Players will do anything for a World Cup spot
How much would you pay to take part in the World Cup next summer? For Luca Toni, this wasn't a theoretical question.
The Italian striker was desperate to move to a new club after being frozen out by Bayern Munich manager Louis van Gaal. The Bundesliga side was happy to let the 32-year-old go for free, despite the fact that his contract runs until 2011. There was only one very big problem: at 10 million euros a year, Toni's astronomical wages scared of all the interested clubs in Spain, Italy and England.
Sacrificed a lot of money
The World Cup winner from Germany 2006 knew that he'd have to sacrifice a lot of money to make Marcello Lippi's squad - and he did. On Thursday, Bayern confirmed that Toni would be loaned to Serie A side AS Roma for the rest of the season. He will earn 1.8 million euros net in the Italian capital over the next six month, 600,000 euros less than he would have picked up in Munich. There's a good chance he will lose more than these 25 per cent of his net salary in the long run. If Roma decide to keep him beyond the summer, his new wages will be significantly lower.
Toni's example shows to what lengths even hardened professionals in the autumn of their careers (the last years of making money) will go in order to make the trip to South Africa. All around the world, international players who have fallen out of favour with their club managers will spend early January weighing up their options. Should they stay or should they go (to another club)? And for once, money isn't the decisive factor.
Nor are the prospects of the new club. Take Theofanis Gekas. The Bayer Leverkusen striker is going on loan to Hertha BSC after the winter break. That's a move from the league leaders to the all but doomed club lingering at the bottom of the table. Instead of competing for the Bundesliga championship and place in next year's UEFA Champions League, the Greek striker will try to save Hertha from relegation. What's more, it might not even be in his personal interest to achieve this aim. Berlin has an option to sign the 29-year-old permanently in case they stay up.
World Cup forces players to make moves
If it wasn't a World Cup year, this transfer would not have made any sense at all. Especially not for an attacker who's scored the most goals in Europe in the qualifying campaign (10 in 10 games). But Gekas has only been third option behind Stefan Kiessling and Eren Derdiyok (who will both play on the World Cup, for Germany and Switzerland, respectively) in the BayArena and started a solitary Bundesliga game this season. In order to keep his place with Greece, he simply had to bite the bullet at club level.
Manchester United's Nani might well have to go down the same path. After an encouraging start to the new campaign - he tormented Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in the Community Shield back in August - the Portuguese winger has been giving limited playing time by Alex Ferguson. Nani's agent Jorge Mendes is actively looking for a way out for the 23-year-old. Spain and Italy are his options but his eventual destination will certainly prove a step down from United. Nani needs a change of scenery, however, to keep his World Cup dream alive.
So does David Beckham, of course. England's former captain will not lose too much money by spending the second half of the season with AC Milan rather than in California - his sponsors pick up a large part of the shortfall in wages - but he's only doing so in order to keep Fabio Capello happy. The England manager has reiterated his willingness to take Beckham to the World Cup, provided he's fit and playing well. The 34-year-old is so determined to make the cut that he's even willing to play as right-back for manager Leonardo's team.
The pull of the World Cup does have the opposite effect, too, by the way.
Hamsik staying put
Some players who would be all too happy to move under normal circumstances will probably stay put in fear of jeopardising their international chances. Highly-rated Slovakian midfielder Marek Hamsik of Napoli, who has a host of suitors in the Premier League and Spain - Chelsea, Liverpool and Barcelona have all shown an interest - is mindful of the problems a transfer can bring. The 22-year-old is understood to favour the stable environment at Napoli, where he is a guaranteed starter. He can always take the plunge after the World Cup, naturally. Sergio Agureo (Atletico Madrid, Argentina), Franck Ribery (Bayern, France) and Seydou Doumbi (Young Boys Bern, Ivory Coast) will entertain similar thoughts.
Former Germany defender Christoph Metzelder would love to have their problems, however. The 29-year-old has not been making the Real Madrid team, even the long-term injury of teammate Pepe has not improved his outlook. He's also not been called up by Joachim Low since contesting the Euro 2008 final.
"I've had very little contact with the Germany manager, I don't think I really feature in his plans", Metzelder said this week. Consequently, he's decided not to force through a move back to the Bundesliga this winter. Instead of taking a pay cut and moving to a lesser team, Metzelder is content to sit out the last six months of his lucrative contract. It makes perfect sense: there's simply no need to lose any money if you're watching the World Cup from your sofa in any case.
About the Author
Raphael Honigstein is a London-based soccer correspondent for Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's biggest broadsheet newspaper. He covers German soccer for The Guardian and Talksport Radio, is the author of "Englischer Fussball. A German's view of our Beautiful Game," and writes a regular blog on www.footbo.com.