Football’s capacity for myth making is almost without boundaries. We talk of heroes and legends and destiny and glory. Names are written on cups as if there are magical powers at play. Everyone does it, it’s how we want football to be. Not as a branch of the entertainment industry; attracting customers, delivering a service, and making money for its investors and actors. Football is an epic battle of good versus evil with heroes and villains at every turn. Transfers and contract negotiations are not a simple financial transaction, they are the Trials of Hercules; a test of loyalty.
This week, we learned that Adam Chapman has stalled on a new contract. He plans to stay at the club to ‘earn’ the terms he thinks he deserves; whatever that’s supposed to mean. For some, his stance is a snub against a club that stood by him during his darkest days. A grand betrayal. Some claim (seriously?) that he should be playing for free.
Meanwhile; talismanic hero and paragon of loyalty; James Constable, continues to be picked at by clubs wanting his services. Constable has faced The Trials before and still seems reluctant to agitate for a move. Some view this as an ongoing campaign by the club to oust the lapdog-loyal striker. The club; betrayed by Chapman, are betraying Constable – this is a epic tale of Roman proportions.
What role does loyalty really play? If it were the only factor, then Constable would have been off last year when the club showed their supposed disloyalty accepting a bid from Swindon. By contrast, loyalty would have compelled Chapman to sign the moment he was given an offer. If it’s not loyalty, then it must be money; which is often claimed to be the single defining factor in any football decision. Or is it?
Constable and Chapman’s situations may offer a clue. Constable has been in the game for longer than Chapman and has played at four clubs shuttling above and below the line between Football League and Conference. He’s had good experiences and bad. He knows football is fickle. He is on a good contract at Oxford and, more critically, has the good will of those around him. Dips in form and goal droughts – an inevitability in every footballer; particularly one in the lower leagues, are tolerated by fans and owners alike.
Had he accepted the opportunity to go to Swindon last year, then he would have been in a better position financially; but far more vulnerable. Nobody at Swindon would have given an ex-Oxford striker time to settle and find his form. If he’d had the kind of post-Christmas record that he had at Oxford, you wouldn’t have been surprised to seem him shipped out. And then where to? Maybe a League 2 club would have picked him up, but there are no guarantees; the trapdoor back to the Conference always looms large when you have failure on your CV.
So, what Constable sacrifices in short term cash, he gains in long term contracts. His current contract will keep him at Oxford until he’s 30, by which point he’ll only be a contract or two from retirement. There is every chance that Oxford will offer him another contract when his current one expires in the next couple of years. By not chasing the buck, he’s prolonging his career.
Chapman is a play-off hero, derby hero, and a redemption story. His short term form can fluctuate without fans or management turning on him. Should he sign for someone else, particularly to a team with high expectations, Chapman needs to perform and quick. He’s only ever 17 football league games. He still has a lot to prove. Unless he does a Sam Ricketts, he’s probably already blown his chances of playing with in the big time with a contract so large, he doesn’t need to worry about the future. He’s probably destined to play no higher than the Championship, with his earning power limited; he might want to think about the long game.
Chapman may want to be here for a good time, not a long time. But if he does chase the money, he’s taking a huge gamble with his career. A bad season somewhere else could send his career into terminal decline. With Oxford, he can find his feet and lay the foundations for a long and successful career – at our club, or elsewhere.