Former Ajax Cape Town captain Travis Graham will be able to leave the Urban Warriors when his contract expires at the end of the season. Photo: Ryan Wilkisky/BackpagePix

It’s hard to feel for clubs when players have them by the balls during the transfer window because at any other time it’s the clubs which have players in that compromising position.

But the lines keep getting blurred, making it hard to tell between victims and villains.

Take for example what has happened at Ajax Cape Town with Rivaldo Coetzee, Prince Nxumalo and former captain Travis Graham. All have tried to force a move away from the Urban Warriors.

Coetzee succeeded after going on strike in the aftermath of his move to Scottish giants Glasgow Celtic falling through due to him failing a medical.

Nxumalo also went on strike amidst interest from Mamelodi Sundowns, but it’s Graham whose case has been severe.

The former Ajax captain informed the club that he wasn’t going to renew his contract that ends in June, but hoped to see it out in an amicable way before moving to greener pastures.

The club had other ideas, freezing him out of the squad after he was reportedly told to train alone. The midfielder, who missed only three games in the league last season, hasn’t kicked the ball for Ajax in a competitive match this season  despite their fight to avoid relegation.

Coetzee and Nxumalo erred in their behaviour as they were still contracted to the club. They should have remained professional until their last days.

But it’s hard to say that with a straight face when you look at what happened to Graham, who tried to be professional and see out his contract but wasn’t given the same courtesy.

This is when the lines get blurred because Graham is a victim while Coetzee and Nxumalo were the villains.

It’s a tricky situation that isn’t unique to Ajax.

Jeremy Brockie sulked his way out of SuperSport United despite having signed a contract extension a year before handing in a transfer request after the Brazilians came looking for him.

Khama Billiat has been professional in his conduct, giving his all despite negotiations with Sundowns at an impasse over the contract that ends in June. Billiat and Sundowns have been professional about things, even though the Zimbabwean could leave for free at the end of the season.

That’s a special case just like that of Cape Town City captain Robyn Johannes, who signed a pre-contract with Bidvest Wits despite City coach Benni McCarthy being an admirer of the defender’s talents.

The usual trend is clubs sideline players who have signed pre-contracts or are on their way out, forcing them to train with the reserves or the juniors. In those cases clubs are the villains and players are the victims.

It is with that thinking in mind that some players force their moves in every way possible because being professional until the end doesn’t work in certain instances.

The problem is that it’s very hard to argue a player is being frozen out or side-lined in a team. A coach can just say they aren’t in his plans or they are just not fit enough, which is why he is training with the reserves.

More needs to be done to protect players in the last months of their contracts, just like more needs to be done to protect clubs from want-away players.

The Bosman ruling, which allowed players to leave for free after the end of their contracts and negotiate with other clubs in the last six months of their contracts, empowered players who were bullied by clubs for a long time.

But it shouldn’t be the end. Players need to be protected during contractual impasses and the punishment they get for having the “audacity” to exercise their right to go where they will be paid better.

With that said, clubs also need to be protected against players who force their way out by withholding their services even though they are still under contract. At the moment there is space for abuse from both players and clubs.

Football is a short career and players need to make the most of it by getting as much money as they can so that they can take care of themselves and their families after the final whistle.

It’s not nice to read stories about athletes’ fall from grace, going from being millionaires to begging for handouts. For that to stop happening, athletes need to be careful how they spend their money, but they also need to be protected in their chase for a lucrative contract.

But they also need to be professional in how they make that lucrative move.

Saturday Star

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