The Graham Cummins column: Lower league players should not take risks

The Graham Cummins column: Lower league players should not take risks
Portsmouth's English defender James Bolton challenges Arsenal's Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira resulting in an injury during the English FA Cup clash. Picture: Getty Images

IT WOULD be madness for any League One or Two player who are out of contract this summer to agree to play for their club beyond when their contracts end in June.

A leaked message emerged last week which revealed the EFL’s apparent plans to resume the season in June and continue into July.

For those out of contract this summer, their contracts with their club will end on the first of July, yet, there is the idea that players will continue to play for their clubs in July because they will still receive a severance payment for that month.

Football is in a fragile position at the moment and it is difficult for clubs in the lower leagues of England to continue to pay staff.

Having football return and not having to pay some of the players for doing so, will only benefit the club.

If I were a player who was out of contract in the summer and hadn’t been offered a new deal by my club, I would not be helping the club out by playing for them in July and putting myself at risk.

Covid-19 is not going anywhere soon and although games will be played behind closed doors — thus trying to make matches safer for players — there is still a strong risk that players could contract the virus.

Why would a player put himself and his family at risk for a club that are going to wash their hands of the player once he is surplus for requirement?

Clubs talk so much about how they care about the welfare of a player and how they will always look after a player, but in truth, when a player is no more use for them, they aren’t too concerned about how that player is going to earn a living to pay his bills in the future.

Football is not going to be the same again for a very long time. Players around the world, especially at lower levels of the sport, should be very worried about their future. There will be a lot of players who are out of contract in the summer.

In normal circumstances, those players would more than likely sign for another club. However because of Covid-19 and the financial impact it has had on clubs, teams are going to have to reduce their budget and it’s more likely that they won’t be able to sign players and will have to work with smaller squads, perhaps promoting a few youth players to make up the numbers.

It will be difficult for those out of contract players to refuse to play beyond June if they still want to have a future in the game. There are benefits for those players to carry on and continue to play for their current employers beyond their contract.

By playing, it allows them to showcase their talent to other clubs who might just have the budget to sign a few players in the summer.

Also, although a player might refuse to play, for fear of his safety, potential suitors might opt not to sign the player because they will just see the player as someone who refused to help their club out.

The benefits of playing on don’t outweigh the risks. I’ve already spoke about players putting themselves at greater risk of getting Covid-19, but they also put themselves at risk of picking up a serious injury.

If an out of contract player decided to play on beyond June and picked up a serious injury like an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury, it’s going to cost the player a lot of money for rehab because clubs are going to volunteer their physio to spend time six to nine months rehabbing a player who is no longing employed by the club.

Not only could sustaining a serious injury stop players from playing again, it could also affect them for employment in another sector.

Graham Cummins in action for Rochdale during his stint with the club.
Graham Cummins in action for Rochdale during his stint with the club.

In these uncertain times, players have to be selfish and look after themselves and think about the worst-case scenarios if they played on. I’m not proud of it, but during my time on-loan at Rochdale we were given the choice of playing in the last game of the season.

We had already been promoted, but could have still won the league. I spoke to the manager before that option became available and he had told me I wouldn’t be at the club the following season.

As much as I wanted to be involved in the match, I thought about what would happen if I did get a serious injury in the game.

I wouldn’t have had a future in football. I always remember, looking at the score of the game on my phone, questioning had I done the right thing?

Did it make me a bad professional opting not to play in that match?

It’s a decision I always think about but not an action I regret.

Players need to realise that they might not have a future in football. Instead of wasting their time playing for a club that is going to get rid of them, players would be much better using their time looking for a job outside of football.

It would be naïve of lower league players in England to think that everything will be fine and that they will always manage to get a club.

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