Into the Emperor's New Clothes delirium that seems to be the existence of an EPL player these days, came a cold, harsh jolt of sanity this past Saturday in the shape of Aston Villa manager Gerard Houllier. "You're stupid and living in the past" makes for a memorable headline, an indelible, marvelously succinct performance review, and the quote of the season. Forget Hollywood; I say "Hooray for Houllier."
I've got nothing against John Carew, the Aston Villa striker now forever damned by his new (and old) boss' assessment of his attitude as he angles for a new contract. The Norwegian international is a solid professional, who has led the Villa scoring charts for the past three seasons. As far as I know, he's always put in a solid 90-minute effort for a solid game check. But now he's the unwitting symbol of the new austerity program that is about to be the new rage in England.
And unfortunately for him, Carew picked the wrong time to hit a goal drought and pick up a calf injury -- during the last year of his current contract and at the beginning of Houllier's reign as Villa's top man. Perhaps even more unfortunately for the big Norwegian, the real boss at Villa Park is Randy Lerner, the owner of the NFL's (dare I say it) resurgent Cleveland Browns.
It is widely anticipated stateside that next year the billionaire NFL owners will lock out their millionaire NFL players and put the brakes on the runaway success story that is America's national obsession. If Lerner is willing to countenance crossing that particular public relations-disaster Rubicon, Villa players shouldn't be expecting juicy new contracts anytime soon. Just ask their old teammates Gareth Barry and James Milner in Manchester, Villa's two best players of recent times, who were cashed in during the past two summers respectively.
But contrary to popular British tabloid belief, not everyone can get a petrodollar-laden contract from the Emir of the Eastlands. And that's going to be the harsh reality for an awful lot of EPL players in the coming months. Houllier's salvo across the bows of Carew (and no doubt his agent) is going to be a fanfare of things to come. And frankly, it's about time.
What the invisible hand of capitalism giveth, it also taketh away. EPL players have no divine right to big contracts. If the marketplace is willing to pay them handsomely, good luck to them. But don't throw your toys out of the pram when Adam Smith goes studs up on your rapidly aging 31-year-old legs. Carew replica jerseys aren't flying off store shelves; he's not a name brand that propels ticket sales for Asian tours, and his goals haven't pushed Villa into the elite stratosphere of English and European football. In other words, he's not Wayne Rooney.
Perhaps when you've had a near-death experience during a game and been an eyewitness to rebellious French players at the World Cup, then maybe you don't suffer fools as gladly as you once did. Or is it that Houllier is really the French word for hair dryer? No matter. By invoking the past, Houllier has done everyone a favor by pointing to the future. Manchester United is leveraged beyond the hilt, the new Liverpool owners are not renowned for going crazy in the baseball free-agent market and Roman Abramovich isn't spending his rubles like he once did.
Old pros, young tykes and inflated egos everywhere in the EPL would do well to mark Houllier's words. And on behalf of football fans everywhere: Merci, monsieur.