‘Classy’ Gallas scores own goal!

Predictably, from the enemies’ camp, the huge knives are out to carve up Chelsea. And, as has become customary in these times, the Fickle Fans Brigade are also out in force with their own little razor-sharp blades to do complementary damage to their club in an attempt to appear ‘unbiased’. Chelsea’s crime is that they’ve chosen to clarify the situation that led to the sale of William Gallas, after days of anti-Chelsea and anti-Mourinho sniping from the player. But, perhaps if these crusading Chelsea-haters (both within and outside the club) had asked the right questions, maybe they’d have better answers than their thickheaded responses so far. Of course, there are also some well-informed and decent fans and football followers who still think the club needed not to have made the statement on Gallas, even if what they claim is true; but the fact remains they haven’t proffered any superior reason why the club shouldn’t inform their fans about the situation, except to say it makes the club sound “petty” and “childish”. Yet, what is really petty, childish and dangerous is Gallas’s conduct before and after leaving the club; not Chelsea’s measured response to his insults against the club, the fans, the manager and staff of the football club.

Was Chelsea’s statement necessary? Are they obliged to keep the fans informed about why Gallas was used in part-exchange for Ashley Cole after consistently claiming he wasn’t going to be sold? Did Chelsea need to respond to Gallas’s post-August 31st anti-Mourinho and anti-Chelsea barbs? What has Gallas’s subsequent, but generally expected denial proved? To discerning and honest observers, the key facts are no mysteries; they are there for everyone to see. Chelsea’s account isn’t actually surprising, because most people would have guessed before now that the fact that Gallas wasn’t playing couldn’t possibly be because he was unfit or not picked (especially when he goes and puts in a good performance with his national team). If anyone was in doubt, Mourinho’s challenge to Gallas to call a press conference and explain to the world why he wasn’t playing should have settled it. Not surprisingly, Gallas didn’t take that challenge before joining Arsenal, yet he couldn’t wait to cross over before aiming missiles Chelsea’s way. Rather than for some to look at the facts of what Gallas has been saying post-August 31st, they are more comfortable attacking the club for taking the respectable option of clarifying the facts about why Gallas was sold.

Chelsea have sold on many players during transfer windows, just like they’ve brought in many, but have never felt the necessity to issue statements, even when some of those sold could be considered fans’ favourites. However, none of these players acted in the way that Gallas had acted; none of them disrespected the club and the fans to the extent of keeping away from pre-season training or refusing to play when asked to do so. In fact, most left in harmonious circumstances and have always looked back with fondness at their time at the club. Wherever they’ve gone, they’ve continued to compliment the club, the manager, the staff and Chelsea management. The club are consistently showing that they’re even very interested in the post-Chelsea happiness of people who’ve played for the club. This can be seen in the way they handled the transfers or releases of Crespo, Veron, Gudjohnsen, Huth, Duff and a host of others, even if it means the club losing money in the process. So, why is Gallas’s situation different? The difference is in Gallas’s attitude. The club owed him no more than contractually agreed and the club have never asked of him to do more than contractually stipulated, yet Gallas had consistently gone to the brink in order to force the club’s hands to let him go, even where there were no offers from other clubs and even where clearly he still has a contractual obligation to the club. The club have always treated him with kid gloves all this while, not only because he has considerable talent, which, when he chooses to apply it for the benefit of the team (and himself, of course) made a difference, but more because it has never been the policy of the club to wield the big stick against players (except where involved in drug offences). The club, like the majority of the fans had hoped that whatever his grouses, he’d come around to realize that they do appreciate him. They had hoped he would sign the vastly improved contract that had been on the table for over half a year.

However, when Gallas didn’t relent and in the frenetic movements of deadline day Chelsea fans saw him cross over to Arsenal in horror, many were up in arms against the club, even though it was essentially a good deal from the financial point of view. At that point still, the club did not feel the necessity to inform the fans the reason it became necessary to sell Gallas, even though Wenger was reported later as having told Ashley Cole that he would have still sanctioned him going to Chelsea, even if he didn’t get Gallas. However, Chelsea’s hands were forced when Gallas, even before being unveiled by his new club, began attacking Chelsea, the manager and the staff in a number of statements in the press. The worst of these was his attack on Mourinho, which in the light of the fact that Mourinho had been one of those that truly stood by him in his face-off with the club, was pathetic. Chelsea could have called a press conference to clarify things, but they chose the low-key avenue of the club’s website, because primarily, it was a statement for the benefit of the fans. Of course, it was inevitable that the larger press would pick on it, but that’s not Chelsea’s problem. Their fans need to be told the truth behind Gallas’s sale. They need to know that it wasn’t a case of Chelsea just deciding out of the blue to throw him in the bargain for Cole, it was necessary that the club be rid of such a disruptive and unprofessional character, no matter how talented as a footballer. The club couldn’t leave itself open to the law of diminishing return by holding on to a player that effectively wouldn’t have been useful to their campaign in any way.

Some of the club’s critics are blaming Chelsea for mentioning that Gallas had won nothing more than a second division title in France before coming to Chelsea and for also saying he was hawking himself to the highest bidder. On the first charge, why shouldn’t Chelsea state this fact? Throughout this face-off, we’ve been inundated with claims of how the long-suffering Gallas had been neglected by the club, even as he’d given hundred percent on the pitch. But since when has the relationship between players and clubs become one-sided. Every time a player goes out there on the pitch, he’s not only doing so for the club or the fans, but mostly for himself. Because it is a short heavily-paying career, players are always in the shop window when playing. When he’s bursting his sinews out there, he’s doing so because he wants to keep his value and, because the club employ and pay him, they inevitably reap some benefit. It isn’t a one-way street. Chelsea picked Gallas from obscurity and made him arguably the best centre-back in the world. He earned his first national cap under Chelsea’s guidance, using Chelsea’s facilities and personnel, including established Chelsea stars (who made themselves available to show him the ropes). In all this, he was urged on, supported and celebrated by Chelsea fans.

