Today, Kasper Hämäläinen will make the move between the two biggest Polish clubs – from Lech Poznań to Legia Warsaw. The Finnish attacking midfielder will sign a three year contract worth up to 500,000 Euros a season including bonuses making him one of the highest paid footballers in the Polish Ekstraklasa. Many Lech Poznań fans are calling Hämäläinen a traitor, others see it as simply a sign that the club cannot compete financially on a par with Legia. I would argue it is simply a sign of the times.
In the halcyon days of old, players simply did not move that often between clubs. When a player came through the youth system of a given side, they were normally there to stay, and fans could look forward to years of service from their heroes (or villains) that strode out onto the pitch wearing the colours of their local club. But it’s not like that anymore.
Players have always been driven by the desire to make the most out of the relatively short playing career that their talents on the pitch bestow on them. But in the past it was extremely difficult to move between clubs due to old-fashioned contracts which meant that players were practically slaves to the whims of club owners. In the West this meant that players found it very difficult to move – in Eastern Europe during Communism transfers between clubs were complicated by political power games between clubs – who often would not want their best players moving to clubs represented by rival government ministries.
These days are long gone. The gradual encroachment of the free market and growing player rights in the West from the 1960s onwards – and the whirlwind of economic and social transformation in Eastern Europe after 1989 – has meant incredibly fluid player markets. Players – supported by agents – seek to get the best deal for themselves – and there is very little which prevents them from doing so. There simply is very little reason to stay with a certain club if the financial compensation is not appropriate – or more money can be earned somewhere else.
In the case of Kasper Hämäläinen we have a player who has stood out in the not particularly demanding league that is the Ekstraklasa. He has great technique, can see a pass and is a very decent finisher. In 101 league matches with the club he has scored 33 goals and made 23 assists – leading them to the Polish league title in 2015. He’s also a very decent man off the pitch, quiet, intelligent and composed – someone who has been a credit to Lech Poznań – as Radosław Nawrot has noted in an excellent piece about the transfer. When he said he would be leaving Lech fans gave him a long and heart-felt standing ovation – and most believed him when he said he wanted to leave Poland when his contract ran out in January as his wife preferred to move closer to home to bring up their small child.
Suddenly, seemingly out of the blue, it became clear that Legia were prepared to offer the Finn a far better contract than Lech – and Hämäläinen would move to Lech’s biggest rivals. And all hell broke loose on social media.
In the cold light of day however, Legia will gain a very valuable member of the squad for purely financial reasons. It is disappointing for the romantic and purist but totally understandable in the current climate. Kasper (at 29 years of age) has only several years left to play the game – and he will earn a great salary at Legia – and the opportunity to play in front of equally passionate fans and a chance to win trophies over the next few years. The only thing holding him back would be loyalty, and that, whether we like it or not, simply does not exist in the football world of 2016.