If Oxlade-Chamberlain is fine not playing much for Liverpool, we should be too

Will Ford
Man Utd target Oxlade-Chamberlain

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set to stay at Liverpool and probably won’t play much. If that’s fine by him, it should be by us.

One of the symptoms of objectifying footballers is anger when they don’t ‘make the most of their ability’. The guys down the pub, at least half of whom had trials at [insert Premier League team – a local one so as not to seem too farfetched], would have done anything to be where so-and-so is and wouldn’t waste their career on the bench, accruing insane wealth, instead of playing football week in, week out. But they would of course only move to the right football club. Not a local rival, God no. Or to China or the Middle East while they can still bend down to tie up their bootlaces.

They would stay in England, maybe Spain or Italy at a push because they’re not farmers, definitely not Paris Saint-Germain (erm, sell your soul much? *snort snort*). But yes, they would absolutely leave a club for more game time. What a waste otherwise. You’re a footballer, go play football, you don’t know how lucky you are. Look at me, I work as a [insert career deemed to be far worse and more laborious than football].

To those people, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is an enigma.

The 28-year-old started just nine Premier League games in 2021/22, with his last appearance coming in mid-February. And yet, amid surprise interest from Manchester United, among others, over a possible £10m move, Oxlade-Chamberlain looks set to stay at Liverpool.

Barring a midfield injury crisis, next season will be similar to the last – Ox will be a bit-part player. He always has been. In his time with both Liverpool and Arsenal he’s never started more than 17 Premier League games in a single campaign (admittedly for much of his career through problems beyond his or the clubs’ control). He’s missed exactly four seasons’ worth of games through injury, which is an extraordinary amount, but that’s no longer a viable excuse for his absenteeism. He’s been fit; he’s just not played.

Keeping him makes sense for Liverpool. £10m isn’t all that useful and they may as well retain a player of his quality with his Premier League experience for another season before he leaves as a free agent next summer. He’s an ideal squad player. It’s their call whether he stays or goes of course, he’s under contract, but there’s no word of discord or a transfer request; Oxlade-Chamberlain appears happy with how things are. And why wouldn’t he be?

We assume, as we do with all footballers, that he’s unhappy because he’s not playing, permanently ‘knocking on the manager’s door’. And there may well be a higher percentage of professional footballers, compared to those in other professions, who grow frustrated at inactivity. It’s a hugely competitive field, and Oxlade-Chamberlain has shown great commitment and desire to get to this level.

But there’s obviously a scale to the aspirations of footballers – some will be more dedicated than others. And also, people change, as do their circumstances and priorities. Oxlade-Chamberlain proposed to his girlfriend last week (on a beach in a white linen shirt, as the rules apparently stipulate these days). He’s got a young son. They’re settled.

He would no doubt look at that apparent interest from Manchester United and suspect he would not be playing much more, meaning the only question in his mind would be whether he would rather be sitting on the bench at Anfield or Old Trafford, to which there is only one answer. Not only because the two clubs appear to currently be polar opposites in terms of player satisfaction, but also because he knows Liverpool, and presumably has great friends there, in and out of the club.

Aston Villa have also been linked, and would likely offer him more game time. But it would be a very different life, socially and professionally. Ox currently earns £120,000 per week, and if Liverpool are willing to pay him that much for another year, fair enough. There’s no reports of him not working hard in training or not being professional; he’s just not good enough to play all that often. There would be no complaints about people in other professions who work as hard as they can but aren’t quite as good as someone else. You may blame their employers for paying them too much, but criticising the individual is nonsensical.

Aston Villa boss Gerrard

Oxlade-Chamberlain may want to be playing more but maybe he is actually not that bothered. He may see football as a job and as a means to support his family. Careers are short in football and he may have to take a pay cut were he to leave Liverpool this summer. And just as we wouldn’t blame a delivery driver, a waiter or a journalist for turning down job offers for less pay, we shouldn’t hold that against footballers. Yes, they make plenty of money, but it’s all relative, and if you’re enjoying life while picking up the biggest paycheck you’re ever likely to receive, why change it?

And who knows, he could play a crucial role for Liverpool next season. Or not. It’s not really our business. You do you, Ox.