In 2001 a player who had not started a single first team game arrived on Wearside. He had just won gold at the national indoor youth championships at 60m so he was clearly swift. He made his first team debut in the August of that year against Fulham, scoring his first and only Sunderland goal a year later. You could argue that he arrived at a big English club too soon but what he did get was game time. In his time at Sunderland the young David Bellion was learning his craft. He refused to sign a new contract when we were relegated and joined Manchester Utd.
At Manchester Utd he was eventually frozen out of the squad before he joined Nice. Back in France. His career had purple patches but was peppered with inconsistency. Now I’m not suggesting that Bellion was a world beater, but he will never know what he could have achieved if he had signed that contract in 2003. In a recent interview he talked about how much he enjoyed his time at Sunderland. I remember him returning as a sub for Man Utd and getting so much abuse for being a “greedy bastard” that he was told to come in from his warm up.
I understand that sentiment but what we need to look at is what a footballer’s mentality is. They are not thick, many have very high intelligence. What they can be is naive. Wrapped in cotton wool and told they can achieve dreams. Add an agent who sees the pound signs into the mix and it is entirely understandable that these players chase dreams. Some are greedy. That is true. Many just want to be Roy of the Rovers. The top of their game. Chasing rainbows is not always the way to go though. For some it works. Others recognise the value of playing time. If you go back to Euro 2012 and look at who the current England crop were playing for you will be very surprised. Darlington, Fleetwood, Barnsley, Sheffield Utd, Welling Utd, Millwall feature on that list alongside many others. Few, if any, were playing reserve team football.
Football is littered with wasted talent. Francis Jeffers may well have left Everton too early. He was tagged as a great prospect. The world was at his feet. He joined Arsenal in an eye-catching transfer and was labelled the fox in the box. With pros like Henry and Wiltord joining the club though his game time was always going to be limited. His career went on a downward trajectory. I don’t know the ins and outs of why Jeffers joined Arsenal but I’m willing to bet he had an agent telling him what a great move it was, how he could capture that dream. In the meantime, the agent is negotiating the fee he or she (let’s not be sexist Mag Byrne) can get out of it.
Perhaps the starkest and closest tale is of a certain Mr Rodwell. One of the brightest prospects to come out of Everton and chased the dream to the Etihad. We all know what happened after that. For all those youngsters currently considering their options, take some time. You have one career and it’s easy to blow it with bad advice from someone who is only interested in their own bank account. Not all agents are bad. Some are excellent. Others have a great deal to be ashamed of as they have needlessly destroyed the careers and dreams of young footballers in pursuit of their own financial gain. Think hard fellas. Too many have thrown their careers away for a dream.