MARTIN SAMUEL: Looking after players is a matter of life and death

MARTIN SAMUEL: Manchester City’s search for a player support officer isn’t mollycoddling… looking after footballers is a matter of life and death

  • Man City’s advert for a player support officer led to mockery over mollycoddling  
  • But settling into a foreign country can be difficult and players are in need of help 
  • Young, wealthy stars settling into a new club are an easy target for the nefarious
  • If Emiliano Sala had proper support after he might still be with us today 

The advertisement was small but spelled out the role in pain-staking detail.

Manchester City were searching for a support officer for their players, and the players’ families.

The successful applicant would require not just language skills, it seemed, but the determination and loyalty of Man Friday and the organisational and magical abilities of Mary Poppins.

Man City’s advert for a player support officer has been mocked but the role could be vital

The support officers would in effect run lives — manage the logistics of everything from house hunting to car buying, organising a plumber, registering with a GP, finding the right school, even structuring the household budget and paying bills.

City said fluency in Spanish and Portuguese was essential, with a knowledge of French, German or Dutch preferred.

Of course, this provoked mockery about the cossetted lives of modern footballers. Support officers are nothing new but City’s notice and its specifics requiring expertise in everything from childcare to house maintenance and accountancy went further than previously imagined.

And yes, we’d all like that. We’d all like a PA to make our appointments, sift through estate agents’ brochures and find the kids a school.

We are not, however, all working in a foreign country and needing to set up a permanent home abroad.

Sat in a house on the outskirts of Madrid — so, not a tourist resort, where English is widely spoken — could you explain a burst pipe, call a plumber, or get one to put in your washing machine? Would you know the right educational establishment, or the best doctor’s surgery in the area, if unable to communicate locally?

Alvaro Negredo struggled initially at the Etihad as he attempted to adapt to life in England 

Alvaro Negredo was a great success at Manchester City early in his career, but his time in England soured over a personal issue. Feeling their way in a new country, his family placed trust in a person who acted like a friend but ended up taking them for a lot of money. Negredo’s young wife lost her confidence in the honesty of the natives and, feeling humiliated, wanted to return home.

This in turn affected the player. Indeed, looking at his performances one can almost pinpoint the moment at which England became hostile territory.

Would a support officer have been of more assistance, steering a path through those first few months? That is no doubt what City hope.

Footballers are easy targets for the nefarious. Young, wealthy, lacking experience of the world outside their bubble, they are vulnerable in a way high earners in other industries are not.

Global companies will also have support officers or relocation advisers for senior executives moving country. What they will not have is hangers-on looking to take advantage of the Group Finance Director, the way they are the new striker from Argentina. Most chief executives can see through a bad investment venture, or even an exorbitant quote for home decoration.

Young, weal;thy footballers are often a target for the nefarious and are a vulnerable group 

At least modern clubs acknowledge the way personnel issues have changed.

In his autobiography, Harry Redknapp recalled how it was when foreign players first came to English football.

‘The influx made our game richer and more professional, but it created a new challenge for clubs and managers, and we did not always deal with it adequately,’ he wrote.

‘Too often, we bought players in and dumped them in a house somewhere, gave them a car and expected them to get on with life. The lovely homes and other perks were all very nice, but if the wife does not speak a word of English and she is suddenly dropped in the middle of nowhere with no family or friends, and her husband disappearing on a pre-season tour for two weeks, no wonder things go awry.’

Redknapp told the story of West Ham signing Chile international Javier Margas, an excellent centre half with 63 caps and World Cup experience.

Harry Redknapp’s story of Javier Margas (L) being abandoned at West Ham spoke volumes

‘We gave him a house, we gave him a car, someone drove him home the first day to show him where everything was, and that was it,’ he continued. ‘We left him and his wife to get on with it. The following day, he got in his car, got lost, and ended up at Stansted airport.

‘Eventually he found his way to the training ground but, on the way back, going down some little country lane, the car got a puncture. He didn’t know who to call, he didn’t know what to do. And it just got worse from there.’

The tale ended with Margas’s disillusioned family flying home and the player jumping out of a hotel first-floor window and fleeing to the airport, rather than face a further meeting with his manager. West Ham were Margas’s last club as a player.

At least he got out alive, though. Emiliano Sala did not. Some two years on, the details of his death in a plane crash remain heartbreaking.

With proper support after arriving to England, the late Emiliano Sala might still be with us 

One of the reasons Sala made his fateful return to France from Cardiff was that he fretted about his dog, in a kennel in Nantes.

His doomed flight was supposed to go back earlier in the day, but Sala acquiesced to the pilot’s request to make a night flight.

Cardiff had a player liaison officer, Callum Davies, who was fluent in French and Spanish but would he have been empowered to take control? Could he have arranged to reunite him with his pet, insisted on a safer passage, maybe even accompanied him on the journey, to be sure?

Cardiff and Davies, who has since left the club, were doing the best they could. In hindsight, though, it wasn’t nearly enough.

With proper support — what might be disparagingly referred to as mollycoddling — Sala might be with us. That is why support staff are important. Anything can happen if you let it.


Bournemouth striker Josh King will be out of contract at the end of the season. He will also be 30 next birthday. Even so, he is seeking a substantial pay day.

King has suitors in this transfer window, but to compensate for missing out as a free agent, is believed to want £120,000 a week.

Is he kidding? King is without a goal in the Championship this season, having scored only six for Bournemouth the year before as they went down. He has only ever reached double figures twice, despite spending more time in the Championship than the Premier League. Why anyone would pay top dollar for a striker who is plainly not a top finisher is a mystery. Maybe that’s why he’s stuck where he is.

