Date: 12th May 2008 at 10:29am
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It was officially announced last Friday that Jon Harley will be leaving Burnley after failing to agree terms over a new contract. Harley who was out-of-contract this summer,had been offered a new deal to remain at Turf Moor.

A short statement was issued by the official site with a few quotes from the gaffer, Owen Coyle as follows:

‘We offered John a new deal and unfortunately we cannot agree terms,’ said Coyle.

‘Subsequently, he will be moving on and we wish him well in his career elsewhere.’

The sad news hit the editor of Vital Burnley on about his sixth pint of real ale at the Clarets Trust Beer festival. Most of the remaining time at the Festival was spent discussing the situation with fellow Clarets fans.

It was perhaps a surprise he was offered a new contract in the first place. Many Clarets fans had convinced themselves he would be leaving in the close season in any case with Leeds often mentioned as a club that would be interested in signing the former Chelsea, Fulham and Sheffield United left-back.

The writing on the wall seemed to be confirmed also when Harley was not proposed in the short-list for the Club’s Player of the Year awards. Many thought he had a far better season than Graham Alexander on the opposite flank, one of the candidates for the award.

A few suspicions were also raised when Harley failed to make the sixteen in quite a number of the last few games. The rationale given by the club was that the player was injured. The injuries also straddled the missed Southampton game, when Harley had to rush his child to hospital on matchday. There was no reason to doubt anything the club said in my opinion but maybe you can understand some of the conspiracy theories being put about at that time especially when his replacement, Stephen Jordan was not playing particularly well.

Harley however was in the starting eleven for the last game of the season against Palace, so some of the doubts were put to one side especially when it was then also announced that Harley had been offered a new contract. Clarets fans were now hopeful Jon Harley would still be a Clarets player next season.

Harley arrived from Sheffield United in August 2005 signing a three-year contract. He cost the club £75,000 with another £75,000 to be paid based on appearances.

He started off well for the club and was named Burnley FC’s Player of the Year in 2005/6.

Harley’s trademark is probably his attacking flair and is often found running forward to offer support down the left-wing. He is also often involved in the free kick strategies.

Jon Harley,remained almost ever-present during his second season with Burnley although Clarets fans were becoming more vocal in their criticism of the player most notably during that dreadful run of nineteen games without a win.

It was perhaps no surprise therefore that Cotterill brought in a new left back, Stephen Jordan during the close season of 2007. At the start of the 2007-08 season, Harley found himself playing in the position of left-sided midfield or starting on the bench, replaced by Jordan. Luckily for Harley, an injury to Jordan allowed him to regain his place and he looked much sharper.

It is also rather interesting to note that the return of Harley also co-incided with the departure of Cotterill. Owen Coyle arrived in November. Harley was named as the left back in his first match against Stoke at home and maintained his place for most of the remainder of the season. He was in the starting eleven for the next 21 matches (just 2 in midfield). Harley was only absent in four of the 32 games played under Coyle this season.

So why did he refuse to sign a new contract? It is unlikely we will ever know the real reason but speculation would suggest it was financial. The Clarets are relatively low down on the salaries they are prepared to offer and many times we are told we haven’t been able to sign the players we want because it would mean breaking the wage structure.

Maybe Harley already has a better offer lined up. Could that club be Leeds? Perhaps they are waiting to see how the play-offs pan out for the Yorkshire club.

If Harley, now 28 drops down to the lower leagues, it would be difficult to see how such clubs could match Harley and his agent’s salary expectations. A club like Leeds if promoted could perhaps provide the right deal, only time will tell.

Of course, this is assuming money was the issue that prevented a new contract being agreed. There may have been personal issues or maybe the length of contract on offer was not acceptable to Harley and his agent.

The problems that the loss of Harley could lead to seem to be mainly two-fold:

1. We now need a new left back. We have Stephen Jordan, but he has been relatively poor and inconsistent this season, despite the earlier promise. Unless, Jordan suddenly hits form, I would not be comfortable at all with Jordan in that position all season. We certainly need competition in that area.

2. What sort of message is it sending out to other players we might be wanting to attract to the club? The club appear to have a reputation for paying low wages and indeed they do. Cotterill seemed to be able to sell the club, despite this fact. Coyle is unproven and now needs to find ways of ensuring players of the right quality that we really want can be attracted to the club and deals thrashed out. We wanted Whelan in the January window but lost out to Stoke. Their wage structure was more ambitious and look what benefits they reaped.

I wanted to keep Harley and I am sure I am not alone. At the Beer Festival, many fans were disappointed although by the same token many were in many ways relieved a deal had failed. Harley’s inconsistency over the last few seasons and the fact that our defence has been woeful far too many times this season, did not help his case.

Oh well, we wish Harley well and thank him for his contribution as a Claret.