Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Revolution Hardball

"My salary would have tripled what it is now," said Twellman, who has completed one year of a four-year contract worth $395,000 annually. "There has to be an adjustment and the fair thing to do would be either to sell me or adjust my pay accordingly." –The Boston Globe, 1/11/2008

Is anyone really happy to be playing for the Revolution? I mean, seriously.

It seems that at any given point, whether in-season or off-season, somebody’s airing his dirty laundry over contract discussions, or lack thereof in some instances. If it’s not the franchise’s all-time leading scorer, then it’s the league’s best holding midfielder. Sometimes, it’s former starting midfielder. Other times, it’s a certain freestyling midfielder/forward. At some point in time, you’ve just got wonder aloud:

Aren’t there any happy footballers in the Revolution locker room?

For all the accomplishments these players have achieved (winning just about everything but an MLS Cup) in the past three years alone, you would assume that players’ attitudes toward the organization would be a lot less – what’s the word I’m looking for - inflammatory.

Instead, it’s the polar opposite. Twellman’s recent comments regarding discussions of a possible $2 million transfer to an English club is just the latest in a soap opera comprised of less than diplomatic (i.e. negative) comments from Revolution players made through the media. In fact, the aforementioned comment is just a preface to the following comments made within the same Boston Globe article.

"Something's got to give," Twellman said. "They made me sign a contract for the minimum salary [in 2002] and I've jumped through every hoop with a smile on my face.”

It doesn’t take a doctorate in psychology to understand that Twellman is as happy about his paycheck as Nancy Grace is over the disappearance of another missing six-year-old. The metaphorical reference to a circus animal only obviates his feelings toward the franchise.

Normally, the general consensus tells us that the public has simply had enough with whiny, overpaid athletes. After all, how many more houses on each continent does David Beckham actually need?

Yet, it would be one thing if Twellman’s grievances were just an isolated incident. But we all know that isn’t the case. The average Revolution fan can count on two hands how many players have publicly addressed their concerns over contract discussions in the last year alone. Even Fido could tell you that this is becoming a rather disturbing pattern that fails to speak well for a professional club’s front office.

And with Twellman, a player who's never been shy with the media when it comes to his displeasure with players, opposing managers or the organization that he plays for, his comments regarding how contract negotiations proceeded are actually quite damning to the front office as a whole. In essence, it appears that if the following account of how negotiations developed is indeed accurate, you would think that Chris Matthews himself was conducting the discussions if you read into this final blow from his Globe article.

“They said I hadn't scored for the national team, and now I've scored six goals, then they said I never received an international offer of any magnitude, and now I have that offer. Now, they can either re-sign me and make a long-term commitment to me, or they can make money off my sale and I'll be gone. They can't withhold me from making three times as much money as I make here."

Ouch. I hope Mike Burns, Sunil Gulati and Brian Bilello get some ice for those brand new black eyes before they begin to swell.

The Revolution organization has never apologized for how it conducts business because it will immediately point to four Eastern Conference Championships in six seasons. That string of success ain’t bad at all. Although the club has fallen short four times of the ultimate prize, I’m sure the front office gang can still parade those glass championship trophies to the cocktail parties while the guests gather round the caviar dip and snicker. All joking aside, there’s no doubt that this club has accomplishments to be proud of, including its very first championship (The US Open Cup) this past season.

But the manner in which the front office handles its players has festered into a problem that will eventually doom the squad on the pitch before long. The last thing a successful organization like Revolution need is field full of unhappy players.

A word of advice to said front office: despite the warm success the club has attained with the frugality and hardball tactics that reportedly encompass a contract negotiation, it may not be the best idea to tick off your franchise player. Call it a hunch.

That being said, it may be time for a fresh approach toward player negotiations. In the organization’s defense, the ink on Twellman’s MLS contract just barely dried before his current gripe. To the best of my knowledge, no firearms or subliminal threats were made to coerce him into signing a fairly rich contract extension last March. However, it’s imperative that the club keep its players – and, dare I say, its star players in particular – happy while the team is still pretty good. Players that have performed extremely well and remained loyal to the club, like Twellman, deserve to be kept happy- within reason, of course.

Barring injury or a phalanx of locusts inhabiting the Neponset River, Twellman will approach the magical 100-career goal mark sometime this summer. Instead of the obligatory car or chopper doled out as a reward, why not give the face of the franchise something he can truly smile about?

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