Yesterday, according to all the intelligence MOMS read and gathered on and off the record, Fabian Delph should have been a Manchester City player this weekend.
It’s reported he informed his teammates and Villa CEO Tom Fox, he was off. The club withdrawing his image off social media kit launch promotional headers seemed to back this up. Instead, after an overnight crisis of conscience, Delph made a U-turn and instead of attending to the formalities of becoming a City player spent the afternoon as a Villa player at the Wetherby Food Festival with his family.
The Farce and Folly of his January Contract
After the big Delph loyalty fanfare the club subjected Villa supporters to in January, it’s hard to think the Villa captain was going anywhere this summer. But what they didn’t tell us at the time was his contract apparently contained a £8 million clause, which essentially meant if one of the Premier League’s top four wanted him, he was gone. In short, we were conned.
Why the club settled on such a low release figure is puzzling and seems naive. It’s been spun that Delph wanted to pay Villa back, or more specifically Randy Lerner, for the faith shown in him despite his injuries. Yet, his current value is over double £8 million, some may say treble that amount.
Why not pitch the release clause higher? £12 million? £14 million? In today’s market, it would still represent a non-brainer for a team with Champions League cash to spend and thus not present a barrier for Delph getting his move away. Delph would surely have agreed to the club getting a real return on their investment. Factor in his wages and costs over six seasons, on top of his initial £6 million transfer fee, and Delph certainly cost Villa more than £8 million.
Lets look at this pragmatically and put the player’s hype aside for a moment.
Delph is a player that doesn’t even boast double figures to his name in either goals or assists in his six seasons for Villa. He’s only played 107 league games across six seasons and only once has he played over 25 league games in a season (in the 2013/14 season he managed 34 appearances). And for an international central midfielder, he’s amazingly only scored three league goals for Villa (Milner scored 12 in fewer games for Villa).
It’s also a myth that Delph signing his new contract in January inspired our survival last season. After he signed it, Villa lost their next five league games! Look to Tim Sherwood, if you want the main reason Villa are still in the Premier League.
Delph is already earning more money than he can spend. But There’s more to life than money, even in football.
But what we now finally know, after witnessing moments like Delph’s cheeky goal against Chelsea, his pile driver against Southampton, his winner in the FA Cup semi-final and the leadership he increasingly shows, is he is fast becoming the real deal.
To be fair, on the pitch, bar last season’s FA Cup run, Villa haven’t really reaped the benefits of developing him. At 25-years-old, his best years are about to come, so if he wants to repay Villa properly and be seen as ‘loyal’, he needs to give Villa one or two of his primetime years to help kick the club on.
The angry supporter reaction to Delph leaving was totally warranted. We would have been short-changed, insulted and made mugs of, when you consider the Delph loyalty PR song and dance that was fed by the club to us all back in January.
The four-and-a-half-year contract was especially misleading to season ticket holders, if they renewed thinking it was a sign Villa were back on the up (finally). It was marketing with a cold heart.
The fan reaction was not being ‘fickle’ or any of the other nonsense some self-righteous fans (only with hindsight) have labelled at other fans for being upset at the possibility of Delph leaving. These are real passions and emotions you are dealing with here.
This is not a game of Football Manager where you think ‘Well, we got an extra £8 million, we didn’t expect.” If supporters hadn’t vented their feelings about the situation, Delph’s decision to leave would have been a hell of a lot easier.
At some Italian clubs where ultra supporters have a mafia-like grip on the running of their club, it’s unlikely a player would break his word after committing like that, or as we’ve seen in certain South American countries where passions run rather high, a player would actually be putting his life at risk making such a turncoat move.
The Villa supporter’s anger was a big indication they had grown to love Delph as one of their own. In the modern game this is very rare. Jack Grealish and Gabby Agbonlahor both have the benefit of being local boys, but Delph despite being written off initially by a section of Villa fans, won them over with his determined application to the Villa cause.
The Bradford-born player with his likeable northern pragmatism was endeared himself to fans. When Delph first signed he talked about looking forward to kicking the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney. It was exactly the feisty underdog spirit Villa needed to challenge the top guns in the league.
If you go back on such a bond, it creates heartbreak and fans felt betrayed. Like if your partner does the dirty on you, you’re not exactly going to wish them well. It’s human nature.
The Villa fan reaction was obviously just one element that influenced Delph’s eleventh hour U-turn. Delph would have also considered:
If Delph walked away he could potentially enjoy around twice his Villa wage at City. It’s an industry which has become all about the money and materialism, and this is what his peers judge each other on. It’s naive to think socialising at England training camps is simply about playing Play Station and golf. Discussions about cars, yachts, expensive holidays and property will be in the forefront. And if you think you’re a better player than the England player who plays for Liverpool or Manchester City, yet he’s getting paid more than you, it will rattle you a bit.
There was a chance of really competing for trophies at City. In reality, how important this is compared to earning millions to the modern day footballer is questionable. In many ways, playing in the Champions League simply boosts your profile and your monetary value. It’s all linked to money. Still, the desire to win trophies remains a factor to a player like Delph.
Another factor is what would his role had been at City? Would he be a first team central midfielder? It’s very debatable. James Milner had to be the utility man at City with many of his appearances coming as a sub and not in his favoured centre-midfield position.
Some fans think City didn’t give Delph the assurances that he would be a first team player. That’s not how it works when you’re one of the top teams in Europe. Players have to earn their position.
While Delph no doubt has faith in his own ability, there would be doubts in his mind if he was going to play enough and would being a fringe player threaten his England place with Euro 2016 looming? Like Milner before him, from being the main man at Villa, he would just be a face in the crowd at City.
The Villa supporter’s anger was a big indication they had grown to love him as one of their own.
As a reader astutely pointed out in the comments section below, the Delph family also has a new arrival due anytime soon, meaning: a) If he signed for City, Delph would have to drive a longer distance to work and spend more time away from his wife and kids, or b) uproot his family and move closer to Manchester, while his wife was fresh out of labour. Now, I wonder what his wife thought about that idea?!
It’s been reported Delph was upset about the supporter reaction and rightly so, if he was the man we thought him to be, then it would only be natural.
It’s true. Delph is already earning more money than he can spend. But there’s more to life than money, even in football.
You can’t buy being regarded as a man of your word. You can’t buy being the captain of a club like Villa. You can’t buy the love and respect of millions of fans, which he would have lost instantly. You can’t buy having the best chance of claiming a spot in the first XI of England’s European Championship team for France 2016.
At 25-years-old, Delph has time on his side to get the big move, but in the meantime he’s made the best decision he could have made to prove himself as a decent man and a decent football player.
UPDATE: Six days later Fabian Delph proved his word was worthless. Nuff said. Snake. Burn.
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