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The Value Of Reputation

Thursday 25th July 2013
Bruce Halling explores the issue of reputation in football, looking at what can happen when a player falls foul of their own name.

Reputation is everything in football.

It's actually quite incredible to see the contrast between certain players if you get down to the business of comparing them. I'll take two players that are the focus of a lot of talk in the gossip columns at the moment just to demonstrate the point I'm getting at.

On the one hand, you have Gareth Bale arguably goes to ground a little bit too easily but you can put that aside because he is truly a world class player. Real Madrid are allegedly willing to pay up to £85M to lure him away from Tottenham, and nobody seems to be overly bothered about the size of the price tag even though it's more than the same team paid for Cristiano Ronaldo.

On the other hand, you have Luis Suarez. There's no doubting his ability as a player, he's been unbelievably good in a Liverpool side which has been decidedly average in the last couple of seasons - although they have shown real signs of improvement in the second half of last season and could carry that momentum into this campaign - but there are serious question marks over his temperament. To be fair, he bites people, so it's not as though there's much debate to be had on the matter. Arsenal want Suarez, but £40M? Even without the extra pound, it just seems far too much, doesn't it?

Perhaps even more so than out-and-out ability, footballers are increasingly judged on their character, or temperament. It's a word that seems to get thrown around a lot without ever having any type of substantive meaning applied to it and, while it can certainly have some bearing of the valuation of any given player in the transfer market, it is surely impossible to quantify the value of character in monetary terms? Yet, at the same time, we try to take it into account when trying to assess the relative worth of a player. Suarez and Bale have arguably been just as important to their teams as each other over the last two years, yet their touted valuations in the transfer market differ greatly.

To think this is a phenomena restricted to just the top tiers and the big names would be naïve, of course, because the same thing applies with whatever level of football you are talking about. The only thing that changes are the sums of money involved. Take my own team, Southend United, as an example. We had a player on the books called Bilel Mohsni. For the level of competition that we compete at, he was an awesome player - he could play pretty much anywhere on the pitch and find a way of making a difference on any given match day, but there were issues with his temperament. As often as he would making a match-winning contribution, he'd also do something utterly ridiculous and cost the team the match. Eventually, his antics became too much for the club to bear and after several unsuccessful attempts to sell the player over the past year- he went on trial with a number of different clubs last season - he was released in May and, to my knowledge, has yet to find a new club.

I believe he will struggle to find another club in this country now, purely because of the reputation he has earned as a result of his temperament. Initially, he was seen as a bit on the wild side but that could be put aside because of his ability, and this is reflected by the fact that Southend rejected a £250k bid for the player in January 2011. Fast forward 18 months, the player's temperament had caused too many problems for the club and they want to sell, and West Ham were only prepared to offer £50k - an offer which was rejected.

Herein lies the key to the issue. Even if Mohsni was able to change his attitude, he now has a reputation that puts people off. He's far from the only player to suffer this fate, with many players enduring falls from grace that could well have been avoided had they kept their temperament in check more through their careers to prevent them from building up reputations as troublemakers. Just this week, former Wigan and Tottenham full-back Pascal Chimbonda played in a friendly for Market Drayton Town. How does the best right back in English football - as he was voted in 2006 - end up on trial at a Northern Premier League Division One South side, having been without a club for over a year just seven years later?

The long answer is that his temperament allowed him to make a number of poor decisions throughout his career. The manner by which he handed in a transfer request at the end of the 2005-06 season and essentially forced through a move to Tottenham, despite having signed a four-year deal with Wigan just months earlier ought to have proven to be an indicator of things to come. Initially, things went quite well for him at Spurs, but an angry reaction to being substituted in the 2008 Carling Cup final again brought his character into question. A difficult spell at Sunderland and a troubled return to Spurs followed, and by the time he joined Blackburn in 2009, he was already a player with a 'troubled' reputation.

When he was released from Blackburn in early 2011, the writing was already on the wall, and his cause wasn't exactly helped by another short-lived spell at QPR, and it was only the Willie McKay experiment at Doncaster in the 2011-2012 season that allowed Chimbonda one final chance to salvage his reputation. The club were unable to rescue themselves from relegation, with the experiment largely seen as a failure owing to the recruitment of a number of players - Chimbonda included - seen as mercenaries and troublemakers who weren't committed to the cause. Doncaster's relegation saw this transfer policy abandoned and Chimbonda - at this stage now a 33-year-old with his career in a tailspin and a reputation for trouble - was effectively cast off into the abyss.

The short answer? His ability was no longer enough. He'd built up a repuatation for trouble, and eventually ran out of chances to prove himself. Mohsni is now where Chimbonda was a couple of years ago. Suarez has some way to fall yet, but his reputation at this stage of his career suggests that the tail end of his career could take him in the same direction if he isn't careful.

As I said, reputation is everything in football.
Bruce Halling
Bruce is a 24-year-old self-confessed Football League addict and author of the 'Road To The Promised Land' column. He is a passionate Southend United fan who has witnessed the Shrimpers' rise to the Championship as well as their more recent fall back to their current position in League Two. Though he doesn’t get to many games as a spectator, he has worked at Southend, Colchester United and now Queens Park Rangers as a steward, so is never too far away from the action on a matchday. Away from football, he is a Politics graduate and currently jobhunting. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucehalling

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