Player of the Month is Norwich City’s Sean Raggett, who has continued to perform wonderfully despite being advised not to.
“The capacity for a Premier League footballer to behave like a spoilt child is directly, but not necessarily uniquely, related to the amount by which he is overpaid”
Not uniquely, you will note. There are other factors involved of course, such as the absurdity of hairstyle, the number of tasteless tattoos on one arm, the ostentatiousness of his modified Range Rooney, and the precise degree of ingratitude for the opulent lifestyle fortune has chosen to bestow upon him. And we must not undervalue the contribution made by Beelzebub himself, the football agent. Or are those merely the physical manifestations of the main disease itself: money?
Footballers behaving badly is not a recent phenomenon by any means. When I was a boy in the 1970s, footballers were notorious for their off-field behaviour, but in very different ways to today. Everyone’s hero George Best built champagne towers and hid from the press in Sinead Cusack’s flat. The only bars of interest to Jimmy Greaves were not the ones nailed to goalposts. Dear Stan Bowles skipped training to go to the bookies, and Malcolm Allison estimated he had lost a million on the dogs at White City. Frank Worthington kissed goodbye to his England career by making a knob gag to Alf Ramsey, of all people. The top players of the day road-tested Ford Escorts instead of escort girls. It was all quite innocent somehow. The only people they were harming were themselves, and the fans worshipped them for it.
Fast forward to the present decade, if you can face it, and oh, what a difference!
The ever-hilarious Italian comedian Mario Balotelli was one of the first to pop his head above the playpen parapet with a series of wildly irresponsible stunts at various locations throughout Manchester. Having established a certain reputation in Italy by firing gunshots in the middle of Milan and consorting with alleged Mafiosi, Balotelli kept himself amused in England in a number of brainless ways. For example, by throwing darts at a teammate during training; by setting his rented house on fire by letting off fireworks indoors; by taking part in a mock sword-fight in a busy restaurant using rolling pins; by crashing his £140,000 Bentley in Manchester city centre, causing the other driver to fear for his life; by racking up an astounding £10,000 in parking fines and having his car impounded 27 times in Manchester alone; and by fathering a child with his then-girlfriend and denying paternity in the face of every piece of evidence to the contrary. To emphasise his money problem, he famously kept £25,000 in cash in his car; when asked why by a police officer, he replied, “because I can.”
If that were not impressive enough, brilliant midfielder Yaya Toure raised the bar a few years ago with some incredibly childish behaviour in the same city. In 2013, he threatened to leave Manchester City because there were not enough shirts with his name on them in the club shop. According to his agent Dimitri Seluk, he was also very upset because there was not a single picture of him at the Etihad. The fact that there were lots of posters of the Ivorian all around the ground – including one which was a mere 25 feet high – and that he was just as likely to have his name printed on a shirt as any other player appeared irrelevant. Fortunately the media and football supporters all over the world heaped scorn on the pair in hitherto unseen quantities, and it all died a very pathetic death.
But not for long. In 2014, Seluk announced that his client was extremely upset because Manchester City had not wished him a happy 31st birthday; he also stated that the devastated Toure could even leave the club because of the incident. The fact that City presented him with two cakes (not one, you will note), sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him en masse, and wished him many happy returns on Facebook which was liked by over 250,000 fans seemed to pass him by. Seluk explained that Anzhi Makhachkala had presented Roberto Carlos with an £800,000 Bugatti Veyron for his birthday, and that Manchester City’s failure to make a similar gesture was proof that they did not care about his client. When the entirely predictable public backlash and ridicule followed, Toure tried to pass the blame onto Seluk, claiming there had been a misunderstanding. And then he changed his mind, confirming that everything Seluk had said was true. He then promised to explain everything after the World Cup, which he never did. If we were all three years old, we might have believed some of it.
To cut a long and very tedious story short (and I am trying to, believe me), there have been numerous other incidents. At the start of 2016, the Confederation of African Football dared to give its player of the year award to someone else. Toure immediately threw a tantrum, saying, “I think that’s what makes the shame of Africa…Africa will be the first to let you down.” The fact that he had won the award for the previous four years was obviously not enough. For someone so eager to play the disrespect card at every opportunity, his total absence of respect for every other African footballer and in particular for deserving winner Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang of Borussia Dortmund was truly deplorable.