Bournemouth’s Josh King is kidding himself if he is seeking £120k-a-week from his next club


AFC Wimbledon voted to avoid relegation last season. The points-per-game stitch-up in League One meant that clubs decided to curtail the season from March, condemning Tranmere to League Two. At the time, Tranmere were three points behind Wimbledon, with a game in hand and coming off a run of three straight away wins. Their next match was scheduled to be at Wimbledon, too. So, in effect, the EFL gave Wimbledon a vote on whether to play that game or stay safe and relegate Tranmere. No surprise in the self-serving line they took.

With a 3-0 home defeat by Sunderland at the weekend, Wimbledon slipped into the bottom four. Given that this season saw their return to Plough Lane, there will be a widespread will for Wimbledon to survive. This time, however, they’ll have to play their way out. At least one club will be watching with interest.


And so the celebration wars unfolded exactly as expected. Some, like James Maddison and Leicester, successfully made light of it, others merely observed it, a few forgot. 

West Bromwich won their first league game since November and the emotion was obvious. It was all very human and nothing to get greatly vexed about on either side. Any politician still pontificating about this lacks a serious mind. 


Back in 2010, when Wayne Rooney told Sir Alex Ferguson why he wanted to leave Manchester United, among the reasons cited was a lack of ambition in the transfer market. 

According to Ferguson, the player Rooney wanted United to sign was Mesut Ozil. One imagines Ozil’s eventual departure to Fenerbahce might have happened a lot sooner had that deal gone through. 

If Mesut Ozil ended up joining Man United he would have left for Fenerbache far sooner


Given that Sheik Khaled bin Zayed Al Nehayan has familial wealth measured in the hundreds of billions, that the Derby takeover deal is £60m and the EFL gave it the green light in November, is it not slightly concerning the deal still hasn’t taken place? Players are not being paid and Saturday’s defeat at home to Rotherham leaves Derby 23rd.    

By the time anyone knew of Sheik Mansour’s takeover of Manchester City, it was already done — the same with Roman Abramovich and Chelsea. Wayne Rooney must have been given some positive news to sign up as manager but, seriously, what’s keeping them? 


Well, that didn’t last long. For a moment, it looked as if FIFA were going to do something sensible and throw out the Football Association ban on Kieran Trippier.

Maybe then they could begin campaigning for the betting market on player transfers to be outlawed, to end the potential for corruption. Instead, they upheld his suspension.

Trippier will now miss nine key matches in Atletico Madrid’s season and a preposterous invasion of individual privacy continues. Meaning FIFA still haven’t got one right. At least they’re consistent.

For a moment FIFA looked like they would throw out Kieran Trippier’s ban over betting offences


Inter Milan’s wonderful black and blue shirts have already been redrawn to make it look as if they have been run over on the autostrade. Now it appears the badge is about to change, plus the club’s name — from the majestic Football Club Internazionale Milano to the simpler, cruder Inter Milano. 

Because that’s why they haven’t won Serie A since 2010 and have made the top three just twice in 10 years. The crest and those three syllables. That’s the problem, right there. 


Baroness Campbell, director of the women’s game for the Football Association, needed to fill two roles — manager of England and manager of Team GB at the 2021 Olympics. To make this even easier, both positions could be occupied by one person. 

Somehow, with the departure of Phil Neville, she has ended up with two empty chairs and is unable to offer them in a permanent capacity due to the arrival of Sarina Wiegman next season. To lose one manager is unfortunate, to lose two… 


UEFA appear to be pressing ahead with the Swiss system of qualifying in the Champions League group stage from 2024.

Clubs would no longer play home and away games but 10 individual matches against opponents of varying strengths, all contributing to a table of 36 teams, with the top 16 progressing.

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, chairman of Bayern Munich and ex-chairman of the European Clubs Association, has backed the idea. This can only mean one thing. It benefits Munich and the rest of the European elite.

UEFA’s plans for a new qualifying system in the Champions League only benefits the elite 

Sky have announced a record audience of 4.8million for Sunday’s match between Liverpool and Manchester United.

And, apparently, as many as 46 were awake.


A new strategy document from the Football Association has set 2024 as the target for a major tournament victory.

This follows former chairman Greg Dyke announcing 2022 as the date for winning the World Cup. Smart move. These deadlines are so much easier to meet if you simply push them back every two years.


Nottingham Forest are unbeaten in seven games under Chris Hughton, winning four, and are now six points clear of the Championship’s relegation zone. 

Hughton never seems to get much credit, but invariably does a good job. After 14 managers in 10 years, the man unfairly considered a safe option was the smartest move Forest could make.

Chris Hughton is considered a ‘safe’ option but he was the smartest move Forest could make 


Following the Karen Carney row with Leeds, Amazon have now upset Burnley with some doubting remarks about owner investment prior to Saturday’s game against West Ham. ALK Investment may have a point. 

Amazon, however, look set to be part of Premier League football for many years. With respect, the same cannot be guaranteed of Burnley. 


Brianna McNeal missed three drugs tests in 2016. The first was before the Olympic Games, the other two came after — both on days when she was being celebrated for winning gold in the women’s 100metre hurdles.

The tone of the American Arbitration Association, which later ruled on her case, could not have been more deferential. McNeal is a ‘brilliant athlete’ who was ‘not charged or suspected of using banned substances of any kind’ and was ‘justly admired’. Still, she was banned for a year. Now she is suspended again, pending a charge for ‘tampering within the results management process’.

It’s fair to say any judgments of her brilliance and that ‘just admiration’ is suspended, too.    

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