Set Me Free: How To Be A Wantaway Footballer

Though its been a relatively quiet January Transfer window with few deals of note being completed, it sadly that doesn’t mean that Jim White and his stupid yellow tie are about to be out of a job. The cowardly Talksport host and face of Sky Sports News’ overblown Transfer Deadline Day – which, to the uninitiated, is a bit like Christmas Day for chronically lonely men who like to photograph themselves throwing their razors down the toilet because of an advert – will be pleased to see that, despite a lack of fiscal irresponsibility being displayed by Britain’s football clubs, one long-standing trope of the window has made its bi-annual appearance to provide White his wicked whispers for the month. Yes, it’s the Wantaway Footballer. Previously the preserve of mercurial mercenaries fed-up of plying their trade at mediocre mid-table teams and looking for a fatter paycheck, this year it’s a mercurial mercenary fed up of plying his trade at an upper mid-table team looking for a fatter paycheck.

According to his agent and brother, Marko Arnautovic wants out of West Ham, and until last week it looked as though Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande were about to make his wish come true by waving a wad of yuan under the noses of the suits at the London Stadium and filling the Austrian’s bank account with even more. Arnie may still get his move away from East London come 11pm on Thursday, but until then he’ll have to hunker down, bide his time, and feel acutely embarrassed about that lingering exit from the pitch after his substitution against Arsenal.

If all else fails, Marko could always follow our handy guide to becoming a Wantaway Footballer.

Step One: Arrive to Much Fanfare


For full, dramatic, pant-shitting meltdown when you finally decide to turn your back on the fans that have paid your wages, it’s important to get off on the right foot. Arnautovic had already made a name for himself as an effective and robust forward during his four years at Stoke City, and the £20m splashed out by West Ham to secure his signature in 2017 did nothing to quell the air of expectation among Hammers supporters. Much like death and taxes, received wisdom tells us that each and every one of our new heroes will eventually break our hearts – it’s just that some do it in kinder ways than others.

Do it like: Carlos Tevez
Carlito has always done things Carlito’s way and, after earning hero status at Old Trafford for his role in Manchester United’s Champions League win and back-to-back Premier League titles, he shocked the North West by swapping red for sky blue and signing for noisy neighbours Manchester City in 2009. An impressive first season at Eastlands was capped off by Tevez captaining the side to FA Cup victory over Stoke City, while his goals the following year helped City to third place and a Champions League qualification. The tide began to turn in 2011/12 and, after refusing to come off the bench in a European game at Bayern Munich, Tevez went AWOL, refusing to train and agitating for a move back to his native Argentina. After a four month standoff with the club, the forward returned to the Etihad Stadium and apologised to his manager and supporters. A hat-trick at Norwich two months later helped City to their first Premier League title, and after another decent season in Manchester, the Argentinian was finally granted his transfer…to Juventus.

Don’t do it like: Michael Owen
Newcastle United supporters could scarcely believe it when the news broke. England’s golden boy Michael Owen was arriving from Real Madrid in a club record £16.8m transfer. Though manager Graeme Souness had hardly endeared himself to supporters with some dire football and questionable purchases, bringing one of the country’s deadliest goalscorers to the north east was a serious show of ambition, and 20,000 Geordies packed into the Leazes End of St James Park to welcome their new hero. Owen was soon among the goals, scoring seven in his first eleven appearances, before a broken metatarsal against Tottenham on New Years Eve all but ended his debut season in black and white. Fast forward four years and the record signing had made fewer than eighty appearances on Tyneside.  Towards the end of the 2008/09 season, with Newcastle embroiled in a relegation battle, he declared himself unfit to face Fulham in a game that could have saved the Magpies from the drop. By the time relegation was confirmed against Aston Villa, Owen’s agent was already working on a brochure to send to prospective employers. Newcastle fans were not sad to see the back of him.


Step Two: Become a Cult Hero


After a shaky start in East London, Arnautovic began to blossom in claret and blue under the unlikely tutelage of David Moyes. Though he may wear the face of a man sculpt in stone at five to five on a Friday, Moyes did at least have the tactical wherewithal to switch his Austrian talisman into a central role, a move that paid immediate dividends with Arnautovic’s first goal for the club in a win over Chelsea. On his return to Stoke, Arnie celebrated another strike by crossing his arms to form a hammer symbol, and immediately endeared himself to the travelling faithful. Eleven goals in his debut season gave the stroppy striker cult hero status in Stratford, but while some fans are happy to see their stars off to pastures new, others take a dimmer view of deserters.

