Newcastle striker Papiss Cisse will be fined £5,000 for refusing to wear a Wonga-sponsored kit (£41,847 if he doesn’t pay by Tuesday). Jokes aside, the Cisse debacle is the latest stop in the Newcastle summer circus, and a major talking point on Tyneside.
Cisse left the Toon’s Portuguese training camp in acrimonious fashion this week, having refused to don the Wonga branded team shirt on religious grounds. It’s a decision that has polarised public opinion. Some people are praising Cisse for his piety, and for putting the proverbial finger up at a vile and predatory pay-day loan company.
Others are labeling Cisse a hypocrite, as he was happy to wear a shirt sponsored by Virgin Money last season. Wonga is more overt and unscrupulous in its operations, visibly crippling those who have nothing to give, whereas Virgin Money is more subtle. But if Islam forbids all money lending for profit out of principle, then the precise scale of operations are irrelevant.
The Cisse case shouldn’t turn in to Wonga diatribe, but it’s hard to ignore the company’s clever albeit unsavoury marketing move. They’re sponsoring a club in the North-East – one of the most socially deprived, unemployment-rife regional enclaves – in a hope to drum up custom. According to the trade organisation for insolvency professionals R3, the region boasts the nation’s highest personal insolvency rate with 35.2 per 10,000 adults.
You wouldn’t find Wonga – a legal loan-shark with all the ruthlessness of a live casino for financially crippling its customers – sponsoring Chelsea. Some criticism has to be directed at Newcastle, whose multicultural player recruitment drive seems discordant with its corporate decision to partner with a firm whose unethical practices are loathed and forbidden by many cultures the world over.
From a footballing perspective, the Cisse conundrum is a new headache for a club struggling to make moves in the transfer window. Upon being appointed director of football, Joe Kinnear went on a two-week sojourn to Sardinia. His only action has been to veto the signing of FC Twente centre-back Douglas – a player of Champions League calibre – on the grounds that he hadn’t heard of them.
After a metronomic first season where he bagged 13 goals in 14 games, Cisse’s return last year was a far more modest 8 league goals. But a decision to part with Cisse will leave Newcastle really thin up front, having sold Demba Ba to Chelsea in January. And as Cisse cuts a lonely figure back on the Newcastle training ground, it remains to be seen how Newcastle’s Muslim duo of Hatem Ben Arfa and Cheick Tiote react to Wonga-fication.
Seville handled Freddie Kanoute’s refusal to wear a kit sponsored by 888 casino on religious grounds with tact, allowing him to don an un-branded shirt during games. Given Newcastle’s precarious way of dealing with player politics – Pardew recently blasted his French contingent for not learning English – a smooth resolution looks unlikely.
By Sam Miranda – you can follow him on Twitter.