Kuszczak's 'slave' complaint does little for football's 'self-centered' image

Manchester United reserve goalkeeper Tomasz Kuszczak’s statement began as just another expression of frustration from a disgruntled, out-of-favour footballer.

Then, with a single misguided word, it became so much more.

“I've talked to Sir Alex [Ferguson] lately. I asked him to let me leave the club before the January transfer window.

“I told him I want to get back into the national team, because Euro 2012 is just around the corner, but it seems he doesn't care.

“The possibility of two months' loan to Leeds came two weeks later. The club blocked it.

"Do they do it maliciously? I'm sad they behave like that. I've become a slave to Manchester.”

When the Pole’s comments were reported in the following hours, his heartfelt plea for first-team football was unsurprisingly sidelined as newspapers and websites instead focused on his decision to liken his own situation to being in the terrible bonds of slavery.

As much as he might like to paint himself the victim, Kuszczak has no one else to blame for the current media storm surrounding him.

His chosen comparison was so ridiculous it might even have been comic, were it not so utterly crass.

In modern Britain, it would be tactless – not to mention woefully mistaken – for even a minimum wage worker to consider themselves anything resembling a slave.

For even if in reality our options are limited, in principle we all live in a society which grants us the legal autonomy to address our grievances and seek better conditions elsewhere.

So when a Premier League footballer equates the pain of being forced to sit on a bench every week with one of the worst forms of human existence, we know we have entered the realm of the disgraceful.

Kuszczak is not a black plantation worker in 18th century Virginia. He is not an indentured housemaid. Nor is he among the millions around the world who still endure genuine slavery despite the practice having been outlawed globally over half a century ago.

He is a wealthy man who (sometimes) catches a ball for a living and whose comments spring from either ignorance or delusion, neither of which can excuse him.

But sadder still is the fact Kuszczak is merely the latest figure in the world of football to use such sickening rhetoric.

Back in 2006, then-Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho accused the French Football Federation of treating midfielder Claude Makelele like a ‘slave’ by refusing to accept the player’s apparent wish to retire from international football. Makelele himself, to his credit, swiftly distanced himself from his manager’s comments.

Two years later, current Fifa president Sepp Blatter had this to say about Manchester United’s hard-line stance towards Real Madrid’s pursuit of wantaway superstar Cristiano Ronaldo:

"In football there's too much modern slavery. I'm always in favour of protecting the player. If he wants to leave, let him.

"If Ronaldo stays at a club where he does not feel comfortable to play then it's not good for him or the club.

"The important thing is that we should also protect the player. And if they want to play somewhere else, then a solution should be found."

When questioned about the subject soon afterwards, Ronaldo astonishingly agreed with Blatter’s assessment – Ronaldo, whose personal fortune was estimated to be in the region of £18million before his record-breaking transfer to Madrid.

Of course, the sensible among us know that, no matter how much money is involved, footballers remain human. Their lavish lifestyles do not make them immune to the same feelings of tiredness, anger and frustration we all feel from time to time.

It is also true that footballers are not granted the same freedom of movement as workers in other sectors of society. They cannot simply give their employer a month’s notice before leaving for another job, and many cannot afford to buy themselves out of their contracts.

But the fact remains that both parties enter into these arrangements willingly and receive huge financial benefits in return, all the while enabling the players themselves to do a job envied by millions worldwide.

Then there is also the issue of social responsibility. While the expectations placed upon footballers in this regard from some quarters are unfair, they must recognize that, as a result of being in the public eye, their words and deeds will inform how the general public perceives both them as individuals and the sport as a whole. This is where Kuszczak, Mourinho, Blatter and Ronaldo let all of football down.

By invoking the image of slavery they are not only trivialising one of the world’s great vices, they are also adding fuel to the fire of those who argue that football at the highest level is arrogant, self-centered and vulgar.

Needless to say, this is a reputation which the vast majority of players, managers and coaches, who work in the sport they love and fully appreciate their good fortune in being able to do so, do not deserve.

Consequently, the FA must take it upon themselves to punish Kuszczak – and anyone else – whose words or actions bring the game into disrepute.

A message must be sent: Football must learn respect before it can earn it.

STOP PRESS: Since this article was published, Kuszczak has denied using the word 'slave' when discussing his current situation at Manchester United, though others in football have used it before. These quotes were mistranslated by another UK-based publication. Apologies.