Do it like: Yohan Cabaye
After captaining Lille to the Ligue 1 title the previous season, Yohan Cabaye arrived on Tyneside in a deal worth around £4m. Combining film star good looks and the technical ability to dictate a game from central midfield, the Frenchman quickly earned the nickname ‘Dreamboat’, and developed an effective partnership with Cheick Tiote in Alan Pardew’s engine room. Cabaye became the heartbeat of the Newcastle side that surprised everyone by finishing fifth in 2011/12, with his free-kick in a 3-0 victory over Manchester United providing fond memories for the St James Park faithful. Within two seasons however, Arsenal were among the teams sniffing around the player, and a refusal to play against Manchester City in the opening game of 2013/14 soured Cabaye’s relationship with supporters. His return to the first team sparked an upturn in form for the Geordies though, and by Christmas murmurs of a challenge for the European places were back on. A man of the match display at West Ham proved to be Cabaye’s final outing in black and white, and days later he had secured a move to Paris Saint Germain for £19m. His efforts did not go unnoticed, and Newcastle supporters bid their #4 ‘adieu’ with no ill will.

Don’t do it like: Dimitri Payet
West Ham, of course, have been here before. 2015 was an exciting time to be a Hammers supporter; former fan favourite Slaven Bilic had been installed as manager, the club were readying themselves to move into a brand new stadium, and the much maligned owners were getting their chequebooks out to secure some eye-catching signings. Pedro Obiang and Angelo Ogbonna had joined from Serie A; Alex Song and Vincent Moses arrived on loan; most impressively though, was the capture of highly-rated Marseille playmaker Dimitri Payet. The Frenchman would not disappoint, as Bilic’s new look Hammers picked up wins at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City in the opening weeks of the season. Come the end of the campaign, West Ham had finished seventh and Payet was a bonafide cult hero. Though keen to explore his options, Payet was convinced to stick around the following season, on the promise that the move into the London Stadium would attract big names to the club, and the Hammers were on the up. When those world class signings failed to materialise, Payet downed tools. In January 2017, with both parties at an impasse, Payet effectively went on strike, leaving West Ham little choice but to sell the midfielder back to Marseille for £25m. His contribution to the previous season was quickly forgotten by supporters, and in a matter of months he became public enemy number one.


Step Three: Attract Interest from Elsewhere


Just as day follows night and a painful morning on the pan follows a cocksure order in an Indian restaurant, transfer interest will inevitably follow an impressive patch of form. Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United had already been credited with interest in Arnautovic before Guangzhou got in the ear of the forward’s agent, and it’s this public appreciation of a player’s talents that acts as the catalyst for a drawn-out transfer saga involving our wantaway hero. On occasion though, this admiration can be displayed a little too intimately.

Do it like: Nicolas Anelka
There’s something admirable about Nicolas Anelka, if you conveniently forget the antisemitic goal celebration that saw him rightly sacked by West Brom in 2014. Throughout his career, the striker has been the archetypal ‘what you see is what you get’ footballer. A sulky mercenary with little to no regard for others, but blessed with the ability to score goals. There was very little warmth felt between the teenage Anelka and Arsenal’s supporters when he broke through at Highbury following a £500,000 move from PSG. Even a goal in the FA Cup final to secure a league and cup double wasn’t enough to earn the youngster cult hero status in North London. So, after two seasons and twenty-eight goals, he upped sticks for Real Madrid in a deal that earned the Gunners £22.5m. Arsenal would use the money to begin building another title winning side, while Anekla would go on to earn fat paychecks at eleven different clubs.

Don’t do it like: Ashley Cole
There are fewer more satisfying things in football than seeing a homegrown player, who’s worked his way through the ranks, burst into the first team and make a position his own. When Ashley Cole became a regular in Wenger’s starting XI in 2000/01, Arsenal fans were touting him as future captain material. Within five years, they wouldn’t let the full-back’s name cross their lips. Cole’s indiscretions were manifold, but boiled down to the fact that he declined a handsome pay increase, and later wrote of “trembling with anger” at an “insulting” £55,000 a week offer in his autobiography, and was found guilty of illegally making contact with Chelsea to discuss a transfer – an error that cost Cole £100,000. To top it all off, he ended up joining Arsenal’s rivals anyway, winning a raft of trophies and at one point being considered the best left-back in the world.