Part of the reason his first post-August 31st statement about Arsenal fans being the best in the world is so bad isn’t because he said so, but because he said so at the time he did. Players sometimes try too hard to ingratiate themselves to their new fans, but that is hardly a crime. However it is impolitic for Gallas, a very experienced player, to say the things he said at the time, considering also the acrimony that followed his departure from Chelsea. Saying so implies that he has no consideration for Chelsea fans, especially those who stood by him throughout his face-off with the club’s officials and who weren’t shy to partly blame their club officials for the problem with the player. He could easily have gotten around this by first paying tribute to the Chelsea support he’d evidently received over the years (from fans and staff) before going on to ingratiate himself with his new fans. Even if after then he still calls Arsenal fans the best in the world (despite not having played for them yet), that wouldn’t be an issue with Chelsea fans. But he not only insulted Chelsea fans with his statement, he also attacked the staff and Mourinho who’d spent time making him into who he is. The same Gallas who’d publicly praised Mourinho for his role in his face-off with the Chelsea hierarchy now says Mourinho is bad, because the latter told him what every decent person thought of his unprofessional and disrespectful conduct of staying away from Chelsea’s pre-season training camp in the United States.

On the second charge, we know that over time, players grow fond of the club they represent to the extent that the money consideration becomes secondary. In other words, things happen that demand that players show some kind of attachment to the club for the club’s sake. When Del Piero declared during the Juventus demotion crisis that he’s staying with the club come rain or shine, people believe him, because they recognize a player who has given himself to the cause beyond money. When Terry continually states that he’d remain with Chelsea forever, true Chelsea fans know that he’s saying this from the heart, not because of how much he earns today. However, when such an opportunity presented itself to Gallas, an opportunity for him to show that the club and the fans mean more to him than money or any grouse he’s got with anybody at the top, Gallas kicked and screamed to be let out! He royally failed the most basic of Chelsea loyalty test. Those who say this isn’t about money should ask themselves why Gallas threatened last-minute to scupper the deal to Arsenal over money. They should tell us why against all expectations and the so-called Arsenal salary-cap, he today is paid more at poor Ashburton Grove than Chelsea the supposed moneybags were actually offering! Not only did Arsenal break their much-vaunted salary–cap principle, they even tore up their principle of not giving a player almost at thirty, at thirty or over thirty more than a year’s contract. Gallas at 29 bagged a four-year deal! Only God knows what people like Pires or Berkgamp will make of that now.

As expected, the pick of the criticisms have come from Gallas himself in the form of what has been generally dubbed his denial. But, in truth, is it a denial? Well, if it is a denial, then it is only in part, because the substantive part of the accusation remains unchallenged and in the subsequent din that’s enveloped the spat, people are losing sight of this. All he’s denying is the claim that he said he was going to score an own goal. He didn’t deny the fact that he refused to play for Chelsea at the FA Cup semi-final against Liverpool; he didn’t deny the fact that he’d refused to play for Chelsea at those times the club claims he did so. He said he was “firm” about his wanting to leave, but never explained how he expressed this firmness. He is not telling us why he refused to do his job or why he wanted to leave, promising only to tell us at a latter date! Now, isn’t that surprising? Monsieur Gallas who usually has a lot to say; who’s accused Chelsea of all sorts is now suddenly telling us to wait until he’s ready to tell us why he refused to work, why he wanted to leave, as though we don’t know that already! Didn’t he tell us he wanted to go abroad to face new challenges? Hasn’t he overdone the excuse of wanting to leave because he was disrespected by Chelsea directors already? Didn’t he in the same statement of denial blame the “new leaders” of the club even though he never exactly had a better relationship with the former leaders in the Ken Bates era? What possible reason can he have that we haven’t heard already? If indeed there are, what is the reason for waiting to say them “in due time”? What better time than now to say them?

The facts again are clear. Gallas has no answers to Chelsea’s statement. He of all people is accusing the club of lacking class, but in truth, he’s worse than lacking class. He’s a selfish, uncultured, unprofessional lying twat – a mercenary, who though a good footballer, thought he could use his talent to blackmail the club. People who cannot from his supposed denial decipher the truth are themselves hypocrites. Of course, one expects this to run for sometime in the press, but in the meantime one must give kudos to such intelligent columnists as Shaun Custis of the Sun who’s called Gallas’s action for what it is. As for Jason Burt of the Independent, he should go hide his head in shame. Rather than address the issue, all he could do was a Gallas praise-worship based on figments of his own deplorable imagination. I don’t blame him though, I blame the editors and proprietors of the newspaper who give him space to drag the name of the institution he represents in mud and who, most curiously, pay him for doing so.

As for Chelsea, they’ve said their bit and are moving on. When the serious business of football resumes, they will do their talking on the pitch and people will realize then from the ‘language’ of the players how this whole thing has made them stronger as a team and as a family. I can’t say the same for Arsenal now that they’ve got a Gallas in their midst. A leopard never changes its spots.