Goals over morals in the Return of the King
Coventry City, it seems, are the club to do it. They will split their fans down the middle. They will risk the wrath of gutter tripe columns from the culture correspondents of tabloid newspapers. Yes, they have signed Marlon King.
On October 29, 2009, King was sentenced to 18 months at Her Majesty’s pleasure for actual bodily harm and the sexual assault of a 20-year-old student. Although King, released two months ago, has continued to claim his innocence, the court heard that he had 13 previous convictions against his name including drink driving, wounding and theft. In May 2002, he received his 18 eighteen month sentence for receiving stolen goods.
So, have the Sky Blues taken the moral low ground, giving a man with neither social dignity nor integrity an easy way out of a situation created out of arrogance and violence? Or have they simply signed a striker?
It is easy to see why Coventry fans may have second thoughts about the move. This is a man that has twice used aggression upon women. There is surely the potential that the signing will alienate a section of the support at the Ricoh Arena. Would you want take your son to a home game for him to ask “Mummy, who is our new striker?”, when you knew the answer to provide?
This may be a tiny percentage of the home support, but it perhaps does not send out the right message about Coventry City as a club. “Oh, aren’t they the club that signed Marlon King?”. The media bandwagon that will follow the player is as inevitable as it will be savage.
And here lies the problem. While Marlon King is able to ingratiate himself to his new surrounding and followers through the age-old medium of sticking the ball in the net, job’s a goodun. Boothroyd is happy. King is happy. The fans are happy. The media’s vitriol is curbed.
But if King goes a few games without scoring or, heaven forbid, is booked or even sent-off in a match, more Daily Mail spleens will be vented. The buck will then stop with the manager.
But there has to be a counter argument to this. Adrian Boothroyd is a football manager buying a football player. When push comes to shove, he will be perfectly au fait with ignoring the red tops and getting on with the job at hand.
Why should football in general, and Adrian Boothroyd in particular, be the moral arbiter? One of the cornerstones of our justice system is that it provides a system of rehabilitation that allows us to forgive after sentences have been served.
Marlon King is a talented forward, of that there is no doubt. He struggled at Nottingham Forest and has not scored regularly in the Premier League, but at this level with Watford (where he seemed to have found a natural home) he scored 36 goals in 81 games for a mid-table side.
Wigan were persuaded to spend £4million on King, and pay him £40,000 a week. Coventry also need a striker. In Freddie Eastwood and Lukas Jutkiewicz they have skillful forwards but no-one with the presence and power of King.
In addition to this, the Jamaican international knows that he has something to prove. He will be quite aware that there will be a media circus following him, and even more conscious of the unease with some Coventry supporters.
There is a precedent for this. In August 2007, when Lee Hughes was released from prison after a hit-and-run accident that left a man dead, he signed for Oldham, and the same public outcry was apparent. Hughes declared his desire to ‘prove the doubters wrong’, an oft-seen driving force in sport.
Since scoring goals regularly at Boundary Park, he moved to Notts County where he scored 30 league goals to achieve promotion. Tony Adams, Joey Barton, Duncan Ferguson and Jamie Lawrence are all other examples of players that have served prison sentences and continued careers successfully.
The fundamental point here is that whether you like it or not, a club will sign Marlon King. He is a free agent with a penchant for scoring goals. I guess the question can be asked not through existential moral judgments, but football logic: if it was guaranteed that through signing Marlon King your side was 25 per cent more likely to be promoted to the Premier League, would you accept the signing?
The answer, for me at least, is yes. If he is going to play in the Championship, why not score goals for you rather than against you?
Maybe what King needs is a manager that can not just coach but support, love and mentor him. Crucially, at Watford, during the happiest spell of his career, King played under Boothroyd. Why can’t the same happen at the Ricoh?
Perhaps this is a decision that Adrian Boothroyd will live or die by. But perhaps that is his job. What he is doing is signing a 30-year-old striker with a chequered past who has a proven record at this level. It may seem a self-evident statement but in football, only football will matter.
And goals matter more than morals.