by Lee Roberts
Mario Balotelli’s surprise recent move to Liverpool should be billed a masterstroke, not only as it could enhance Brendan Rodger’s man-management reputation if he’s the manager to finally tame the tearaway Italian forward, but because it has quickly ensured that Loic Remy’s transfer to Chelsea was committed to a mere afterthought by followers of the Merseyside club.
Balotelli was targeted by Liverpool despite a denial of interest earlier in the summer, with the pressing need to add further options to the forward line enough for the Anfield giants to overlook the potential – sorry, inevitable – baggage associated with Balotelli and acquire him from AC Milan.
The lack of a Mario Balotelli signing, or indeed the failure to secure another striker before the end of the summer window, would have led the Remy move to suffer from intense scrutiny by Liverpool supporters, who would have focussed in excruciating detail on the underlying reasons why the Frenchman did not sign.
Versatile front man Remy completed a move to Stamford Bridge from Queens Park Rangers for an estimated £10.5m. The deal seemed all too straightforward. Chelsea happily met the release clause in his contract, the player agreed terms and passed a medical, and the transfer was announced. No whisper of last minute hitches, eleventh hour health assessments, a stalling over personal terms or, in fact, any suggestion of complication at all.
And it is the health aspect of the transfer that would have been the main focus for fans. Liverpool reportedly passed on signing Remy after he failed a medical. After agreeing a contract and joining the club’s pre-season tour to complete the formalities of the deal, a sensational U-turn was made and manager Brendan Rodgers pulled the plug.
Whilst details behind the sudden change of direction are not officially in the public domain, reports surfaced around a failed medical, and more specifically a problem with Remy’s heart.
Harry Redknapp, the QPR manager with plenty to lose by admitting to future buyers his prized asset has a medical issue, immediately stated “reports have come out that he failed a medical. That’s not possible. He is a very fit lad, there has to be another reason.”
These comments, though, along with the lack of striker options in the transfer market for Liverpool and their desperate requirement to strengthen, simply do not wash. There would need to have been a convincing reason for turning Remy down. One strong enough for the Reds to walk away from a possible bargain who would fill a key gap in their squad. A forward who has scored 20 Premier League goals since signing for QPR in January 2013, he ticked all the right boxes.
Indeed, delving deeper into Loic Remy’s transfer history suggests a heart defect was first discovered during post-transfer medical tests following completion of his switch to Marseille in 2010. Remy’s debut was delayed as further assessments were carried out, and questions would have to be asked as to whether if his new club were completely briefed on his heart condition before concluding whether they would have simply aborted the deal. If this was the case, we may never have seen the Loic Remy of today, with Marseille being the destination he enhanced his continental reputation, giving him the springboard to seal a future transfer to the Premier League.
Various reports at the time indicate the heart abnormality found in the initial medical would not affect Remy’s career, and with the pacey forward helping himself to 27 goals in 68 appearances during his time at the Stade Velodrome this would strengthen those claims.
It is this conclusion that you would assume Chelsea have arrived, one that – unlike Liverpool – shows they were clearly comfortable with the health of the player. Remy arrives at Stamford Bridge after successful moves to both Loftus Road and Newcastle (on loan) in recent seasons, who both had significant medical grounds to pass him fit to sign.
Is there an element of over caution in Liverpool’s stance? Is it the opposite and perhaps Chelsea and QPR’s riskier attitudes to a known heart problem? With the complexities of the human heart, the multitude of potential defects – and their varying ability to affect an athlete’s participation in top level sport – make this a moral and financial minefield. Not to mention the implications in securing insurance on a company asset with a pre-existing medical condition worth in excess of £10m.
Players with identified heart conditions have of course enjoyed successful careers in the past, but on the other hand select footballers develop problems during their playing career and are forced to make the tough decision to call time early.
Just last week former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia announced his retirement at the age of 37. A routine medical assessment as he lined up to join Italian club Cagliari on a free transfer revealed a possibly fatal genetic heart defect called apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart tissue that can cause sudden death.
There are a myriad of reasons for both sides to reach their Remy verdict. Chelsea believe there is no cause for concern and are comfortable with it. Liverpool saw enough to pass up the signing, and have since plugged the Remy shaped gap in the squad with an enigmatic Italian.
The signing of Mario Balotelli has certainty taken the sting out of the news for Liverpool fans that a player who was seemingly set to arrive at Anfield has ended up at Premier League rivals Chelsea. If Remy goes on to contribute this season with no signs of health issues then Jose Mourinho will laud another fantastic transfer coup and the supposedly failed medicals will become a moot point.
Liverpool will hope their failure to go through with the deal will not come back to haunt them this season, and Balotelli proves an able alternative as they embark on another title hunting campaign.
An intriguing subject, considering both clubs would essentially expect their players to undertake similar medical assessments before joining a club, but ultimately both taking a completely different viewpoint on whether to proceed.
Silence from one side, denials from the other, Remy’s medical condition certainly remains shrouded in mystery.
This article originally appeared in Box To Box Football
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