Sky Sports' Johnny Phillips: Striking striker Pierre set the mark for wantaways

The word ‘wantaway’ has become such a common prefix to ‘striker’ that it has made it into the Oxford English dictionary. ‘An adjective denoting a soccer player who wants to move to another club’.

Pierre Van Hooijdonk
Pierre Van Hooijdonk

As sure as England batting collapses, our summers are now regularly punctuated with footballers – and they are nearly always forwards – trying to engineer moves to other clubs.

Michael Owen, Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Luis Suarez, Diego Costa, Gareth Bale, Romelu Lukaku. It would probably be easier to list the players who haven’t agitated for a move.

Wolves fans will recall that infamous Steven Fletcher tweet nine years ago this weekend: “Just handed in a transfer request just to let the fans know where I am at right now....#headsgone.” Not the first time a footballer has poured petrol on a fire with an ill-judged tweet.

Former Albion striker Peter Odemwingie once took out his mobile phone and tweeted what would officially be termed a ‘tirade’ against his club in a bid to force a move, back in January 2013.

He then gained widespread notoriety after driving to Queens Park Rangers, his preferred destination, on transfer deadline day then parking up outside Loftus Road in the hope of a deal being done.

With no offer accepted by Albion, Odemwingie was forced to head back to the Black Country with his tail between his legs.

An eloquent and engaging character, he tells a self-deprecating story about the incident now, but it illustrates the pickle footballers – or should I say forwards – often get themselves in when the transfer window is in full swing.

This week Harry Kane failed to turn up for training at Tottenham Hotspur as he tries to push through a move to Manchester City.

Given the reputation he has forged over a career based on integrity, professionalism and honesty it could be argued that this is the most wantaway act of all.

Kane, darling of the media and captain of England, has resorted to something as clichéd as failing to report to training in order to force Spurs owner Daniel Levy’s hand.

At the moment the affair is falling just short of a saga and has not yet got messy or protracted. But give it a few more days and the whole thing could become a circus.

And if you are looking for the most infamous transfer tale in British football history, there is surely nowhere else to go than Nottingham Forest in the summer of 1998 and their wantaway Dutch striker Pierre Van Hooijdonk.

It had all started so well when Forest’s talisman scored 34 goals in all competitions to help the club win promotion to the Premier League ahead of the 1998/99 season.

But his relationship with manager Dave Bassett had become strained after the player indicated he wanted to return to Holland.

Following an underwhelming summer transfer strategy at the City Ground, when Van Hooijdonk’s strike partner Kevin Campbell was sold along with club captain Colin Cooper, the forward’s mood darkened. He tried to persuade Bassett to sign his compatriot Wim Jonk, but the manager was not interested and the Dutch international midfielder went to Sheffield Wednesday instead. Van Hooijdonk decided drastic action was needed. He went on strike.

“We had a problem with Van Hooijdonk,” said Bassett, recalling the incident many years later. “He wanted to be chairman, director of football, coach and captain.”

Even in the pre-digital era with no 24-hour rolling news channels in sight, the story generated huge coverage.

Forest’s training ground was regularly besieged with reporters looking for the latest take on the situation.

It was the strangest of stand-offs, with chairman Irving Scholar, manager Bassett, the players and fans regularly canvassed for their opinions while Van Hooijdonk remained an absent figure.

The strike lasted until November. He missed 11 games before eventually returning ahead of an East Midlands derby against arch-rivals Derby County, with Forest mired in a relegation battle.

Van Hooijdonk’s header from a corner helped secure a 2-2 draw at the City Ground. Perhaps as memorable as the goal itself was the celebration, with Forest’s players running off to congratulate the corner taker Scott Gemmill rather than the man who nodded it in.

Van Hooijdonk’s return could not save Forest, though. Bassett was sometimes unfairly accused of being yesterday’s man with a penchant for long ball tactics, but that stopped when he was replaced mid-season by Ron Atkinson who was from a bygone era altogether. Atkinson oversaw an 8-1 home defeat to Manchester United as Forest finished rock bottom of the Premier League.

Van Hooijdonk finally got his move, to Vitesse Arnhem for just £3.5million in the summer of 1999.

Although his bridges had been burnt in England he was far from a busted flush, going on to score over 100 more goals and win a European trophy. He memorably scored twice for Feyenoord in their 2002 Uefa Cup final win against Borussia Dortmund.

It is a desire for trophies that is behind Kane’s latest manoeuvre.

The longer the impasse goes on the worse it will be for all parties.

With Manchester City happy to let time play out, it seems that either Kane or Levy is going to have to make a significant concession.

There is some way to go if the events of Nottingham in 1998 are to be matched but, whatever the outcome, Kane could do with wrapping the story up as soon as possible. Wantaway or not.

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