Step Four: Have Your Head Turned


Fans can usually tell if they’re witnessing the end of an era for a player whose name cost them an extra £25 to print on the back of their replica shirt at the start of the season. Often performances on the pitch will deteriorate, they’ll look disinterested or erratic, or in some cases they’ll literally go missing from the club. Other transfer gossip, meanwhile, can be brushed aside with sighs of relief, such as Zinedine Zidane’s alleged move to Spurs back when he was still weaving his magic at Real Madrid. Asked in a press conference whether there was any substance to the rumours, the French maestro simply answered “qui?”

If his recent form is anything to go by, Arnautovic has clearly had his head turned, but he could learn a thing or two from his predecessors about acting appropriately when it comes to making a move.

Do it like: Luka Modric
The 2018 Ballon D’or winner arrived at White Hart Lane in 2008 for a hefty fee of £16.5m, but quickly won over the fans with some commanding performances in the heart of midfield, and a mesmeric range of passing. It wasn’t just Spurs supporters that swooned over the Croatian’s skills, and ahead of the 2011/12 season, Chelsea tested Daniel Levy’s resolve by putting in a £27m for Tottenham’s star player. In a classic summer transfer saga, the player and both clubs went back and forth, with Modric publicly stating that Levy had agreed to sell the midfielder to ‘a big club’ should the opportunity arise. The chairman stood firm, however, leading to Modric refusing to play against Manchester United in the season opener. After a trademark Harry Redknapp pep talk and more sweet nothings from Levy, Modric returned to the first team in dazzling form, scoring a collection of scorchers including one superb strike against Liverpool, before departing North London for Real Madrid the following summer, earning Tottenham £30m in the process.

Don’t do it like: Fabian Delph
Nowdays he’s redefining the term ‘utility man’, but in 2015 Delph was posting impressive performances in Aston Villa’s midfield. Purchased from Leeds as a 20-year-old, the Yorkshireman had slowly but surely made the anchorman position his own at Villa Park, and after two impressive seasons in the first team he was considered among Villa’s most important players. Step forward Manchester City. Never afraid to unsettle other club’s star players, just ask Everton (twice), City turned Delph’s head with an offer of £8m for his services. After umming and ahhing, the England midfielder decided against defecting to the richest team in the land, releasing a statement that swore his allegiance to the claret and blue cause. Six days later, he was a Manchester City player.


Step Five: Angle for a Move

29 jack birmingham v arsenal.jpg

You’ve done the hard yards. Worked your way up from obscurity, made a name for yourself at the highest level, and attracted the interest of some of the biggest names in football (and Guangzhou Evergrande). Now, you just have to make life difficult enough for your current employers that they’re willing to let one of their prized assets leave. Over the years footballers have had to be inventive when it comes to forcing a transfer through. Robbie Savage recalls starting a training ground fight with a teammate to earn his move, while Ousmane Dembele simply stopped turning up to work at Borussia Dortmund in order to secure a transfer to Barcelona. Arnautovic went down the more traditional route of getting his agent to leak his desire to leave West Ham to the press. However you do it, the most important thing to remember when angling for a move is to retain dignity at all times…

Do it like: Virgil van Dijk
Arriving from Celtic with a big reputation, Dutch centre-back van Dijk was the kind of signing Southampton used make back when they knew how to work the transfer market. The £13m fee would soon be considered a bargain as van Dijk shored up the Saints backline, and played a big part in their run to the 2017 League Cup final. As with all successful players on the south coast, it wasn’t long before Liverpool came a’sniffing, looking to add Virgil to their growing list of Southampton ex-pats. After seeing his future employers rebuffed in the summer window, van Dijk made it clear that he had no intention of staying at St Mary’s for any longer than was completely necessary, and publicy requested a transfer. Whilst not ideal, it showed an honesty and integrity that wantaway players rarely seem capable of. By January, van Dijk had got his move, and Southampton had added £75m to their transfer kitty, which they duly squandered.

