads, who are offered lower salaries, are expected to sign. The club means so much more to them yet the club seems to punish them for that.
“I’m a Manchester lad and would love to play for United for the rest of my career,” said Brown in 2001.
“I’ve been here since I was 13 and don’t want to be anywhere else,” he said in 2004.
“I’m a Manchester lad and Old Trafford is still the only place for me,” he said in 2007. “I would love to see out my career at United. I’ve no intention of going elsewhere.”
“I would do anything for the club,” he said later that year. “It is certainly hard to imagine ever playing for anyone else. Hopefully that won’t happen. I am happy here and hopefully I can stay here.”
“To be part of a team I have supported all my life is a great honour,” he said in 2008.
He didn’t start talking to clubs behind our back, he didn’t show a lack of commitment on the pitch, he just asked to be paid what he felt he deserved and was demonised by the club for it.
Some players have a “loyalty” bonus in their contract, whereby if they don’t hand in a transfer request and don’t try and leave, they will be rewarded. What about the players who want to stay regardless? What about those who have always dreamed of playing for that club, give 100% every time they’re on the pitch and would do anything to stay forever? What is their reward? Just being offered a new contract at all, it would seem, regardless of whether it’s on a parity with those of a similar status who happen not to be local.
Danny Welbeck may be the latest player to receive the Wes Brown treatment after the club and player have failed to come to an agreement on salary. Whilst the manager insisted there were no problems last week, it is clear there is some disagreement behind the scenes. This isn’t an unusual situation where new contracts are concerned, with both sides keen to get the best deal, but I would like to see a resolution with allows Welbeck to feel valued.
It’s interesting to note that as a 5-year-old, Danny was playing football on the streets of Longsight with a 16-year-old United trainee. Who else? Wes Brown. On Markfield Avenue at No 42, with a red front door, lived the Browns. On the opposite side of the street were the Welbecks.
“We didn’t encourage it at first – we thought Danny could get hurt,” said Brown. “But the concern didn’t last long, to be honest. Once Danny got started, you could see he was decent. He had the skills and he could look after himself.”
Here are two Manchester lads, who will have worn their United shirts as they played on the fields, lifting their collar like Eric Cantona or trying to take players on like they were Ryan Giggs, who had achieved their dream.
“There is no better feeling for a Manc kid than scoring for United,” Welbeck said in August 2011.
“I’ve been in Manchester all my life and I’m a Manc through and through,” he said in April 2011.
“I suppose I’m just like any other normal Manc boy, really,” he said in September 2009. “To be given the chance to play for United is a dream.”
“Scoring in front of the Stretford End is what every young boy from Manchester dreams of,” he said in November 2008 after scoring on his debut. “I loved it. I’ve thought about it every day of my life ever since I started playing football.”
So, when you get a player who talks like this about the club, instead of rewarding them for that loyalty, it seems as though United are keener to take advantage of it.
Welbeck has reportedly been offered £45,000 a week but is holding out for £60,000. Danny’s agent is his cousin and will have probably taken note of the fact Chicharito has just signed a deal reportedly worth £80,000 a week. Of course, Hernandez had a blinding first season with the club, scoring 20 goals, but the new deal was as much about keeping Real Madrid at bay as it was rewarding the player. His agent had spoken to the Spanish club and there was no way United were willing to lose this gem of a player.
However, Welbeck is ahead of Chicharito in pecking order this season, scoring 9 goals in 21 games, a strike rate of 0.43 goals per game, which rivals the 0.44 goals per game from the Mexican last season. Why should Welbeck put pen to paper on a four or five year deal which sees him earn pretty much half as much as a player he is keeping out of the team?
This is not a matter of money, rather principle. Whether it was £45 a week or £45,000 a week, Welbeck should be offered a deal which is in keeping with his position in the squad and comparable with those around him. If the club want him to prove himself over the course of a season, as Chicharito did, then fair enough, they can open negotiations again in the summer. But Welbeck would then have just 12 months remaining on his current deal and nobody wants us to be in that situation.
I’m not one to pander to the precious culture we see from footballers today but then I also do not agree with the club taking advantage of our local players either. They shouldn’t be expected to be paid considerably less just because they’re desperate to play for United, that is backward. Instead, let’s celebrate the fact we have local lads in the team and see to it that they are duly rewarded. Fingers crossed it will all be sorted out soon and that Welbeck’s Manchester United career goes as well as we all want it to.