Stunned silence. Puzzled looks. That’s how Fabian Delph’s teammates reacted when he told them he’d rejected a lucrative Bosman free transfer to commit the next four and a half years of his career to Aston Villa instead.
“Some of them looked at me shocked to start with,” confessed the England international at a gleefully arranged club press conference to announce his unexpected decision.
To be honest Fab, I’m surprised some of them didn’t keel over. Footballer snubs chance to double his money at a bigger club. Now, that’s not a story you read every day of the week.
It’s not as if Delph didn’t have attractive propositions on the table. At 25, and fast approaching his peak, the dynamic midfielder was seriously interesting the likes of Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur. With no transfer fee to shell out, negotiating a salary close to £100,000 a week would have been putty in his agent’s hands.
“I’m a kid from Bradford who was brought up on a council estate. I am not motivated by money,” Delph said, when quizzed on why he was content to sign up for a significantly lower salary than he could have commanded elsewhere. He then added, “The chairman has invested in me and for the past six years I’ve build up a bond with him that is more than just a player-chairman relationship. I’ve been treated very well here and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to stay.”
Heartwarming, unambitious, or is he maybe just a little naïve? I think it’s a mixture of the three.
It’s lovely that he feels such loyalty to Villa and Randy Lerner, and refreshing to see a footballer with a conscientious attitude. Most, look after number one. Delph’s reasoning also indicates a reassuring warmth and togetherness behind the scenes at Villa Park.
His chances of winning medals have diminished though. That’s undeniable. Unless Villa’s budget suddenly snowballs, you sense they’ll be stuck in a repetitive cycle of mid-to-lower table boredom for the foreseeable future - if they’re lucky. Being a big fish in a smaller pond boosts self-esteem. Losing regularly doesn’t. So in that respect he’s taken a risk.
I also wonder if Liverpool and Spurs will still come knocking when Delph’s price tag is set at £20million or more. That ship may have passed. I also wonder if Lerner (should he even still be here) would one day sell him to the club of his choice, if another had made a better offer. A chairman, even if he is a friend, must look after the club’s interests not the players’.
Sadly I don’t have any first hand experience of this to pass on. I can’t recall a single situation where I, or a colleague has openly spurned the chance to move on a free transfer, to a bigger club on more money. You only get one shot at a football career and most in the game accept that without fuss. What Delph has done is incredibly rare.
Steve Tilson is the one name that springs to mind. My former Southend United teammate managed the Shrimpers between 2003 and 2010 with great distinction, guiding them to the Championship, and he soon became a wanted man.
Ipswich Town, Millwall and others headhunted him, but not once did Tilly kick up a fuss and ask to speak to those interested parties. He selflessly respected Southend’s wish to keep him.
What happened? He was sacked of course, and since then has managed Lincoln City and Canvey Island. In the space of four years he went from being one of English football’s most coveted young managers to a lonely spot on the shelf, unable to get work.
That won’t happen to Fabian Delph. He’ll be absolutely fine. It’s not a crime to be being happy with your lot either. I wish him all the luck in the world.
But will he ruefully look back in a few years’ time, and wonder if he’d been too nice to Aston Villa? I hope not, but it’s a distinct possibility.