John Terry, Richard Dunne, and Thaksin’s City

English football is a never-ending source of fascination, drama and passion, and it should be little wonder that it has attracted a global audience as well as now global investors. Sunday evening, after the City-Liverpool match, I watched mesmerized a replay of the Stoke-Leicester season finale in the Championship. I knew already Stoke had been promoted, but didn’t know the result or if proud Leicester had been relegated to the third tier for the first time in its history, and I wanted to see the reaction of the fans on both sides. It was a tense, gripping match with Leicester tormenting its support by coming tantalizingly close to the winner that would have made them safe, capped at the final whistle by a massive, chaotic pitch invasion by the jubilant Stoke supporters that no neutral observer could begrudge.

It’s the bond between fans and club that makes English football what it is and interesting to the large television audiences it attracts. If that bond isn’t there, you’ve got nothing but just a bunch of highly-paid players kicking and chasing a ball around. Few supporters get excited about cheering for a team of high-priced mercenaries who happen to be wearing the right shirt. As fans, we want to get to know the players, to identify with them, and to know that they care about the club.

Consider what John Terry means to Chelsea. Terry is a fantastic leader, and a great centre back, but if so inclined, Roman Abramovich could certainly go out and recruit a bigger name, higher profile central defender to take Terry’s spot. That’s not likely to happen anytime soon, however. Why? Because Terry, along with Frank Lampard, represent the core of the Chelsea team and club, the players fans most revere and most identify with the club. Terry is an unshakable rock with unquestioned commitment to the Chelsea cause, and Chelsea would have won very little without him in recent years, even with the other players and resources at its disposal. What Terry doesn’t do, however, is sell a lot of shirts in Asia or the rest of the world.

Richard Dunne is Manchester City’s John Terry. Dunne moved to City about the same time Terry broke into the Chelsea first team, the 2000-01 season. After some youthful discipline problems, Dunne emerged starting in the 2003-04 season as one of the club’s most consistent performers, and he’s now won the fans’ player of the year award three times running and would get decent odds on a fourth for this year’s contributions as well. He’s also served admirably as club captain the past two years, and has the full respect of his teammates and the fans. Dunne is not the most athletic or most talented footballer around, but he’s a fearless marker and tireless worker, who is second to none in his commitment to City. Dunne has made countless vital headers and key tackles in recent seasons, and been a reliable and consistent force whether the team was playing well or not. He’s a player you can build the spine of a team around. He’s not, however, a player likely to sell a lot of shirts in Asia or the rest of the world. The fact that he’s had struggles and overcome them makes him even more likeable to City fans; his perseverance is a metaphor for that of the club itself and how it bounced back from the yo-yo years of 1996 to 2002 to become an established Premiership side.

And he’s not, various rumors and reports seem to indicate, a player that Thaksin Shinawatra’s new regime at Manchester City values very highly. Rather than sign Dunne to a long-term deal, indications are that Dunne will be allowed to move on, with Newcastle keenly interested.

Thaksin et al can always go buy another centre half, though they may have to buy more than that to replace any other City players who choose to follow Dunne out the door. That’s not the central point here. The central point here is that to disrespect Dunne is to fail to understand the dynamics of the current squad or the significance of what Dunne represents to others at the club, not least the fans. As a Manchester City supporter, I want to able to cheer for Richard Dunne, someone who loves the club, until either Dunne decides he wants a new challenge or it’s becomes clear that his game has declined. That’s not the case here; nor is it the case that Dunne, like Shaun Wright-Phillips in 2005, is such a valuable asset that you can’t say no to the wad of money being offered for him.

Unfortunately, if we’ve learned anything in the last couple of weeks, it’s that despite his earlier pronouncments, Thaksin Shinawatra really doesn’t care what ordinary Manchester City supporters think, and doesn’t put value on the relationships and connections that develop between supporters and particular managers or players. Yet it’s those relationships and connections that make English football what it is, and which make for successful clubs over the long term. An ownership regime that understood football or understood City would be doing whatever it could to keep Richard Dunne aboard for the next three or four years; like Sven Goran Eriksson did on day one at the Eastlands, it would recognize Dunne’s value to the team and use him as a force for stability that a squad could be built around.

Thaksin, however, apparently is more interested in getting players in who can sell shirts.

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One Comment on “John Terry, Richard Dunne, and Thaksin’s City”

  1. egalitarian Says:

    Keep the articles coming, Thad, always a pleasure to read.


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