Graham Cummins: Uncertain times for lower league players

'Pressure is often a word associated with top-level football, but there is a lot more pressure for those players who ply their trade in the lower tiers...'
Graham Cummins: Uncertain times for lower league players

Dele Alli had a stint at Everton after his Spurs career fell apart.

I WOULD imagine that, for the vast majority of players playing below Championship level in England, they have only one month remaining in their contract. They will be fearing for their future.

For many, it is not by choice that they have let their contract run down, rather the club have deemed them not valuable enough to be rewarded with a new one.

These players don’t have the luxury, like so many do in the higher levels of England, of underperforming but still being given an attractive contract League One and League Two clubs in England operate more like the business world rather than the Premier League.

In terms of that, if an employee is hitting their targets they will be rewarded; if not they will be let go.

Pressure is often a word associated with top-level football, but there is a lot more pressure for those players who ply their trade in the lower tiers of English football.

There is no doubt that those at the top level are highly talented players, but they are given too many opportunities to redeem themselves when they have underperformed.

Players can live off their reputation, carve out a career for themselves and live comfortably when they do retire.

Dele Alli is a player who comes to mind as one of those who was once good but hasn’t performed well for four years, yet keeps being given chances and being paid handsomely for it.

The former Tottenham player moved to Everton in January and, unsurprisingly, has failed with the Toffees, yet it is rumoured Everton want €25m for the player this summer.

In contrast, if a player playing for a League One or League Two side had three good seasons in football but followed up with three poor campaigns, that player would be lucky to still be a professional footballer because clubs would be unwilling to pay a salary for someone who has failed in recent seasons.

Alli could comfortably retire now and never work a day in his life.

But that is unlikely to happen. Why would he when even if Everton want to dispose of the player, there will be another club willing to pay him tens of thousands?

Whereas for a lower league player, going months without an income is not feasible.

Contracts in England expire at the end of June but players do get severance pay for July if they are without a club.

Sometimes players do bend the rules by not officially signing for their new club until August, even though they have been with the club since the start of pre-season in July.

So that they will receive what would be perceived as a signing-on fee for their new club, when in reality it is their wages for July, as well as receiving their severance pay, that they would not be entitled to were they to officially sign for a new club in July.

Players do this because they aren’t paid hefty sums of money and every little bit extra does make a difference.

This is the most difficult time for players coming to the end of their contracts.

They would have been told by now that they are unwanted by their club and will be waiting by the phone hoping to hear from their agent with some good news.

Sadly, they will know that if they have not heard by now that a club are interested, then they will know that that phone call could take a while.

It could be a case that they are fourth choice in a list of players and the player’s faith depends on others rejecting an offer from a club.

For Irish players playing in England who find themselves out of contract; they could be contemplating whether or not it is time to come home.

The League of Ireland used to be a safety net for players returning.

Players always knew one of the top clubs in Ireland would be interested in them if they had a prolonged career in the UK.

However, because of some of the recent performances by players, in the twilight years of their career, returning from the UK and being underwhelming; the safety blanket of being given an acceptable contract from a League of Ireland club is no longer a guarantee.

I’ve found myself in a position of being out of contract and questioning my future in the game and I don’t envy those in that situation now.

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