Don’t do it like: William Gallas
Best remembered for his post-match sit-in on the St Andrews pitch following a late Birmingham City equaliser from the penalty spot that derailed Arsenal’s title bid in the 2007/08 seaason, William Gallas has form for being a bit of a mad bastard. Brought to Chelsea by Claudio Ranieri in the pre-Abramovich years, Gallas was a mainstay in the centre of defence under the Italian, and remained popular with successor Mourinho. Following an impressive display at the 2006 World Cup however, the Frenchman’s head was turned by interest from abroad and, having been refused extra time off to recuperate after the tournament, he failed to turn up to pre-season. The final straw in the saga came when Gallas reportedly told the club that, were he selected for the opening game of the 2006/07 game against Manchester City, he would deliberately make mistakes and even score an own goal. Chelsea released a statement echoing the words of their defender, and on transfer deadline day he joined Arsenal as part of the move that saw Ashley Cole head to Stamford Bridge.


Step Six: Complete Your Transfer (one way or another)


Marko may have fallen at the final hurdle, but there are plenty of wantaway players who’ve acheived their goal and got the hell out of dodge when the opportunity has presented itself. Sometimes the plan will go without a hitch, even working to the benefit of everyone involved. Liverpool fans were sad to see Philippe Coutinho leave last season, but the inflated transfer fee paid by Barcelona has helped fund a serious title tilt. For others, it can be more about the journey than the destination. In 2008, Robinho declared his desire to leave Real Madrid for the Premier League in order to “become the best in the world”. Which is a terrible excuse. The Brazilian favoured a move to Chelsea, but it was newly minted Manchester City that paid the inflated sum of £32.5m to bring the forward to England. Upon arrival, Robinho was quick to tell the gathered media how pleased he was that “Real had accepted the bid from Chelsea…I mean Manchester”.

Do it like: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
If anyone in world football can force a transfer out of nothing, then you’d put your money on it being Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The imperious Swede has made a career out of his cult of personality and kung-fu approach to forward play, but in 2010 he found himself embroiled in a battle of egos with Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. Sensationally, the world’s greatest manager had sanctioned a move for Ibrahimovic that saw Barca shell out £59m and Samuel Eto’o for the striker’s services, but after just one tempestuous season, the relationship between player and manager had broken down completely. Already well versed in getting his own way in the transfer market thanks to his previous engineered moves to Ajax, Juventus and Inter, Zlatan was ready to play hardball in a meeting with Nou Camp vice-president Josep Maria Bartomeu. Though the Catalans were keen to recoup their initial layout on Ibrahimovic, the Swede’s ultimatum was simple: he would either stay on the payroll and refuse to play under Guardiola, or Barca would have to sell him to Real Madrid. Eventually his brinkmanship paid off, as Bartomeu accepted a cut-price bid of €24m from AC Milan, where Zlatan would go on to lift another league title.

Don’t do it like: Pierre van Hooijdonk
Pierre van Hooijdonk’s career at Nottingham Forest was doomed as soon as it began. Drafted in late on in the 1996/97 season, Forest were already well on their way to being relegated from the Premier League, eventually finishing bottom. Rather than sulk, the big Dutch striker stepped up to the plate the following season, firing 34 goals as the Tricky Trees returned to the top flight as champions at the first time of asking. His form had seen him called up to the Netherlands squad for France ’98, and before departing he met with manager Dave Bassett to discuss a potential transfer amid interest from Newcastle and PSV Eindhoven. Assured that the club would do all that they could to ensure he was sold, van Hooijdonk headed off to France for the tournament, only to discover while there that his value had been inflated significantly, with Forest asking for £!0m to secure his signature. Rather than confront Bassett, the striker did what strikers do best and, well, struck. Three months into the season, amid heavy criticism from fans and teammates, van Hooijdonk rejoined the squad. He marked his return to the first team with a goal against Derby, but was left shunned by teammates in the celebration. Forest were relegated again at the end of the season, and van Hooijdonk finally got his move away – to midtable Eredivisie side Vitesse Arnhem.

And whatever you do, don’t do an Odemwingie…

Follow these steps and you’re sure to find yourself in the loving arms of a new set of supporters blinkered by hero-worship and ready to accept you as one of their own. But it’s always important to remember that if you do want to get yourself a transfer make sure the club you’re trying to sign for are actually interested. Otherwise you might find yourself driving three hours down the M40 in the small hours to be met by an unanswered door on a cold West London evening. Poor old Peter.

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