David Beckham is a player I have mixed feelings on. As a lifelong Manchester United man and incredibly talented player, he brought so much to the club. He was with United in the most successful year in the club’s history, playing a vital role in our Treble winning season. He played with passion, commitment and brilliant skill. Yet in 2003, after winning the title, he left us for Real Madrid.
People talk of the rift with Ferguson, citing that as the reason for Beckham leaving, and it really gets on my nerves. I am not doubting the falling out with Fergie had influence on his decision to leave, but Beckham fans seem unwilling to admit the realities of the situation.
A year and a half before the boot in the eyebrow incident, following the defeat to Arsenal, contract negotiations with Beckham began. As a self proclaimed United fan, at the height of his career with the club he loved, there surely shouldn’t have been any stumbling blocks. But there were. Whilst club and player had agreed on a weekly wage of £92,000 a week, Beckham was not prepared to settle for what we’d offered him for image rights, working out at £20,000 a week on top of his weekly salary. “It’s not the salary that’s a problem,” he said. “It’s just the image rights that needed a little perking.”
In February 2002, The Telegraph reported that Beckham had already gone through 22 unsuccessful meetings with in the club in regards to his contract. “We will always try and re-sign any player at Man United and David is no different,” Ferguson said at the time. “Hopefully in the next two weeks we will get that sorted. The offer is there, it’s a good one and David knows where he is. I’ve spoken to him many times. I think when David was left out of the team it was an area of worry for him. Nobody likes to be left out but it happened for the best reason and David’s form now is because we rested him – if we hadn’t you would not see that form today.”
If I was Alex Ferguson, who has always stuck by the idea that no one player is bigger than the club, I probably would have fallen out with Beckham too. He describes Fergie as a father figure, he says he loves United, says he wants to stay with the club, but is holding the club to ransom over a ridiculous amount of money. The famous boot kicking incident took place in February 2003 and if I was Sir Alex Ferguson, I wouldn’t have just been kicking that boot around the dressing room, I’d have been picking it up and shoving it down the throat of the player demanding more than £110,000 a week from the club (and let’s remember this was some 5 years ago, truly insane money back then) who put on such a half arsed performance before getting injured and us getting knocked out of the Cup by our fiercest title rivals. The fact that the incident was an accident, Ferguson joking he’d still be playing if he could accurately kick a football boot across a changing room and striking an intended target, seems to be forgotten by the Beckham lovers.
Before signing with Real Madrid, Beckham said, “I’ve never said that I’d never move away from Manchester, and I’ve never said that I’d end my career there.” Seven days before agreeing terms and signing a deal with Madrid, he said, “I’m a Man United player. I’m contracted to Man United for another two or three years, I think.” What took him two years to fail to do with United, he succeeded in doing within a week with Real.
Before I get these Beckham lovers complaining about this article, which will inevitably happen, I want to reiterate how much respect I had, and do have to a certain extent, for the player. I’m not going to hold it against him that he wanted a new challenge and more money playing for Real Madrid, but I do begrudge the blame landing on Fergie’s doorstep and Becks walking away smelling like roses, the victim in the situation. The die hard United fan pushed out of the club by the ever ruthless Ferguson is not a story that rings true at all with me. He may still love the club, cheer us on, look out for our results, but back in 2003, he was far more concerned with the media spotlight and the money than he was playing for United. Like George Best before him who got addicted to the booze and women, Beckham craved the limelight and the dosh. If he had his time over again, I imagine he would have put pen to paper on the first contract we offered him, now realising the bright lights of Madrid were not all they were cracked up to be and that no amount of money can substitute representing United. I bet it tugged at his heart strings seeing former team mates and friends Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs lifting the Premiership trophy last May, longing to be a part of it.
Now, the reason why I am digging all of this up is because of the ongoing problems with Wes Brown’s contract. The same people who laud praise on David Beckham “the red” seem to be giving Brown a hard time over his contract. I must admit, when I first heard he’d rejected our offer, it put my back up slightly. Here he is, playing first team football for Manchester United, and he’s rejected a contract renewal? Who the fuck does he think he is? He’s a big favourite with United fans, who rate him far more highly than fans of any other team. We love him for his attitude, for his approach to the game, and for his willingness to get stuck in. To think of him playing for Newcastle, or Spurs, or Everton, or any of the other likely candidates didn’t sit too well with me, particularly if the sole reason for moving was the money.
However, I’ve done a bit of thinking and research since then, and unusually for me, my opinion has started to change somewhat. Of course I’m not softening to players who are demanding ridiculous sums of money, and whilst I’m not going to go down the whole “I’d play for this club for free, so how can £x not be enough for him?” route, I think Wes Brown has a point when rejecting the latest contract.
