Eye On EPL

Let unhappy players leave

In the past few days, we had seen three players make English Premier League (EPL)headlines, and two of them were not even playing in any match.

Diego Costa was reportedly tempted by a lucrative offer from a Chinese Super League team and had an argument with Chelsea manager Antonio Conte. Dimitri Payet also wants to leave struggling West Ham. Neither played for their club over the weekend.

Alexis Sanchez played in Arsenal's 4-0 hammering of Swansea, but threw a big tantrum by kicking his gloves when he was substituted late in the match.

This is a worrying trend in football but managers need not feel that they are powerless to stop it.

The modern star footballer lives in his own bubble.

In the cases of Costa and Payet, it is impossible to fight against those tempting offers. The Chelsea striker stands to make a fortune huge enough for him to live comfortably for the rest of his life, while Payet clearly does not fancy a relegation battle with the Hammers.

He is surrounded by a big group of agents, assistants and PR people. He probably sees his entourage more often than their managers. The age of the authoritarian managers like Manchester United's Alex Ferguson is over.

Very few players show loyalty to their clubs. One-club men like Paolo Maldini (AC Milan), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) and Francesco Totti (Roma) are probably extinct, just like the dinosaurs.

In the cases of Costa and Payet, it is impossible to fight against those tempting offers. The Chelsea striker stands to make a fortune huge enough for him to live comfortably for the rest of his life, while Payet clearly does not fancy a relegation battle with the Hammers.

The Frenchman has many qualities as a footballer but loyalty certainly is not one of them as he had just signed a 51/2-year contract last February for a whopping £125,000 (S$220,000) per week.

In West Ham's case, this could even turn out to be a good thing as Payet can fetch a good price in the market and that money can be re-invested in a few quality signings to help them fight the drop.

Chelsea, with Roman Abramovich's billions, does not need the money. But no club should keep hold of any unhappy players because it could lead to a toxic dressing room, especially when the player in question is someone who is as volatile as Costa.

The Blues are challenging for the title and if the offer from China is so tempting for the Spanish striker, it means that it is an amount that you can only dream about.

In a way, Sanchez's behaviour reminds me of Luis Suarez, who was punching the roof of the dugout when the Uruguayan was benched during last year's Copa America.

I am no different from the Arsenal forward.

The professional players want to play all the time and it does not matter if the team is leading 1-0 or 5-0, we all want to be on the pitch until the final whistle.

Arsene Wenger wants to rest his Chilean star and keep him fresh for a long campaign that sees Arsenal challenging for the EPL, the FA Cup and the Champions League. And he is right to do so.

And Sanchez is entitled to feel disappointed but this is the EPL and there are cameras everywhere. Still, Wenger's man-management skills will calm this storm.

I cannot say the same for Chelsea and West Ham. The drama surrounding Costa and Payet looks set to drag on until they are sold, or until they stop sulking and give their best for their clubs.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2017, with the headline 'Let unhappy players leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe