Best of the Benchwarmers

argues that football’s money-driven culture has produced a new breed of perennial back-ups

Man City outcasts Wayne Bridge and Emmanuel Adebayor, Image: sp3ccylad via flickr Creative Commons

Man City outcasts Wayne Bridge and Emmanuel Adebayor, Image: sp3ccylad via flickr Creative Commons

As the physical demands of football have increased over time, so have the size of squads needed to compete on all fronts. The Premier League’s attempt to curb the biggest clubs’ propensity to stockpile playing talent, by introducing a 25 man limit, has encouraged top flight managers to exercise greater restraint in their recruitment activities to avoid the absurd situation evident at Manchester City. The intense investment made over the last four years, which sees City currently occupying top spot, has also given rise to a new breed of throwaway footballer.

In many ways, the entire Manchester City project was predicated on just the sort of disposability that the club is now encumbered by, struggling to rid itself of many who were bought with short-term aims in mind, to bridge the considerable gap between mid-table also-rans and European certainties. To achieve this they were required, particularly during Mark Hughes’ largely fruitless year and a half in charge, to overspend on a number of players who, having now outstayed their welcome, are of little inclination to leave given the financial rewards their contracts still entitle them to.

Some would say that Man City are getting due comeuppance for assembling a group of players whose ambition was understandably questioned upon their arrival, their decision to join the club seemingly driven primarily by the prospect of increased earnings. They therefore remain unable to offload Emmanuel Adebayor, Roque Santa Cruz and Wayne Bridge amongst others from their almost obscenely talent-laden squad. And even Carlos Tevez, now effectively ostracised by manager Roberto Mancini after their falling out in Munich, could prove hard to usher out of Eastlands on a permanent deal, given the reluctance of other clubs to match his reported £250,000 a week salary.

The consequence is that many, including the aforementioned Adebayor and Santa Cruz, have had to be loaned out on heavily subsidised wages while others, like the obstinate Bridge, seem unwilling to leave their lucrative roles as occasional bench occupiers, with the former Chelsea full back having made a just one senior appearance this season against Birmingham in the third round of the League Cup. That City’s ability to spend big in the January transfer window, should Mancini see fit, remains profoundly unaffected by their current reputation as the ideal refuge for pitch-shy players is a sad indictment of modern football’s oligarch-driven indebtedness to money above all else.

Aside from frustration at the manoeuvrings of mercenary players, City come out of this scenario practically unscathed due to their limitless wealth, circumventing Premier League restrictions on squad size by banishing the unwanted from front line action. This issue has been evident previously, with Winston Bogarde’s acrimonious spell at Chelsea a notorious example of the non-playing footballer, but this phenomenon has been taken to extremes at Manchester City. So perhaps it’s fitting that their ostensible third choice keeper is Stuart Taylor, formerly of Arsenal and Aston Villa, who has made a mere 86 appearances during a fourteen year career.

Unfortunately, at Man City and elsewhere the role of perennial back-up seems to have become increasingly common, and almost a specialist position in its own right, as players are tempted into a state of semi-retirement.