You want some more? Really? Oh, alright then. When Toure was left out of City’s Champions League squad for the 2016-17 season, Seluk interpreted Pep Guardiola’s decision as a humiliation for his client and stated his express hope that Guardiola would be blamed when City’s campaign ended in failure. On that occasion, Guardiola left Toure out of his squad entirely until Seluk apologised. He did, but not until November. To cap a great career on the pitch and an increasingly embarrassing one off it, devout Muslim Toure received the highest drink-driving fine ever (£54,000) in December 2016 after claiming he had not realised he was drinking alcohol at a party. The judge did not believe him and banned him from driving for 18 months, suggesting that he might need to cadge a lift from Mario Balotelli for a while.
Perhaps we should just blame Manchester City though, because our third rebel in a romper suit also spent time there. Pantomime villain Joseph Anthony Barton enjoyed spells elsewhere at various times of course, including Newcastle, QPR, Glasgow Rangers, and at Lincoln’s cup victims Burnley. Strangeways was another home for a time, I seem to remember. That was for a violent assault in Liverpool city centre at Christmas 2007, and he also received a suspended sentence for an assault on Manchester City teammate Ousmane Dabo in May of the same year. He was also charged with violent conduct by the FA on two other occasions – once for punching Morten Gamst Pedersen in 2010, and again for attacking three Manchester City players while playing for QPR in 2012. He received a 12-match ban for that little session.
Recurrent acts of sickening violence apart, Mr Barton has an impressive back catalogue of irritating behaviour to rival the best of them. To begin with, he somehow managed to instigate a ten-man brawl in a friendly match against Doncaster in September 2004. At the club Christmas party a few months later, he stubbed out a lit cigar in the eye of youth team player Jamie Tandy. Oh sorry, those are also acts of sickening violence, aren’t they? Let’s move on.
In 2005 he ran over a pedestrian in Liverpool. Also in 2005 he was sent home from a tour of Thailand for assaulting a 15-year-old Everton supporter, for which Stuart Pearce made him undergo a series of anger management sessions. Oh, we are back to violence again. Sorry.
In 2003 he was sent off for arguing with a referee. At half time. In 2007 he was banned from speaking to the media by Manchester City following criticism of their performances. In 2008 he admitted to being an alcoholic, and shortly afterwards announced that he wanted to be a role model. Shortly after that he fell out with Newcastle manager Alan Shearer, calling him a certain four-letter word starting with ‘s’ and ending with ‘t’. After joining Marseille on loan in 2012, Barton announced that he had only signed for QPR for the money. In 2013 he was banned by the French FA for calling PSG defender Thiago Silva ‘an overweight ladyboy’. Back at QPR he was sent off in December 2013 for throwing the ball at Gary Taylor-Fletcher, and again in February 2015 for deliberately attempting to kick Tom Huddlestone in the nuts. In September 2016 he was suspended by Rangers for a training ground altercation with teammate Andy Halliday before being sacked in November. He then washed up at Burnley, and ran theatrically into Matt Rhead’s arm before receiving an 18-month ban for 1,260 breaches of the FA’s gambling rules.
From necessity, this is a very selective overview of his antics because we do not have enough space on our server to cover the entire Barton roll of dishonour. We should be satisfied that he is surely out of the game for good, and the game is better for it. Let’s move on and see whether things have improved this summer.
Already this year we have witnessed behaviour that would be considered outrageous by any normal person (i.e. by anyone other than a Premier League footballer and his agent). In January 2017, Dimitri Payet told Slaven Bilić out of the blue that he wanted to leave West Ham, and refused to play until they accepted a bid for him from Marseille. One wonders why he had bothered to sign a new contract just eleven months earlier; perhaps he could no longer make ends meet on the derisory £125,000 per week the Hammers were paying him.
Across the capital, the striker everyone loves to hate Diego Costa refuses to return to London despite being under contract to Chelsea. He has ignored the £600,000 in fines that Chelsea have levied due to his non-return and is demanding that he is sold to Atletico Madrid and no one else. If only Chelsea could sell him to Barrow instead without his knowledge. He would love it there.
Meanwhile up north, Philippe Coutinho is deeply distressed because evil Liverpool have refused to sell him to Barcelona. Officially he has not played for the Reds this season because of a back injury which miraculously disappears when he wears a Brazil shirt. His parents joined him in Rio on Thursday to commiserate with their poor son, and I guess they had a jolly good cry together. I bet his bottom lip is still thrust and trembling as we speak. If Liverpool’s refusal to sell continues, it could officially become the longest paddy on record.
On transfer deadline day, West Ham’s Diafra Sakho tried to trump them all by having a medical at Stade Rennais without the knowledge or permission of his club. On his return, he went to Chelmsford Races with his advisors before moseying on down to have a chat with West Ham later that evening. That was very good of him. I do hope West Ham have been on the phone to Barrow too.
