Stories have been fervently cobbled together in the past week about how unhappy Malouda is at Chelsea; this follows his Twitter comment about how he has been asked to train with the reserves rather than with the senior squad. How new a phenomenon is this though? Manchester City have been shovelling star talent into the reserves for some time now, and it has always been accepted that in order to regain match fitness a run out or two for the reserves is just the ticket. Granted playing a game or two for the reserves to regain fitness after an injury is very different from being exiled, but it does show that it is not the end of the world if you can show the youth a thing or two once in a while.
The most recent incarnation of this story came from the Daily Mail on 08/09/12, in an article which stated that the relationship between Chelsea and two players (Ferreira and Malouda) had broken down due to both being asked to play a friendly against the Charlton Reserves. First things first, this story cannot be completely relied upon; Malouda did not actually play in that friendly (at least according to the Chelsea match report), but new signing Azpilicueta did, suggesting this was more of a run out for those not on international duty, rather than a sign of who is being forced out. However the general thrust of the piece seems largely accurate - Malouda is not happy at being forced from the first team set up, and really who can blame him. Chelsea have justified this in the past when both Anelka and Alex were moved to the reserves by saying that players who are imminently leaving would disrupt the first teams joie de vivre. A sensible thought possibly, but certainly not one that will comfort the recently relegated individuals.
As stated, moving players to the reserves is no new thing, Man City have been culprits of this for a few years now. Major recipients of the exile treatment include Roque Santa Cruz, Adebayor, Bellamy and Tevez, although there were legitimate grounds for punishing Tevez. Alex and Anelka both moved soon after being sent down to train away from the main team, and it may well be the case that Malouda moves in January, but if he does not there is a strong argument that being mistreated by the club will cause the player to stagnate, and become a less attractive prospect for a permanent transfer elsewhere. We have seen this with both Adebayor and Roque Santa Cruz, who have both struggled to sever ties with City years after being told they were not needed. Anleka himself spoke out in an interview after leaving Chelsea, stating that "Ever since I was punished they put me with the youngsters...I was left to rot," strong words that really get to the sharp end of the issue. Footballers need stability and game time.
Santa Cruz was bought for £17.5 million in 2009, an extraordinary sum of money given he moved to the premier league for £3.5 million two seasons earlier. At 28 he should have been in a prime position to make the most of his talents at a Man City team eager to make the most of the recent investment. However after falling out of favour after only twenty games, he was moved to train with the younger ‘Citizens’ for half a season before beginning what must seem like a never ending list of loan moves. Blackburn, Betis and Malaga have all tried their luck with the Paraguayan, and many other clubs (QPR, Newell’s Old Boys, Colón de Santa Fé and Primera División Paraguayan club Olimpia Asunción) have tried to sign him, but due to a combination of Man City attempting to recoup the vast sum paid, and of the Paraguayan’s own over blown wages, a move has never materialised. There is an argument to suggest that time spent in the reserves dulls ones abilities; Roque’s move to City came after scoring 23 goals in 57 games for Blackburn, a very solid contribution, but for City he only managed 3 in 20 - surely a product of not only coming in and out of the side, but also in and out of 1st team training. A loan back to Blackburn in January (after spending the first half of the season in the reserves) saw him score 0 from 9, and this form continued into the next season; after failing to secure a permanent move away he managed only 7 from 33 for Betis. This current season has seen a loan move to Malaga, where he is yet to make an appearance.
Similar treatment was bestowed upon Emmanuel Adebayor; despite a transfer fee of £25 Million in 2009 and a successful start to his City career this was halted in 2011 when he was told that he was no longer needed and that he could leave. A well publicised falling out followed in which Adebayor spent his time with the reserves before loans to Real Madrid and Tottenham. Despite a fractious existence comparable to Santa Cruz, Adebayor managed to continue scoring and has secured a permanent move away, although not without some serious issues. It will be interesting to see how well he can perform now he is more settled.
In all of these cases (Malouda, Anelka, Alex, Adebayor and Roque), the club has been heavily criticised by the press, and I believe this is perfectly justified. The club are toying with the future of professional footballers; Santa Cruz is a perfect example of how it can go wrong, a player who should have been in his prime, but instead has bounced from club to club, uncertain of his future and unable to settle. Anelka and Alex were lucky to move shortly after being moved to the reserves, and Malouda could yet move in January - however if he does not, how many clubs will want a 33 year old who has not played competitive football for a year? As Anelka said player will "rot" in these circumstances. Chelsea’s excuse of not wanting to disrupt the first team is all well and good but what it certainly proves is that the player is unhappy. A happy player would not disrupt a team, and do clubs really have the right to abuse players simply because they can?