Those Who Really Should Play for Free

A few professional soccer players who should follow Onyewu’s lead and play for free?

In some ways, I can see why Oguchi Onyewu agreed to play the final year of his contract for free: he wants to stay at AC Milan and grow as a player and he’s sort of agreed to an apprenticeship or delayed internship.

But part of this is related to last year, when he tore his patella tendon and wasn’t able to play for Milan. AC Milan wanted some compensation from the U.S. soccer federation, since he was hurt during a World Cup qualifying match. They were angry and upset. AC Milan as a team was struggling at the time, too.

So, it makes sense that Onyewu add a one-year contract extension and told the club he did not want a salary during his final year. He feels like he owes them a little bit.

However, for Onyewu, I don’t know if this is the path he should have taken. Does he want to be looked on as a player who, in one aspect, thinks he should play for free? As though he’s to blame for getting hurt. It’s not like he was riding a scooter through the streets of Milan and broke his foot.

Now, I can hear the calls at practice after someone makes a mistake or gives the ball away, ‘You better give some of that money back.’ What do they say if Onyewu scores an own goal in the final year of his contract? ‘Oh, it’s alright, at least he’s not getting paid this year.’

Of course, Onyewu wants to stay at Milan, and learn as much as possible, but he also needs to play. Will he play this next year and the years beyond whether he’s getting paid or not? Could he, in the final year of his contract be riding the bench and not getting paid? But I’m guessing Onyewu and his agent have more insight than me, and see him getting more chances next year to play along side many of the AC Milan legends.

The truth is, there are a few other players who should follow Onyewu’s lead and return money or play one year for free:

David Beckham – There are many who might say Beckham could cough up a few dollars towards something after all of his injuries the past few years. But Beckham’s return will fill stadiums and sell jerseys – he pays everyone back when he shows up – the cameras flash and the cash registers ka-ching. And, he did pay, some say, close to $3 million to the LA Galaxy so he could extend his loan with AC Milan.

Dimitar Berbatov – Even though he’s one of the smoothest players in the game, he was lackluster at times and didn’t score big goals when Manchester United needed them. He was always just close, a header that went just over or a strike that went just wide. And considering he’s making £4.1million ($6 million) a year, he can return a few pounds.

Joleon Lescott – The Manchester City defender was useless when he did play, and that was rare, which was good for his new team, but not good considering how much they paid for his services – £94,000 (roughly $140,000) per week.

Karim Benzema – Did he get enough of a chance to show what he could do at Real Madrid? Well, his start wasn’t fast enough. The Argentine, Gonzalo Higuaín, kept Benzema on the bench all year long, as he scored goal after goal. But Benzema should return some of the money, considering he’s earning £7.4 million ($11 million) a year.

Thierry Henry – His second season at Barcelona was a disappointment. And considering he made £6.5 million ($9.6 million) playing like it was his swan song, he should give some back. His worst game might have been against his old club Arsenal, as he appeared to play like a ghost. The Irish, I don’t think they’ll ever forgive him. Has his luck turned sour since his famous handball?

Michael Owen – I feel bad for the guy but he’s just hurt way too much. Not sure why his luck has turned black.

Jonathan Woodgate – Same as above.

Rafa Benitez – He sold too many key players, Xabi Alonso for one, and got sucked into Ferguson’s mind games. His Liverpool side lost their spirit and fell out of the Champions League, as they didn’t even finish in the top four. This is an easy one: Benitez should coach for free next year if he stays at Liverpool.

Who else should be on this list and play or coach for free?