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the square ball week: on the pitch

the square ball week: on the pitch

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Luke Murphy doesn’t immediately seem to have a lot in common with Raheem Sterling. On point haircuts?

They’ve been thrown together this week the way only opposites are. On the one hand, you have Sterling, for whom no weekly wage is ever enough, whose £49m transfer from Liverpool to Manchester City is evidence of the fiscal unreality of the Premier League. The whole tone of the transfer showed that: the question was only ever ‘how much?’, whether the fee or the wages, and not, ‘what can he do?’

On the other hand, and seemingly in a different world, is Luke Murphy. ‘What can he do?’ has been asked of Murphy an awful lot since he signed for a chill million two summers back. ‘Buck his ideas up and earn his money’ has been one consistent reply for a lot of that time, until last season when his ideas, at last, looked bucked.

The reward he’s ended up with is less money, which is what drew him into the same orbit as Sterling this week. Some footballers are known as special because of their extraordinary levels of skill, or for proficiency or efficiency in front of goal. Luke Murphy has become known as special because he took a pay cut. Perhaps that says more about other footballers than it says about him. Certainly there has been a rush to characterise him as the antidote to Sterling and co.; the altruist vs the self-interested.

Murphy deserves the credit he’s had. There are few better feelings as a fan than when a player you want to play for your team also wants to play for your team, more than anything else. On that scale, Murphy isn’t quite as far along as Marcell Jansen, who quit football altogether this summer after Hamburg, who he joined in 2008, decided to let him go.

“I am fit, can move on a free transfer, could still earn good money but I prefer to renounce the money,” he said. “In the last few years I was very emotionally tied to HSV. I will continue to live in Hamburg and will always love this club. [Former club] Gladbach, of course, as well. But now some new club? No, I don’t want to lie or deceive some other club or fans when I am no longer fully behind it. I can’t just suddenly kiss another badge now. That wouldn’t be right. I am myself too much of a fan for that.”

Even if you don’t care about Hamburg or had never heard of Jansen before, you want to stand and applaud when you read something like that. Luke Murphy might have to switch to a cheaper brand of hair product to continue his association with Leeds United, but Jansen’s devotion means a complete alteration of his lifestyle: the thing he did every day for his entire adult life, he won’t do anymore, out of love and because of respect.

While Luke Murphy reminded us about a little of the goodness that can exist in football, an absence of those two things — love and respect — mean that Leeds United let a dedicated servant go this week. The love wasn’t actually absent, it was just misdirected, at least according to the man who wasn’t getting enough of it directed towards him, Massimo Cellino; but the lack of respect for Neil Redfearn’s work and dedication is transparent and abundant.

There’s an emotional edge to Redfearn’s departure, because he had links to the club that run deeper than those of more run-of-the-mill Academy managers, or ex-Barnsley players. The photo of him, as a boy, in a yellow Admiral Leeds kit; the marriage to Leeds United Ladies’ Lucy Ward; the involvement with the upbringing and blossoming of the players we always feel closest to in the team: the ones we brought through ourselves.

There’s a sterner edge to the situation with Redfearn, though, which is that all the available evidence strongly suggests two things: one, that given the players produced in recent seasons, he is the right person to continue to lead the Academy; two, that his treatment by the club has been unprofessional, with unprofessional motivations. Whether he’s a Leeds-salutin’ Square Ball readin’ Leeds-to-the-core Leeds fan or not, that should have kept him in the job. That he loved the job and loved the club helped, but it wasn’t the be-all.

Love for the club, or dedication to the cause, or longevity of service, are difficult things to measure footballers on, but they’re the metrics fans look to more as the game becomes more nakedly mercenary. They’re also measurements that can give a distorted view. If it was measured according to love, Andy Hughes would be considered one of Leeds’ greatest ever players; but measure it by on-pitch performance and you’d end up considering disgraces like Harry Kewell. Look for a player with everything: love, dedication, longevity and excellence, and you have to go back and back, because Billy Bremner might well have been the last of those.

We lost Billy in 1997, but he has a legacy in his teammates, still with us, who were driven by his example to emulate him as closely as possible; and in the player that bridged the Revie and Wilkinson and O’Leary eras, David Batty. Inspired as a youngster when Bremner became his mentor, Batty joined in success with the Revie era players by winning titles for Leeds, then joined with their legacy of near-misses when he came back under O’Leary; failing close is an essential part of what makes Leeds United.

