Now stars must prove they are truly worth huge endorsement deals

MARTIN SAMUEL: Stars like Mesut Ozil and Mario Balotelli must now prove they are worth huge endorsement deals… the high maintenance players will be first to feel the coronavirus pinch

  • Adidas decided to stop paying their £2.5million annual fee to Mesut Ozil  
  • He is noticeably high maintenance and sports giants are tightening purse strings
  • Mario Balotelli is another who has inconsistencies not worth the effort
  • Gareth Bale on the other hand is considered to be a trouble-free ambassador  
  • Here’s how to help people impacted by Covid-19

Coronavirus, we are often reminded, may not greatly affect the young, fit and healthy. That doesn’t mean it won’t have its casualties in the world of sport.

Financial, mainly. Mesut Ozil’s contract with adidas, for instance. That’s a coronavirus statistic, right there. When the decision makers in Herzogenaurach, the company headquarters in Bavaria, got around to making calls on short-term monetary commitments, the £2.5million annually paid to Ozil was considered unnecessary.

It wasn’t just that his star was waning as a professional performer. Ozil is noticeably high maintenance. 

Mesut Ozil lost his £2.5million-a-year deal with Adidas and is considered high maintenance 

He has fallen out with his Chinese fan base — albeit on a point of principle — he has retired from international football, he is a very public ally of Turkey’s repressive president Recip Tayyip Erdogan and he was singled out as a player who would not work amicably with his club to cut costs in the midst of economic crisis.

Arsenal have hardly covered themselves in glory since. They have terminated the contracts of youth scouts earning roughly £200 a week. Even so, Ozil’s intransigence on a £300,000 weekly salary — plus some rather unhelpful, self-serving statements from his agent — was not a good look at the time the country was plunging into recession.

Ozil later gave £80,000 to Turkish Red Crescent but by then the damage was done — adidas sniffed the air and terminated accordingly.

Gareth Bale has a similar endorsement contract and won admirers across Europe with a £1m donation split between hospitals in Wales and Spain. Plus, he is by all accounts easy to work with. 

Bale might have his struggles at Real Madrid but his sponsors say he is a willing and trouble-free partner. In the post-coronavirus world, this matters. Money has to go further. Money has to work harder. More than ever, high maintenance must be earned.

In contrast to Ozil, Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale is said to be easy for companies to work with 

It is no shock, then, that another early casualty of changed circumstances is Mario Balotelli, whose time at Brescia looks to be over after one season.

‘I think we both made a mistake,’ said owner Massimo Cellino, whose club are bottom of Serie A, nine points adrift of safety.

It could be argued that Cellino is the ownership equivalent of Balotelli: erratic, unpredictable and those who believe they can change him become swiftly disillusioned. Cellino bought Balotelli after Brescia won promotion last season, in the hope he could blossom by returning to the city that was his home from the age of two.

Brescia have a 20-year-old midfielder, Sandro Tonali, who is touted as the next Andrea Pirlo, and has been linked with Juventus, Barcelona and Tottenham. Balotelli was considered the perfect foil for him.

Just five goals later, it has not gone to plan. Racist abuse during matches against Verona and Lazio have contributed to a miserable campaign, and now Cellino has publicly accused Balotelli of missing training sessions.

‘You tell him one thing and he does another,’ he said. ‘He no longer has his mind with us. I’m taking his departure for granted.’

Mario Balotelli (right) and Brescia president Massimo Cellino have fallen out and he is set to go

Cellino’s own practices will not have helped — coach Diego Lopez is now the third of the season — and Balotelli deserves sympathy for the treatment he has received from some fans, but once again, in a reshaped financial landscape, this is about gaps in cost efficiency.

Managing Balotelli’s inconsistencies are not worth the effort. The value Cellino thought the striker would bring to Brescia was absent and any appetite for a drain on time and resources quickly evaporated. The hit from coronavirus was the final straw.

The actions of individuals through this crisis will come to define them once we emerge on the other side. It was the reason Victoria Beckham hastily reversed her decision to furlough staff, the reason Liverpool did, too.

