The recent death of former England international forward Tom Finney, and the tributes which have flowed thereafter, have highlighted the contrasting ways in which footballers of his day were viewed by the general public as opposed to the sundry financial rewards associated with successful modern day players.
Finney was a regular on the international stage but played only for Preston North End until his retirement at 38 years old in 1960. He was once described by legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly as ‘the best footballer ever born’, yet never won a major honour and despite being the best player at the club for many years, he was forever shunning the limelight.
With the maximum wage prevalent during his time and boardroom practices allowing for less player movement than nowadays, Finney was quite happy to reject approaches from the big city clubs and even declared that money was not everything when a potential lucrative and life-changing move to Palermo failed to materialise.
When Tom Finney was knighted in 1998, it was universally agreed that it was a fitting honour to a true gentleman of the sport and such was his popularity in his home town that over 13,000 attended Preston’s home match at the weekend to pay tribute, with council leaders offering the family a civic funeral.
How times have changed when considering another development this week when Manchester United have announced that they are close to agreeing a new contract with England international Wayne Rooney. It has been reported that his wages will amount to £300,000 per week allowing him to become allegedly the highest paid player in the Premier League.
One wonders if such an astronomical wage offer is the only way in which the Old Trafford club can prevent Rooney from leaving to play for another team with Champions League football far from guaranteed next season and with persistent overtures from Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho failing to subside.
Whatever the reason for the contact offer, it is clear that international footballers are substantially more rewarded than in Finney’s days with money, unlike Rooney, moving between clubs for improved contracts ably assisted by persuasive agents.
To his credit, Rooney is not one of the mercenary footballers circulating today and demonstrates a will to win on the pitch despite succumbing to several over-exuberant moments at times. He deserves his rewards as one of the few English players today who can change a game and is prepared to work just as hard to help his defensive colleagues.
Yet it is doubtful whether Rooney will follow the path taken by Finney on his retirement by establishing his own plumbing business, but that may just an indication of the way in which many modern day footballers are now viewed as being slightly detached from their working class roots.
That is not true in the vast majority of cases but when figures of £300,000 are mentioned, it is obvious that football has moved considerably from the days of the genuinely loyal one-club man.