x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'Players are tapped up all the time'

Moving can be a murky business, but my departure from Blackburn was straightforward - I couldn't stand Souness.

Footballers get their heads turned all the time. By money, especially for the younger generation, and by bigger clubs. If Manchester United show interest when you play for Newcastle United, there is something wrong with you if it does not grab your attention. Managers complain because losing their best players makes their job more difficult, but they are no different. They pay attention if they are offered a better job.

Players are tapped up all the time, however informally. Cesc Fabregas knew very well that Barcelona wanted to sign him this summer, not because there was formal communication, but Barca players in the Spain team were told to convey an informal club message that he was wanted. And the recent examples of Javier Mascherano moving from Liverpool to Barcelona show how players can engineer a move from a club which does not want to sell them.

I've done the same, but for different reasons. My relationship with the Blackburn Rovers manager Graeme Souness had deteriorated to such an extent that I had to leave. I didn't like him, respect or want to play for him. We didn't speak and blanked each other every day. He didn't want to play me and promoted two young strikers, Paul Gallagher and Jon Stead, but he had to play me in big games because he needed a proven goalscorer.

Despite the big wages and the perceived glamour, I used to drive to training each day a very unhappy man. Finally, I called Blackburn's chief executive John Williams at home. He was a good guy and told me to try and resolve my differences with the manager, that people fell out all the time in football. I don't think he realised how bad it was between us. We were so close to coming to blows on many occasions.

I stayed in touch with the chief executive. I didn't have any other club lined up so I wasn't being sly; I just wanted to get away from Souness. John finally saw that I had to go. He also told me, quite correctly, that while he understood my position, he was always going to side with a manager over a player. There was an issue in that I was earning a lot of money, nearly £40,000 (Dh225,900) a week. Few teams could afford me. I considered taking a big drop because money has never been a big turn-on for me. I suppose I could say that because I'd made good money, but I was prepared to take a big drop. Then again, I was cheap in other respects as there would be no transfer fee. Fulham came in for me on similar money and I moved away from Blackburn and 200 miles away from my family. That's how much I wanted out.

I believe that I acted honourably and that I didn't have a reputation for being awkward with managers. We just had a major personality clash. So what was my contract worth? Not that much, evidently. But then what was Zlatan Ibrahimovic's worth when his club wanted him out? Exactly the same. He could have stayed and picked up a huge wage, but he could have been frozen out in the reserves so that his professional reputation suffered and he was seen as being greedy for picking up his contracted wage.

There are plenty of chief executives who call agents and ask them to move one of their players on without the player ever knowing. And there are plenty of unscrupulous agents who want to keep moving players on because the signing on fees are the biggest earner for them. They have a bad reputation, but I'm not one for hammering all agents. Twenty years ago, players were paid what the manager told them they would be paid. There was little negotiation. I'd rather players earn more money than directors, as they are the people providing entertainment. A good agent will negotiate with a club in a way a player never could. And don't forget that most footballers have no experience or skill in negotiating.

It's all a bit murky, but I've never seen a player act up or play badly on purpose. He'd be letting his team and himself down. I've seen players loathe managers but still play for them and I've seen managers go and take players with them - that happens a lot. Rafael Benitez and Mascherano were really close, so I knew the player would want out when the manager left. I thought he would rejoin him at Inter-Milan, but then you throw agents and rival clubs into the mix and it all changes. He was Liverpool's player and if they didn't want to sell to Benitez as a form of revenge, they could exercise that right.

Whoever said football was only a game was ignoring what goes on behind the scenes. Andrew Cole, a former Manchester United player, is the second all-time Premier League top scorer with 187 goals sports@thenational.ae