Both have images and carefully honed brands to protect. They do not want to be associated with the bad boys of Covid-19: Richard Branson, Mike Ashley, Dominic Cummings.

Just as the actions of Manchester United, and individuals such as Marcus Rashford and Harry Kane, will be remembered, so too will all those who were exposed as selfish or reckless or unfeeling. This was already a judgmental society, and coronavirus has made it worse.

Ozil’s ambassadorial worth, Balotelli’s homecoming, were high-end items in a world that is increasingly marking down. It was 1971 when L’Oreal first told its customers ‘Because you’re worth it’. From here, you really have to be.

IRELAND WON’T BE ALONE IN LOOKING AFTER NO 1

Even if the Six Nations does introduce relegation, Ireland will have little to fear from it

Even if the Six Nations introduced relegation, it is unlikely Ireland would have much to fear. 

The last time they held the wooden spoon was 1998, a blighted Five Nations campaign in which head coach Brian Ashton left after one game, they were beaten by a single point at home to Scotland and lost by two points in France. Ireland, like England, have never finished bottom in the present competition.

Yet it was Philip Browne, chief executive of the Irish RFU, who dismissed the idea of promotion and relegation as favoured by World Rugby. He also said building rugby for second and third tier nations would be deprioritised. 

‘Survival is the name of the game at the moment,’ Browne insisted. He added that, with relegation, one bad season could plunge Ireland into a competition with the likes of Germany, Spain and Russia and two professional clubs could be lost overnight. ‘It becomes existential,’ he said. ‘We must preserve what we have.’

Many administrators, in many sports, will have nodded furious agreement. No chances will be taken, even by the elite, until sport enters calmer waters. It is going to be a very harsh environment for the small and vulnerable or those needing a leg-up in these next few years.

CHARLTON SNUB COULD BE LYLE’S WORST MOVE YET 

Lyle Taylor will not play for Charlton again this season. He is out of contract on June 30 and is holding out for what his manager, Lee Bowyer, calls a life-changing move. Taylor fears an injury sustained in the last nine games could disrupt this. 

It is a huge blow for Charlton, who dropped into the Championship’s bottom three just before the campaign was suspended and will now be without their top goalscorer.

Even so — life-changing? Taylor is 30 and this is his first season in English football above the third tier. He has scored 11 times for Charlton in 22 games. Not bad, but hardly form that is going to lead to Premier League elevation.  

Lyle Taylor is out of contract on June 30 and will not be playing for Charlton again 

Last year, in League One, he scored 21 goals. With AFC Wimbledon in League Two in their 2015-16 campaign, he scored 20. All the numbers suggest Taylor is a reasonable Championship player, at best, but did his most impactful work below so where the life-changing money is coming from, who knows?

Galatasaray are believed to be interested, and Rangers. Yet all club finances are likely to have changed with coronavirus and what will any suitor think of a player who leaves his club in the lurch as Taylor has done with Charlton? He is going to be far from alone on the market this summer. 

Bowyer claims he understands Taylor’s reasoning but that, in his position, he would play to the end. The majority of coaches would share that view, maybe some that had Taylor on their radar. He could yet find his life changes in ways he did not expect.

INSTEAD OF BLACK SQUARES, F1 NEEDS MORE BLACK FACES 

Unsurprisingly, given his is the only black face in the room every time he goes to work, Lewis Hamilton feels matters of race strongly.

This week, he called out his fellow F1 drivers for their silence over the death of George Floyd. ‘I see those of you who are saying silent,’ Hamilton wrote, ‘some of you the biggest stars, yet you stay silent in the midst of injustice.’

What followed was predictable. By the following morning, seven drivers had responded supportively. Charles Leclerc’s post began, ‘To be completely honest, I felt out of place and uncomfortable sharing my thoughts on social media…’

It was as honest a statement as any that were spoken. Leclerc is a 22-year-old white guy from Monte Carlo who drives for Ferrari and whose father was a Formula 3 driver. He probably thought he did not have much to bring to a discussion sparked by state-sponsored racism in urban America.

