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Reap what you sow

According to the Times today, contract negotiations between Manchester City and their 19-year old striker Daniel Sturridge have broken down because representatives of the teenager – who has started just 11 first-team games and scored 5 times for City – are demanding a contract worth £65,000 per week.

If true, it is just another example of how football – and in particular that enclave in the north-west jokingly referred to as ‘Middle Eastlands’ – continues to defy any semblance of economic reality. It also underlines the pitfalls of taking over a club when it is perceived you have bottomless pockets: everyone’s eyes light up with jackpot signs and suddenly everything comes with a considerable mark-up in price.

City have clearly not heeded the similar lessons learned at Chelsea, strutting in with an (over)confident swagger and making Milan an offer they couldn’t refuse for Kaka – in excess of £100m for the selling club, £500k pw for the player – only to see the deal fall through.

And now City are in danger of paying the price, literally, for throwing their money around so publicly. It was only a matter of time before agents started to use the Kaka numbers as leverage for their clients’ benefit, and you suspect that Sturridge is just the tip of the iceberg. But to claim that a 19-year old with minimal experience is worth £65k pw is breathtaking in its audacity. We are not talking about a Wayne Rooney or a Michael Owen, both of whom were established internationals at 19; Sturridge is as yet uncapped at either full or under-21 level for England. Is Sturridge worth more than his teammate Elano – 32 caps for Brazil – who is reportedly on about two-thirds of what the youngster is demanding? Or, say, Stephen Ireland, who stands to be rewarded for an outstanding season with a salary similar to what Sturridge is seeking?

Of course he isn’t.

Sturridge is 19, has demonstrated considerable potential, and is clearly a player City are keen to keep. But manager Mark Hughes is, rightly, refusing to held to ransom, even though the player’s existing deal expires in the summer and the club runs the risk of losing him for nothing. Firstly, it’s the right thing to do. And secondly, if you distort the club’s wage structure for one player, you open the door for every other player at the club to demand similar treatment.

That is a price nobody – not even the world’s richest football club – wants to pay.

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