In direct contrast we have Sean Raggett, who quite shamelessly was told by his ‘advisors’ not to play for Lincoln at Wycombe on the opening day. Put in simple language, his advisors urged him to breach the terms of his contract and tell Lincoln City to sod off. One wonders what the players and those same advisors would say, were the clubs to ignore the same contract and deliberately not pay their wages. There would be writs galore issued with glee by avaricious opportunist solicitors (that is to say, solicitors); the players plying their trade in the Premier League would no doubt throw themselves squealing to the floor, stamping their expensively-clad feet in a spectacular display of infantile fury and petulance. No wonder Danny Cowley says football is a great game, but a terrible industry. To his credit, Raggett failed to comply with orders, and told his advisors to sod off instead. That is the definition of doing the right thing, of course. But in today’s climate of player and agent power, it also makes him the definition of a rare beast.
But I am worried for him.
As things stand, in January Raggett will leave League Two for the Championship. As newborn as the 2017-18 season may be, Norwich have not started well and look unlikely to trouble the promotion places without further surgery. But that does not mean the player himself is not destined for the very top, and therein lies the danger. It appears that when you check in to the Premier League, you check your brain in at the door, if you had one to begin with. Raggett is an intelligent lad, but so allegedly is Joey Barton. That is a frightening thought.
So let’s all hope that this time next year Sean Raggett does not have tattoos down each leg, an earring through his nose, and is not feeling humiliated by his club’s failure to buy him Buckingham Palace for Christmas.
Who did our members consider to be August’s star players?
Player of the Month is Norwich City’s SEAN RAGGETT, who has continued to perform wonderfully despite being advised not to. Danny Cowley called him ‘irreplaceable’ at the time of his transfer, and many fans fear Cowley is not just being polite. If the rumoured fee of £250,000 up front is correct, that is not a huge amount of money for a player as important to us as Raggett. At least we have him until January, and he has the opportunity to bow out of Sincil Bank with a thumping great win over Forest Green at the end of December. That could be an emotional day, to say the least.
Second place – by a very small margin – goes to ALEX WOODYARD, surprisingly ensconced in joint-second place in the leading scorers chart. Alex scored one goal in 57 games last season, yet managed two in 33 minutes against Carlisle. If he has added goals to his already excellent game, surely he is now the complete midfielder.
Third place goes to JOSH GINNELLY, although Josh made just the one appearance before injury halted a very good start to the season at Wycombe. His goal at Adams Park was not only his first for Lincoln, but also his first in the Football League. Hopefully it will be the first of many, as Ginnelly has as much potential as any young player at the club.
An honourable mention too for MATT GREEN in fourth place. The big striker has impressed everyone with his running and three goals for the month. That goal at Mansfield must have felt very good – a very fitting farewell to Steve Evans – although the salute Matt gave on scoring could have been a very different one, had he been born with a similar absence of dignity to the rotund one.
The average team score per game of 6.88 represents a very sound start to life in League Two. Every player scored an average of at least the par score.
1. Sean Raggett 7.95
2. Alex Woodyard 7.92
3. Josh Ginnelly 7.61
4. Matt Green 7.58
5. Elliott Whitehouse 7.50
6. Josh Vickers 7.38
7. Luke Waterfall 7.21
8. Neal Eardley 6.98
9. Sean Long 6.92
10. Michael Bostwick 6.80
11. Matt Rhead 6.73
12. Rob Dickie 6.66
13. Billy Knott 6.61
14. Sam Habergham 6.50
15. Nathan Arnold 6.41
16. Paul Farman 6.06
17. Jordan Maguire-Drew 6.039
18. Harry Anderson 6.036
19. Ollie Palmer 6.00
Individual ratings by match:
Wycombe: Neal Eardley 7.78
Rotherham: Alex Woodyard 7.88
Morecambe: Sean Raggett 8.11
Exeter: Sean Raggett 7.80
Carlisle: Alex Woodyard 8.80
Mansfield: Sean Long, Billy Knott 8.00
So where does that leave us regarding the current player of the season standings?
It does not take a genius to work this one out this month…
1. Sean Raggett 7.95
2. Alex Woodyard 7.92
3. Josh Ginnelly 7.61
Home player of the season:
1. Alex Woodyard 8.18
2. Sean Raggett 8.16
3. Matt Green 8.06
Away player of the season:
1. Sean Raggett 7.63
2. Josh Ginnelly 7.61
3. Alex Woodyard 7.52
Average Player Ratings v Wycombe Wanderers (a)
Average Player Ratings v Rotherham United (a)
Average Player Ratings v Morecambe (h)
Average Player Ratings v Exeter City (a)
Average Player Ratings v Carlisle United (h)
— Vital Lincoln City (@VitalLincoln) 7 September 2017