Modern-day footballers are often derided for their perceived “lack of loyalty”. Following the sacking of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea in December 2015 certain Chelsea players were singled out. Hazard, Costa and Fabregas were roundly booed, labelled “rats” and “snakes” by disgruntled fans. It was obvious, judging by the reaction of the Stamford Bridge faithful, who was the hero and who were the villains in this piece. It was not entirely unpredictable to see Chelsea fans turn on their players in this manner. It seems that the reputation of modern day footballers as “mercenaries” precedes them. Chelsea aren’t alone; fans from up-and-down the country will have similar tales of players turning their backs on the ones who love them.
Paul Pogba was slated when he left Manchester United for Juventus for not showing any loyalty to the club, despite leaving Le Havre for Old Trafford at a young age. Daniel Sturridge left Manchester City for Chelsea and was branded greedy. Perhaps if he’d have stayed he would’ve prospered under the oil-rich regime, but it is wholly hypocritical to call Sturridge greedy and disloyal, and then wonder why the likes of David Silva and Sergio Aguero all of a sudden want to sign for the club. If John Stones leaves Everton this summer, he’ll do doubt be branded a Judas by some Everton fans, even though they plucked him from boyhood club Barnsley. The loyalty card cannot be played only when it suits. The players your team signs aren’t always angels doing it for the love of the shirt, nor are the players that leave your club or join rivals “traitors” or “mercenaries”. Clubs, throughout the history of professional football, have thrived on cherry-picking talent from clubs lower down the pecking order. It’s the food chain, the circle of life, survival of the fittest.
At the highest level football is now a global game. Clubs have fans all over the world, players are followed by admirers who have never, and probably will never, see them play in the flesh. Clubs court followers on social media and seek to monetise the global appeal of football. The biggest clubs also go on lucrative, yet exhausting, world tours during pre-season and now post-season, to appease foreign markets and sponsors. Players are dragged halfway across the globe and then we wonder why they are knackered. Kick-off times of big matches, such as the FA Cup and Champions League finals, are changed to suit the needs of the TV viewer in far-flung places.
Players now come from all over the world as part of the machine that is the “global game”. Therefore, how can we expect them to be loyal? Manchester United’s “Class of ’92”, John Terry at Chelsea and Jamie Carragher at Anfield stayed loyal to one club for the majority of their careers but they are the exception rather than the rule. Academies now take in players from all over the globe rather than from the local high school or council estate. Managers are chopped and changed with regularity, and players move on just as quickly.
I find it galling when fans have their noses put out of joint when a player shows an alleged lack of loyalty, but are more than happy to turn their backs on managers when things aren’t going well. This season in the Premier League we’ve waved goodbye to Gary Monk, Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho, all of whom were the flavour of the month 12 months ago. Louis Van Gaal was hailed as some sort of messiah who saved the club from the calamity that was David Moyes’ tenure. Two years later and the same entitled fans want him gone and replaced with the Master of Disaster himself, yep, the aforementioned Mr. Jose Mourinho.
Life is full of stepping stones. Everyone is trying to better themselves, for their own benefit and that of their family. Would you stay loyal to your place of work if a more successful company in the adjoining office offered to double your money? But it’s not a company, it’s a football team! We’re emotionally invested! Don’t expect this to apply to the players, in the same way you wouldn’t be attached to a club on the other side of the planet. Yes, when a player spends considerable time at a club you’d expect him to find some sort of affinity with the fans. But fans can be a fickle bunch. If they can turn on a player in the blink of an eye, why can’t he do the same?
In any walk of life, people are looking to climb whatever their particular pyramid is. Football is no different. Championship players want to play in the Premier League, National League refs would jump at the chance to officiate in Leagues One and Two, and Sunday League players want to play semi-pro. Modern day footballers are like ships in the night. They will come and go, depending on where the tide of money, game time and trophies may take them. They won’t lose any sleep over it, and nor should you.
Follow Dan on Twitter @winkveron