18 June 2005

On Ashley Cole and Chelski

ashley_coleThe face of football is about to be changed for ever. The name Bosman has already become ingrained into the annals of football history, and Arsenal fullback Ashley Cole's name may be about to join it. He's been fined £100,000 for meeting with Chelsea officals without them clearing such a meeting with Arsenal. No doubt Chelsea have acted illegally and unethically and deserve their punishment (£300,000 for club and £200,000 for Jose Mourinho, the Manager). But what about Ashley Cole? In almost any other walk of life one is free to explore employment possibilities without fear of censure. Indeed, one's right to do so is protected by law. Football's ruling bodies, though, forbid in their sport what is a fundamental entitlement in normal life. One could argue that this is a long way from normal life—that the amount of money alone makes it a surreal world in which other rules need to apply. Perhaps, but it still looks like restraint of trade to me. And if Bosman taught us anything, it was that in the new Europe football will struggle to remain a law unto itself.

So Ashley Cole is appealing his sentence. He may or may not win that appeal, but whatever the outcome in the short term, the worms are out of the can. In the long term football may be the winner. That remains to be seen. In the shorter term Cole may well leave Arsenal, feeling the club has been unsupportive. That will be bad for the club, and probably for Cole who has come through the club's youth system and blossomed under Arsene Wenger. He will not benefit from the distraction of the court case, nor from the reputation he is likely to gain as a result.

In fact, the only short term winner will be Chelsea. They will not gain Cole's services, but they were hardly defensively weak to start with. What they have succeeded in doing is loosening a key defender from their main rivals, which only makes Chelsea comparatively stronger. £500,000 in fines may have been a cheap price to pay for that advantage. Go to eebahgum!

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