Underdogs, as always

I was expecting a pretty quiet news week in terms of A-League football, split round and all, with the Jets having the weekend off, but it’s never plain sailing is it?

There were a couple of letters or comments to the Herald which piqued my interest, and I will attempt to answer or defend their content as we dissect the week’s events.

As we suspected, the euphoria of victory over top-of-the-table Sydney turned out to be the final curtain call for striker Andrew Nabbout, on his way, via a national-team camp, to the famous Urawa Red Diamonds in Japan.

SAYONARA: The departure of inspirational Andrew Nabbout to Japan will not improve Newcastle's hopes of winning the A-League grand final.

SAYONARA: The departure of inspirational Andrew Nabbout to Japan will not improve Newcastle's hopes of winning the A-League grand final.

It was one of the best, and then worst-kept secrets in A-league football circles, and comes at a pivotal time in the Jets’ best season in donkey’s ages.

Eric Burns from Belmont, wrote a very concise and comprehensive letter to the editor, expressing his view that the rumoured $500,000 transfer fee might not be good business, or good value, to a club starved of success in recent times.

If that is the Eric Burns I know, hello, hope you are well, I understand your concerns.

Thing is though, Eric, that things have swung so much in favour of the player over the club in modern times, that there is little that can be done to stop or change such events.

Unlike the days of slavery in the old NSL, where, pre-Bosman ruling, clubs could effectively stop you playing, without paying you a wage or offering you a new deal until they received a transfer fee for your services, whether they wanted to retain you or not, things are now at the opposite end of the spectrum.

So an Andrew Nabbout, whose initial contract with the club would have expired at the end of season, has, given his excellent form, the bargaining power to negotiate an upgraded contract, with a release clause of half a million dollars to an overseas club.

The alternative is that he walks to another A-League club in June (for no fee), who very probably give him the clause he is looking for, on an increased salary.

Perhaps the club forfeits its chance for grand final glory, or perhaps it would have had a disgruntled player on its books for the past six months?

The club’s decision to facilitate a possible career advancement, and what we assume is a significant payday for Nabbout, then  encourages the player and his agent to look kindly upon the club, should he return (ala Dimi Petratos to Korea last year).

Furthermore it encourages promising younger footballers who harbour overseas ambitions to come to the club, knowing that they won’t be stymied if overseas opportunity comes knocking.

I’m sure there are many supporters, probably of my generation, who feel quite stridently about club loyalty, and pride in the shirt, and that’s understandable. But let me tell you, A-League clubs are in no position to play hardball with players these days.

Please be sure this is in no way a criticism of Nabbout, who has served the club brilliantly, just a very real illustration of how the game now functions.

For the Jets’ sake, let’s hope the “interest in Dimi Petratos” rumours that  surfaced last week prove to be just that. 

Because, that combined with Nabbout’s departure, and the likely season-ending injury sustained by captain Nigel Boogaard in the Sydney match, suddenly makes premiership aspirations a little shakier.

I was tempted to write that the Jets would go from a position of strength, to underdog status, and be battling to win the title from there, but that would have upset long-time football fan Ross Greig, from New Lambton. 

He has elevated me to the Topics page of yesterday’s Herald, and I thank him for my meteoric rise, with a bone to pick about me referring to Newcastle as “underdog battlers”. 

“He’s got  this bee in his bonnet about us being underdogs and battlers,” said Ross of yours truly.

Hmmm, I thought I’d better retrace my steps. Opening paragraph, second line: “Great crowd, superb atmosphere, city slickers with advantage versus underdog battlers, heroes and villians …”

My bad. How could I possibly regard the Jets, who were 11 points adrift of Sydney at kick-off, winless in the past 15 showdowns between the two teams (12 of them losses), and a man short for 77 minutes as underdogs? Did I mention that Sydney had only lost twice in 18 months?

That wasn’t comment on Newcastle’s season. They have been better than anyone, except Sydney, and I have consistently maintained that Sydney are not unbeatable, and the Jets are, or were, better equipped than most to do it.

Ross adds: “We’ve underachieved through lack of finances over the years.” Absolutely no correlation to underdogs and battlers there! 

Leicester City won the EPL two seasons ago, in probably the most remarkable sporting story ever. They kept their best players, but normal order was resumed elsewhere, and when they play the big boys now they are underdogs and battlers.

We enjoy I think, the understated. Why is Graham Arnold, good coach, funny bloke, great servant to Australian football, suddenly unpopular? Success? Jealousy? Or does his oft-repeated claim that his team are superior to everyone else annoy opposition fans more than anything?

We love our underdog stories. The Knights … Joey’s punctured lung ... Peter Doohan’s Wimbledon triumph over Boris Becker ... Kurt Fearnley etc etc.

They make us feel proud, rather than inferior, and I think we are dealing with semantics here Ross.

I get your drift, but you’re preaching to a bloke who drove to Sydney and back 2000 times to return to God’s country each night after training. Will Creedon and Nuatali, I’m available for ad campaigns!

We are proud of our teams. We are proud of our city (Mitchell Pearce take note).

It’s becoming a modern hub of education, tourism, business and entertainment. Well, it will be if we are permitted to make some noise after 10 o’clock.