The reports are not entirely conclusive, but from what I can gather, Wes has been offered a contract worth £40-45,000 a week, and is holding out for £50-55,000 a week. The reported reason for him not signing is he’s not happy with being offered a fraction of what the top earners at the club are on. Now, he isn’t going to be after the £120,000 of Ferdinand, but something representative of his role within the club.
In his time with United, which dates back to his childhood, he has suffered with reoccurring injuries, he’s played the part of a regular starter, and he’s kept the bench warm. He’s flitted between these three roles for years and currently is going through nearly a year long stint as United’s starting right back, following the injury to Gary Neville last March. The last time he featured so heavily in the first team was the season before last, partnering Rio in the centre of defence all year. So now, his job as “filling in for” Gary Neville has gone on and on, with Neville still not making the return we’ve been promised time and again. The full back on the other side of the field, Patrice Evra, who signed in 2006, has a new contract worth £70,000. Does Wes deserve that? Some would argue yes because he is currently our first choice fullback, others would argue not, as Evra is our long term full back, whereas that is not necessarily the case for Brown.
I had a look around at what other players are earning, which was more difficult than I’d imagined. It was when I found out O’Shea weekly wage that I swayed entirely to backing the case of Brown. O’Shea signed a contract extension in November 2007, for around £50,000 a week, reminding us why we had a soft spot for him as he declared he was happy to play in any position on the field whenever he could, as long as he was at United. The contract O’Shea signed before this was at the end of the 2002-2003 season. Although details are sometimes fuzzy, I found several sources which claimed this deal was worth £35,000 a week. Incredible. O’Shea was offered £5,000 less a week in 2003 than Wes Brown is being offered now, and Wes is being criticised for rejecting it?
Brown will turn 29 this year meaning this contract will be the last big one of his career. If he does sign and stays on with United for the next few years, the 1 year extension is the best he has to hope for. Is he being disloyal making sure he secures a contract he feels he deserves, as the last major one as a player?
The problem here is that United are taking the piss out of Brown because they can, because of the reasons we all love him. He is loyal to and passionate about United, so they feel as though they can scrimp and save, feeling as though his dedication to the club will leave him settling for less than he’s worth. Would they be messing around like this over Ferdinand’s contract? Rooney’s? Ronaldo’s? Of course not. Roy Keane spoke critically of United’s way of handling contracts in his autobiography, claiming that the club were surprisingly “tight” when it came to renewals. The most remarkable dealing Keane had concerning his contract was in 2000 after signing a £52,000 a week contract with the club. The season ticket prices rose before the start of the next season and United wrote a letter to the fans explaining that Keane’s wages were part of the reason. “I’m not one for holding grudges but this was a stupid mistake, a bad public relations exercise and something that should never have happened,” said Keane in response to the letter. “I’m still waiting for my apology but I could be waiting a long time. The board have tried to explain what they meant, that it was part of a wider picture of trying to keep the fans informed, telling them the club wanted to rebuild and strengthen, which is why prices were going up. The fact is nobody should be singled out in a letter. It wasn’t right. I felt everything was being laid at my door.” Clearly, if United can’t handle Roy Keane’s contract in an appropriate manner, what hope is there for Wes Brown?
I don’t think Brown’s complaints are to do with him being a money hungry player, rather a Manchester United player, insisting that the club give him the respect he deserves. He plays a much more important role for the club than O’Shea and has been playing for longer too. Of course he is right to expect a contract substantially better than O’Shea’s. Just imagine, you work for a company, you work hard for them, you have been loyal to them, and you are due a raise. Imagine you find out that another employee, who isn’t as good as you, who doesn’t work as hard as you, who hasn’t been at the company for as long as you, is already making similar money to what you’re being offered in the raise. You’d put up with that? Currently, the club are guilty of disrespecting Brown, despite Fergie’s claims that the offer is a good one.
Brown has kept quiet over the contract talks, rightly believing it is a private matter, rather than one he should publicly criticise the club for. Earlier this week he reiterated his desire to play for the club. “I have been here for more than 10 years and know what Gary is capable of and what he has achieved,” said Brown. “Just to come in for him all season has been perfect for me. I hope he will be fit as soon as possible and we will see what happens then. I will just continue to give it my best. I have been in and out of the side in the past, after picking up little niggles here and there. This season the captain has been out of action, and I have filled in. It is good to be playing week in, week out. You get into a routine, know what you are doing and know your position. I have been doing okay and hope I can keep the run going.”
Fergie has opted for a different approach, talking to the press several times about the contract, and more recently, blasted the role of agents in the game. “Players of today live in their agents’ pockets,” he said, a comment which isn’t going to endear himself to Wes. “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. Wes has been with us since he was 12, but I don’t think that matters these days.”
Wes played for United three days after his father died, not wanting to let the club down. How dare Fergie question the commitment Brown has for the club. The sad thing is that Ferguson is right. He has been with the club since he was a child, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the club, and that is why they are not offering him the deal he deserves.
How do you feel about Brown’s contract?