Well, he came, he saw, and he conquered (well, kind of). Sonny Bill Williams is now an ex-All Black, for the time being at least, as he heads to Japan for pretty serious yen. The subsequent outcry, yet again, has at times bordered on the hysterical. But should we be surprised?
SBW has courted this kind of attention ever since he ran on to Telstra Stadium in 2004 as an 18 year old Bulldog and announced to both the Parramatta Eels and the rest of the rugby league world that he had arrived. He then aligned himself with the likes of Khoder Nasser which in turn increased the hysteria.
Apparently SBW decided that a four year old handshake deal (with, errr, someone) means that he is – against his will from all accounts – turning his back on the Chiefs and the NZRU to head back to the NRL. So how much of what we hear is true? Is he only after the money? Did he really walk out on the Bulldogs? Will he return to rugby union – and if so, will he waltz straight back into a black jersey?
A lot of these questions are difficult to answer, some not so much. Let’s try and separate the man from the myths:-
#1 – Sonny Bill Williams is only in it for the money.
There are a couple of points to this one. Firstly, he is a professional sportsman, and he has contracted Khoder Nasser to secure the best deal he possibly can for his future – whether it is a one year deal or a five year deal doesn’t matter. Of course he is in it for the money, but is that his sole ambition? Then there’s the other minor issue of him loving money so much that he gave away $100,000 of his much sought after coin to the Christchurch earthquake fund. Just like other high profile sportsmen such as, ummmmm……..
#2 – Sonny Bill Williams broke his contract by walking out on the Bulldogs.
Yes he did. But what was not well reported at the time (and is certainly not being reported now) is that the Bulldogs breached that five year contract first. They were unable to complete their obligations via third party agreements promised to SBW that never eventuated – they reneged on the agreement, and Williams quite rightly pulled the pin.
#3 – It’s a bit rich that Sonny Bill Williams is now honouring a handshake deal 5 years after walking out on the Bulldogs.
Only two people know for sure, but let’s just say for argument’s sake that this four year old handshake deal really exists. And despite the fact that the Dogs were first to breach their contract, let’s also say that the affair was all SBW’s fault (it wasn’t). Surely then the above comment would be viewed in the light that he has grown up and is now doing the right thing. But no – that would be an admission from his detractors that he is more mature than they were hoping.
#4 – Sonny Bill Williams has no loyalty.
By going to Japan to ply his trade, he is apparently being disloyal. Dozens of relatively high profile players have left these shores over the past few years to exactly the same thing – some after playing less first grade rugby in New Zealand than SBW – and have never been tarred with the disloyal brush. What makes SBW any different to them? Or is it simply that some people still believe that the black jersey is the be all and end all, and anyone who has the temerity to head off elsewhere after wearing it is automatically deemed a traitor?
#5 – Sonny Bill Williams should never have been allowed to go off boxing while employed by the NZRU.
You can’t blame someone for getting what they asked for. In this case, his employer allowed a clause in his contract to head off and take up another sport while still employed by them. Don’t pin this one on SBW – if you’re really looking to blame someone, look at the NZRU. They are the ones who let it happen.
#6 – Sonny Bill Williams only asks for one year contracts.
Maybe, but only because he knows that potential suitors will be happy to pay him big money for one season of football. If clubs refused to accept one year contracts from SBW (or anyone else for that matter), it would only be a matter of time before the contract options lengthened.
#7 – Sonny Bill Williams was trying to do a Lebron James with this announcement.
It was his decision, and one that he could announce whenever he damn well pleased. The organisation that now looks the most foolish in this affair is, again, the NZRU. They knew he wasn’t going to renew his contract some time ago, but played him against Ireland, and refused to publicly acknowledge up until yesterday that he was going. How convenient. So was SBW playing the NZRU? Maybe, but the NZRU are just as guilty in using him in a marketing sense knowing full well he was not going to stay. When the NZRU was asked, they denied that they knew what SBW was up to next season, yet they had nothing to lose in saying that he hadn’t re-signed. Or did they?
It’s always difficult when a player with such a high profile switches clubs, codes or countries. SBW’s involvement with Khoder Nasser is a double edged sword in that regard. Nasser is especially good at getting the best deal possible for his client – and when push comes to shove, that’s what he is employed to do. But when things don’t work out the way some people would like them to, watch out.
Sometimes you just can’t please all the people all of the time.