The Wonga Saga at Newcastle appears to show no signs of slowing down, as Saturday The Mirror reported that Newcastle are poised to force forward Papiss Cisse to train alone until he ends his personal boycott of the new shirt sponsor. Cisse is refusing to wear Wonga gear because he believes their controversial business practices are in conflict with his Muslim beliefs. Islam, like several other major religions, prohibits the practice of usury.
It should be noted that international players won't technically report until Monday, so it will be a couple of days before we know for sure whether or not this story has any actual teeth.
If it does and Cisse is separated from his teammates for the start or training, I believe Newcastle officials will have missed the mark. The situation is undoubtedly a sticky one for Newcastle, who understandably would like to see all of their players in compliance with their contract so they can receive their money. However, they have chosen (if the report is true) to handle the conflict poorly.
Forcing players to train alone after they have committed some public transgression has become a normal punishment in today's football climate, but that doesn't mean it makes any sense. If questioned on the subject, I have no doubt that Alan Pardew would say that this is an off the pitch problem for the front office to worry about, and he'd be right - except that it will become an on-pitch problem if Cisse cannot train with the rest of the squad. In other words, this treatment of the problem only serves to exacerbate the problem, not solve it. By punishing the player and scapegoating him in the media (essentially what this action accomplishes), they are sending the message not only to Papiss but to the rest of the players that corporate interests rule the day over personal concerns. There's something to be said about prioritizing the team over the individual, but if the individual doesn't believe his religious rights are being respected, ill will is fostered.
You and I don't have to agree with Cisse about Wonga's business practices, but as a fellow human being, I respect his right to act in favor of his conscience. If club officials feel that corrective action is necessary, I hope that they have a better plan than publicly alienating their best striker and hoping to wait him out.