Football/Soccer

Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans a good example to in-demand soccer stars

Northern Ireland's Jonny Evans was in demand during the transfer window, but he didn't act like a toddler. Photo Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker Press

You may not believe it, but this column often takes days to complete. Started on a Monday, it's finished on a Tuesday.

So it was already going to include praise for Jonny Evans, even before his excellent performance – and goal – for Northern Ireland on Monday night in the World Cup qualifier against the Czech Republic.

One of his post-match remarks was simply the cherry on top of the icing on top of the cake of his praiseworthiness.

In response to a suggestion that his worth in the transfer market, after intense recent speculation about a move to either Manchester City or Arsenal, had increased due to his display, he smiled and simply said:

"I don't know what my value is. That's not up to me to decide. Others can speculate about that."

The problem with modern football/ soccer, though, is that far too many players have an inflated opinion of their worth and seem to place that above all other considerations.

The old argument that players have a short career so they have to maximise their earning potential doesn't bear much scrutiny.

Anyone who gets a season or two in the English Premier League is effectively set up for life compared to most people.

Yet too many players place no value on honouring contracts they have signed, preferring to agitate for moves, or even go on strike.

Few things in football were as unsurprising as Philippe Coutinho not only starting for Brazil last Thursday but also scoring for them, in their World Cup qualifier at home to Ecuador, even though he'd been apparently unfit to play for his club.

It'll be no surprise either if he returns home from international 'duty', after another qualifier in Bolivia yesterday, having picked up some injury.

Meanwhile, Liverpool FC will keep paying out sizeable wages to a player who doesn't fulfil that description, or certainly hasn't done so for them so far this season.

Similarly, Southampton have had to do without van Dijk, who, we're told, has had a 'virus'. 'Wantawayitis', I believe it's called.

Amid all the statistical analysis in modern sport, perhaps someone could calculate the percentage of 'want-away' players who pick up mysterious injuries or viruses.

They always seem to suffer the afflictions that tend to affect skivers: a bad back; a virus; a sore tummy.

There's no 'human right' to play for Barcelona or Liverpool - or anyone.

Actual human rights – and lives – are under threat in Qatar regarding the workers building stadia there for the 2022 World Cup.

So it's impossible to have any sympathy for Barcelona, who have taken plenty of Qatari money themselves, when they lose a star player – Neymar Jr – to a club effectively owned by Qatar, namely Paris Saint-Germain.

Contrast Barca's bleating about that transfer – and their undoubted influence on La Liga demanding Uefa investigate PSG in relation to 'financial fair play' – with their very public moves to take Coutinho away from Liverpool.

The Reds have no right to moan about that either, after their efforts to entice yet another player away from Southampton, although they were forced into an embarrassing public apology and ended their pursuit of van Dijk.

Evans hasn't played for his club West Bromwich Albion this season either, but there have been no rumours that he has been shirking. In fact, he's reportedly proud to be the Baggies captain and was not stamping his feet to leave the Hawthorns.

Earlier in his career there were hints that he put club before country, although – and I say this as a Liverpool fan – that's understandable when the club is Manchester United and the country is Northern Ireland (the pre-Michael O'Neill version). And especially when your club boss was Alex Ferguson.

Yet there will be no worries from West Brom about him with them from now on.

Evans's attitude contrasted sharply with that of a former clubmate, Saido Berahino. Evans joined WBA in late August 2015, shortly after Spurs had a bid for Berahino rejected by the Baggies.

Berahino's attitude stank after that: he threatened to go on strike, put on weight, and even failed an out-of-competition drugs test, for which he served an eight-week suspension. His drink had been spiked of course.

Yet I listened to former players on a radio discussion show, including that arch-advocate of players' rights, Jermaine Jenas, wondering why WBA had wanted to hold on to Berahino when he wanted a move.

I'm still learning about how to deal with toddlers and young kids

However, letting them get their own way whenever they stamp their feet and cry is not a road I'll be going down.

Contracts are a two-way street.

Clubs get to protect the value of the asset they have invested in and nurtured, often improved.

Players have the security of knowing that they will still be paid their large salaries even if they are injured or out of form. Unlike most workers, their wages won't drop down to a statutory sick pay level (almost £90 per week!) after a certain time.

I understand that being a professional footballer isn't an ordinary job.

No one is knocking down the doors of our Donegall Street offices seeking my services (the fools, the fools).

I know too that, if I wanted to (fool, fool), I could leave this job within a relatively short time, simply by working out a month or two's notice. Who knows, they might even let me go straight away.

Yet I also know that if I don't do any work, don't even turn up for work, The Irish News, wonderful employers though they are, wouldn't keep paying me for years. And I'm not breaking any confidences by telling you that they don't even have to pay me £100k per week.

West Brom boss Tony Pulis adopted a healthy attitude towards his skipper, saying that he wouldn't stand in Evans's way if the price paid for him was deemed right.

Coutinho signed an improved new contract in January of this year - van Dijk did likewise in May 2016 – both without release clauses.

They have only themselves – and their agents – to blame for the fact that they didn't get the moves they wanted.

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