BEING out of contract is a nervy time for players.
Many League of Ireland players would have already agreed deals with their clubs or signed for a new club by now. Those who haven’t must now be considering whether they still have a future in football.
Those players are nervously waiting by the phone, hoping that someone rings offering a contract, and that might even be their previous manager.
I’ve played with players that, at the end of the season after speaking with the manager, were assured they were getting a new deal. However, when weeks went by and the players still hadn’t heard from the manager, the penny finally dropped that they no longer had a future at a club.
Of course, they try to ring the manager but, after three or four unanswered calls, it’s time for a player to give up.
It used to be a case that, at the end of the season, the manager would arrange individual meetings with players to offer them a new contract or not. However, in modern football, some managers don’t believe in this method and a player just has to assume that, if he hasn’t heard from his manager a few days after the league campaign has ended, they need to look elsewhere.
I think young players can be naive and are not proactive enough.
A manager knows what players he wants to keep long before the season is finished, so players need to contact other managers if they have not been spoken to about a new contract before the season ends.
Some players think because they are young and have potential, or that they have been involved with one of the bigger clubs in Ireland, that they will be in demand.
During my time with Cork City, one of the younger players, who had just been released by the club and had only played a handful of games, was bragging that he could just go and sign for Waterford — without talking to Waterford beforehand.
I’m guessing that player just assumed because City are seen as a bigger club, that any club beneath them would be interested in any of their players.
Unlike in the UK, most players in the League of Ireland do not have an agent.
Players in Ireland have to try to get hold of managers’ numbers and make a call that is more or less begging for an opportunity for them to continue as a footballer. I know what this is like because I experienced it myself at the end of the 2019 season.
I didn’t have an agent when I returned from the UK and, when I went on loan to Shamrock Rovers in 2019, my career was in limbo. Circumstances in my life meant that I wanted to be close to home when playing in the 2020 season.
I knew joining Rovers was never going to be more than a four-month loan, and the feeling was mutual.
When Neale Fenn was appointed City manager in 2019, I rang him to declare my interest in returning to City at the end of the season.
I knew that finance would be an issue because I was on a very good salary, but I made my intentions clear to Fenn — it wasn’t about the finance for me, I just wanted to be back home.
He was polite on the phone and instructed me he would keep an eye on me and we would talk again at the end of the season. I wasn’t filled with confidence that I would have a future at City, but I still had a glimmer of hope.
At the end of the season, I quickly realised that I was not part of Fenn’s plans for the following season, but I still rang him to be 100% sure. I think that phone call might have lasted less than two minutes, but I was in no doubt that signing for City was no longer an option for me.
I did have a Plan B and had been texting then Waterford manager Alan Reynolds months before the 2019 season ended. Rennie had shown interest in signing me that summer and I had hoped that interest remained, but I think he was a bit put off by the fact that I was talking about signing as a centre-back.
I did offer to go on trial with Waterford, but luckily Rennie spoke to Stephen Henderson about me as a defender, and, not for the first time, my former manager saved my career.
Of course, the older you get, the more difficult continuing a career in football can be. That’s not just because the legs are causing them to slow down, but because managers might feel frightened or see it as an insult to offer senior players a poor contract financially.
Senior players will talk and an insulting offer by a club could be interpreted that that club is in trouble financially. Managers know that players are not going to remain as a full-time professional earning €200 a week.
At this stage, any player that does not have an offer on the table from a club should be fearful of their future in the game. They need to start getting busy on the phone and ringing clubs asking for a trial.