The green, green grass of...Shanghai?
Jose Enrique. I really enjoyed his marches down the Newcastle left flank a few years ago, but can't say he's strayed across my thoughts too often lately. Until he popped up in the media last week, that is, whining about his isolation at Anfield. Kenny's long gone and Brendan doesn't love him any more, so now he's left snivelling on his own, training away from the first team and a million miles from the Champions League dream he turned his back on Tyneside for.
Admittedly, my heart doesn't particularly bleed, but it did get me thinking about the fate of the many deserters we've seen come and go over the past few years. The lure of historic, decorated clubs can surely be understood by even the staunchest of Magpies, but - bank balances notwithstanding - is the grass really always greener?
Let me start by stating that I understand our position in the order of things perfectly well. We don't pay the biggest wages, we can't offer elite European football and sadly, we're a long, long way from the business end of the Premier League. Preventing superstar attrition is a struggle. We're by no means unique in our standing; aside from a handful of clubs who are either blessed with dodgy Russian / Middle Eastern billions or able to draw on decades and decades of astounding global commercial riches, most clubs - even those jostling in and around the top 6 - are always vulnerable to one of the big boys swooping in on a prized asset. This is the way football is - a hideously uneven playing field, but the playing field we're all scrapping on nonetheless.
The only variable in this equation, therefore, would seem to be the attitude of the player concerned.
Is it too simplistic or cynical to surmise that it really all comes down to money? The naive football lover in me likes to think not. Take our once beloved Dreamboat: did anyone REALLY begrudge Yohan Cabaye sailing off into the Parisian sunset, Champions League football and world-class teammates awaiting? I certainly wasn't happy about it - I think I actually threw something across the room, in fact - but I understood the motive. The fact that he grossly inflated his already handsome pay packet seemed secondary - here was a supremely talented player who believed he could deliver and prosper at a higher level.
Except it didn't really pan out that way, did it? Used sparingly, out of form and increasingly unhappy, Yohan has come crawling back to the Premier League, in all honesty to play for a smaller club than where he started off. He needs to be the star, and it needs to be all about him; while majestic in black and white, his star didn't burn quite so brightly alongside the true elite.
And it's not an unfamiliar tale - how many players can you think of who left to 'step up', and really did so, consistently?
Chelsea have nicked both Demba Ba and Loic Remy off us in recent times, and while both have enjoyed a few undoubtedly memorable nights -particularly in Europe for Demba - they've been little more than spare parts in actuality. Yes, they have trophies on their CV, but how much did they contribute? How much have they really enhanced their reputations? Demba will now see out his days at the illustrious Shanghai Shenua, where his millions will afford him all the strawberry syrup he wishes, but his legacy will be far from what it might have been. As for Remy, his motivations were made clear when he made his detour to Newcastle via West London after 'Arry offered him a few more bob, and he can rot in Diego Costa's shadow for all I care.
The curious case of Andy Carroll might be a bit of an anomaly on this topic; no-one will ever really know the conditions under which he boarded Fat Boy's Merseyside-bound chopper, but the argument around failing to rise to the greater challenge holds true. An accepted, hugely expensive gaffe, Carroll never got going at Liverpool and subsequently slunk off to West Ham, where you could argue he found himself on a similar sized stage to St James' Park. It seems that level is where he's in fact most comfortable.
Away from Newcastle, there are countless examples of big fishes in small ponds who've made the leap to bigger, more successful clubs, and soon enough bounced right back down. Charlie Adam, Scott Sinclair and Rickie Lambert spring to mind, with none of them exhibiting any of the sparkle and promise they displayed at their 'smaller' former homes. Anticipating the bright lights and big cities, they're just a trio among a sizeable crop of players who instead found themselves sent well and truly to Coventry.
Do these bright lights just show up flaws and imperfections that duller strobes fail to illuminate? In short - are these inbetweeners surrounded by such mediocrity at the Newcastles and the West Hams and the Blackpools that we're all - the player included - duped into believing they're capable of way more than they are?
I suppose the most depressing question of all is: do the players involved even care? I have to believe that talented, professional sportsmen live to win trophies and be the best they can possibly be, but does bench-warming for multi millions trump being adored for an entire career at a smaller club? Is there no value in that? With players seemingly never heeding the warnings of other 'stars' who have left for the fabled big move and faltered, it does feel like money talks.
Maybe the grass isn't greener - unless, of course, the green you're after is decorated with dead kings and queens.