Alan Biggs at Large: Fernando Forestieri's Norwich no-show was handled well by Sheffield Wednesday
It wasn't just about Sheffield Wednesday and Fernando Forestieri. It was about any star footballer '“ and there have been too many '“ putting himself ahead of his team.
What’s different about this stand-off is that it’s produced a rare and refreshing victory for a club over an individual. But winning together is what counts from here on in.
Wednesday can be all the stronger for the outcome. And the same for the game as a whole if other club owners have the courage to draw the same line as Dejphon Chansiri.
It’s not supposed to end this way – or so quickly - in a dramatic reconciliation. We’re repeatedly told there’s only one outcome, particularly when a star man refuses to play, as per Forestieri at Norwich. Have Wednesday helped break the stranglehold by standing firm? Will the painful lesson Forestieri has learned, in apologising profusely, serve as a warning to others?
Ultimately, we all make mistakes and you can only say sorry. As natural as the initial outcry was, I’m sure player and fans can kiss and make up. But there are still some hard truths to face first, not least that it would seem unsavoury for him to be awarded, publicly anyway, the new deal he has evidently sought without a period of redemption.
It’s a fair way back, even for an idolised player, when he goes on strike. There’s no hiding behind an agent. Players employ agents, not the other way around, and should sack them where appropriate.
It takes more than great skill and sublime goals to make a hero who is genuinely and enduringly loved. I thought Fernando had it all in that respect. He still can. He’s always a team player on the pitch, chasing back to win as much possession as he’s given.
Off the field he suddenly presented himself as the opposite amid reported interest from Derby and then Newcastle when he was categorically not for sale, below the Premier League at least.
Saddest of all is that this is what we’ve come almost to expect from those who already earn fortunes for being best at kicking a piece of leather around a piece of grass. But supporters always harbour hopes that their hero will prove different and that is why all those initially angry Wednesday fans were entitled to feel badly let down.
When was the last time the club had a talent to rival Forestieri? The answer goes some way to explaining why, for a genuinely ambitious outfit, some players are considered just too valuable to lose.
“Not since Paolo Di Canio in the late 1990s,” is an opinion many others share with former Owls player and manager Chris Turner.
Granted, you could argue Forestieri signed a contract which has three years to run and if he wasn’t happy he should sling his hook to whatever club would pay him more than an already enviable salary.
But that’s not the way football works in 2016. It’s normal for players and agents to seize on speculation and privately entertain it. Understandable, too, if Forestieri felt he should be the best paid player at Hillsborough in the wake of deals probably eclipsing him on wages.
That’s not where Fernando crossed the line. Refusing to play was unprofessional and unethical, as he freely admits. Unforgivable? Thankfully not.
He’s not the first and won’t be the last to do this, but hopefully it’s the last time for him.
It goes without saying that Wednesday would probably find it impossible to replace him, like for like. Chansiri’s “no sell” stance was superficially standard stuff in football, even when owners privately accept they have to cash in. But you can see a greater stubbornness in this one than most. It was a matter for him of honour, pride and keeping his word to supporters.
I reckon he’d have gladly cut off his nose to spite his face on this one.
I also believe most supporters will give Forestieri an even break, knowing that harmony on and off the pitch has been a vital part of the team’s progression under Carlos Carvalhal. And despite the surprise defeat at Burton, where Forestieri rightly started from the bench, you’d like to feel the club will emerge stronger for this unfortunate episode.
If you hadn’t known about it, I doubt you’d detect it in the atmosphere at Saturday’s Hillsborough derby with Leeds.
As ex boss Turner says: “Forestieri’s a match winner who brings others into the game and makes them play. He’s always a threat and if you want promotion you wouldn’t sell him to a rival club. Whatever the price.”
You also wouldn’t cast him adrift for one mistake, even on this scale.
Let’s draw a line under it and hope other clubs are inspired to follow Wednesday’s lead.