Lewis Hamilton pointed out the silence from many in F1 after George Floyd’s killing 

Aside from standing with Hamilton and pointing out the failings in his own industry, he’s probably right. There won’t be a soul whose awareness was heightened or whose position was changed by the views of Leclerc.

Just as Hamilton can see colleagues withholding, those in the shadows are not necessarily ignorant of the issues. It is very possible they care but maybe they just can’t find an entry point that doesn’t appear trite, under-informed or self-serving.

For when FIFA, an organisation that have been consistently soft on racism in football grounds and regularly takes their biggest tournaments to authoritarian states with desperately poor human rights records, feel empowered to pontificate on George Floyd’s death maybe not every gesture of support is to be welcomed.

The one from the NFL, given their rejection of pioneer protestor Colin Kaepernick, certainly wasn’t. Meanwhile, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic posted a plain black square on their social media accounts on what became Blackout Tuesday and were immediately hit by a backlash.

Coco Gauff responded with a list of more practical ways to help the cause, while Naomi Osaka wrote: ‘I’m torn between roasting people for only posting the black square this entire week — or accepting that they could’ve posted nothing at all so I should deal with this bare minimum breadcrumb they have given.’

Coco Gauff posted a list of practical ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement 

Yet this breadcrumb was everywhere, strangely silencing some of the most articulate and necessary voices within the black community, as well as privileged white tennis stars.

So there is a lot of anger right now, which is very understandable, and a lot of debate about direction and visibility and the best course of action.

Your profile, however, may also depend on your perceived relevance to the issue, your personal experience of it, and your ability to articulate thoughts and emotions.

Gauff spoke at a Black Lives Matter rally in Florida on Wednesday, her words carrying resonance only one figure in motor racing could ever hope to replicate.

Hamilton clearly believes he needs more drivers who feel as he does. To find more who look like he does would truly advance his sport. 

‘FUNNY MAN’ BADDIEL FELL AT THE FIRST 

‘Horse racing is back from Monday,’ announced Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, at the weekend. ‘Wonderful news for our wonderful sport.’

It being the 21st century, this harmless bulletin was immediately shot down by the comedian David Baddiel. He questioned Hancock’s determiner, asking what exactly he meant by ‘our’. ‘The whole country, most of whom have not much interest in horse racing?’ Baddiel sniped.

‘Bookies? Toffs?’ It was immediately pointed out that 85,000 jobs rely on the horse racing industry and very few, from stable lads to bar staff at the courses, are members of the upper class. Equally, stick your head around the door at Ladbrokes on any given afternoon. 

The types you see trying to land a £2 reverse forecast at Towcester haven’t popped by on the way to a garden party. Racing as the sport of kings is a myth. 

Ascot may have a Royal Enclosure but at most meetings the mood owes far more to working-class culture. Indeed, it says something about Baddiel’s own bubble that he thinks racing is for aristocrats.

A FAIR COP, JUST NOT FOR FOOTBALL OR ITS FANS 

It is not just coronavirus that affects football supporters differently, it seems. Protests related to football are apparently unique, too. Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, confirmed police had taken a softer approach to those flouting lockdown rules to protest after the killing of George Floyd. 

There may yet be significant health consequences, but Dame Cressida feared a large and angry crowd would not listen to requests to disperse with no hope of negotiation. We understand. Heavy-handed policing could have inflamed an already volatile situation.

Yet Newcastle’s matches have been heavily scrutinised by those advocating neutral venues. The fear is that opponents of the Saudi Arabian regime will congregate outside. 

Metropolitan Police commissioner, Dame Cressida Dick, confirmed police are taking a softer approach to protesters flouting lockdown rules after George Floyd’s death

Yet, in both instances — Black Lives Matter and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi — the demonstrations would be against state-sponsored violence, resulting in death. So why the difference? 

Any protests against the Newcastle takeover are likely to be considerably more low key than events in London this week. As for the apparent terror that Liverpool fans will overrun the streets of Anfield celebrating their title win, this does not even carry a hint of confrontation. Just crowd numbers. 

The sort we have seen in parks, on beaches and in demonstrations these past seven days, with the police taking a conciliatory tone. What a pity the same consideration isn’t afforded football fans.  




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