And then he left. As Leeds turned their back on glory, Batty turned his back on the club; or so it appeared. His final months at Leeds were marked by disputes, as chief executive Trevor Birch attempted to keep United solvent and caretaker manager Eddie Gray attempted to keep United in the Premiership, and Batty became central to both attempts.

And as fans, there was no way of understanding what was going on; of understanding why the players, and their union rep Batty, were refusing to defer a portion of their wages to help the club’s bottom line; and why Batty wasn’t in the team, to help the club stay away from the bottom of the league.

That it was Batty involved in all this was a shock to the system. Batty was us. An interview in 1991 described how David, even on his day off, “Cannot resist Elland Road … Batty feels the need to breath the air of the Leeds United ground each and every day.

“‘I can’t tell you why, it’s funny really,’ says the 23-year old. ‘It’s as though my car wants to bring me here. I hardly even have to steer it.’”

A couple of years later Leeds fans began to get used to the idea that his passion for Leeds didn’t run as deep as it did on the Kop; he went in 1993, and far from withering sadly so far away from LS11, he’d almost looked like he enjoyed winning two Premiership titles there (although he only counts one, as he missed most of the other through injury). The tales of him looking wistfully at Elland Road through the windows of the Newcastle United coach tugged at our heartstrings, and were true to an extent; he turned down an offer from Real Madrid to come back: “I was never going to go anywhere else.”

But for David Batty to have gone from driving like an obsessed fan to Elland Road every day, just to have a look, to putting wages above the club’s potential survival at all, was a shock. It came after the release of his autobiography, in 2001, in which he talked about how he didn’t really care for any part of the game apart from playing it, and it felt like David Batty didn’t only not like football, but he didn’t care much about Leeds United, either.

It comes back to how you measure passion. It’s supposed to be an emotion of wild-eyed abandonment; but what if it takes a more practical form? How do we spot the thoughtful, careful passion, hidden behind the badge-kissers and the saluters?

When I spoke to him for the ten page interview in today’s The City Talking, David Batty spelled out his version of events. “I was retiring at the end of the season anyway,” he says, “So it wasn’t about money.”

But there was a lot of money talk at the time. As Leeds slid towards relegation and an uncertain future, the team’s best players were securing their own futures by lining up transfers for the end of the season. Deferring 25% of the squad’s wages would have saved a temporary £2.5m — which would have eventually been paid to the players anyway — a short term fix. Batty’s solution, that the players agreed to, was to sell players now. “Get rid of the players who want to go, pay the debt off, and the ones that will be left will be the players that want to play for the club.”

The club refused, because they didn’t want to be seen to be holding a sale on their best players while the team fought relegation. “But we were rubbish anyway!” says David. “We were bottom of the league. I still maintain we wouldn’t have been much worse as a team. We’d have had players that were going to fight.”

What had changed in Batty was that he was old enough, and had seen enough, to see where blind passion wasn’t enough. “When you get older you see things for what you are anyway,” he says. “And the game had changed from when I started. It’s all about money, and you’re just a piece of meat, and nobody cares about you. And you see that for what it is when you’re older and you’ve seen everything.”

Fans, though, are ever youthful. Football is what a lot of us do to get away from being adult, after all; to go and stand in a public place and swear at the top of our voices, like kids. We can’t look at football, or life, through the same prism as somebody who endured five years of Howard Wilkinson’s set-piece routines; or who took the flak for being all about money in our relegation season, when he was one of only a handful of those players for whom relegation didn’t mean a payrise at a new club.

Luke Murphy’s willingness to take a pay cut isn’t an interlude of passion that will make him a Leeds United hero, an anti-Sterling defender of economic reality; it’s a sign that he’s a maturing player with his head screwed on who wants to fight for his place in the team at Leeds United. And that’s where lies his chance to become a United hero.

After ending last season so strongly, Murphy has suddenly gone to the back of the queue for a slot in Rösler’s new look three man midfield. First he has an injury to overcome, and then the form and favour of Cook and Mowatt, and the presence of new signing Tom Adeyemi. It’s not his fault, much as the initial £1m transfer fee and whatever he was being paid before weren’t his fault either, but it’ll have to be quite a comeback from here to get back in the first team.

That’s what it’s all about though: performing on the pitch. Love is nothing without success, passion can get you relegated, nobility is easily wasted in the harsh world of football. For a player, on the pitch is where it matters most.

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Our 10-page interview with David Batty in The City Talking: Leeds issue 26, a free newspaper distributed around Leeds and given away inside the Yorkshire Evening Post on Friday July 17th • Sign up here to get new articles by Moscowhite by email.


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