Image courtesy of worthofread.com
Image courtesy of worthofread.com

‘Anyone talking about ‘loyalty’ in football needs a reality check….clubs & players lack loyalty these days…it’s a business now 100%.’ – Rio Ferdinand on Twitter.

Fans often complain of the lack of loyalty shown by players and clubs these days.  The older ones fondly remember the days when players would go through their whole careers playing for one club or how teams would pick the same eleven every match, rather than axing players from the side every week.  However, some people (including Ferdinand) feel that loyalty is purely a thing of the past and that people need to have ‘a reality check’.  But is he right?

It is certainly true enough that you seldom get players spending their whole careers at one club, or that you get teams picking the same eleven even in consecutive weeks, let alone for a season.  But is this a true reflection of loyalty.  Even the most old-fashioned fan would have to admit that players like Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez were loyal.  Puyol served his home-town club, Barcelona for 17 years, whereas Xavi served them for 18 years.  Puyol was a one club player and Xavi has waited until he was 35 before moving to pastures new – namely Al Sadd in Qatar.  This is true loyalty in football, with both players being lnked with big moves away from the Nou Camp for more money, but they both stayed put and were rewarded with four Champions’ Leagues and eight La Liga Titles apiece.

Some might say it is far easier to remain loyal to a club enjoying plenty of success than it is to be loyal to a club that is struggling.  In truth, there are fewer examples of these players, but when they come along they are all the more loved by the fans.  A perfect example of this type of player is Steve Harper; he spent 20 years at Newcastle, and was only the first choice goalkeeper for two of those seasons.  However, he still devoted the best part of his career to his home club before moving on to Hull in 2013 to get first team football.  However, he was instantly made backup again for Alan McGregor and was finally released and retired at the end of the 2014-15 season, at the age of 40.  This is true football loyalty, and he was rewarded by getting a testimonial at Newcastle in which club legends such as Alan Shearer and Nolberto Solano featured.

Unfortunately, however, not all players are like this.  You only have to look at players like Ashley ‘Cashley’ Cole to see that footballers are often driven by motives other than loyalty.  In August of 2006, Cole made a move from Arsenal to Chelsea, justifying it in his autobiography with this: ‘Ash! Are you listening?’ said Barnett, my agent. ‘I’m here in the office and David Dein is saying that they aren’t going to give you £60k a week. They’ve agreed £55k and this is the best and final offer. Are you happy with that?’

Cole was not. ‘I nearly swerved off the road. “He is taking the p***, Jonathan!” I yelled down the phone. I was so incensed. I was trembling with anger. I couldn’t believe what I’d heard.’

Cole had just been offered an annual salary of £2.86 million, and claimed it was ‘taking the p***.  If he had got his £60k a week, he would have had an annual salary of £3.12 million and, honestly, if you are being paid that much anyway is there really too much difference between those two sums for a millionaire?  For this one, there clearly was, and he went off to one of Arsenal’s main rivals, Chelsea, earning £90,000 a week and being hated by every one of the Gunners’ supporters.  A more rounded individual may have wondered if it was really worth the rise, but Cole never looked back.

Although the players are generally the ones accused of having no loyalty, the clubs are also often at fault. For example, at the end of the 2014-15 season, it came the time when clubs had to decide which players contracts they wanted to renew and which they wanted to release.  Newcastle United, showed absolutely no loyalty in that situation, when they came to the decision that they would not renew the contracts of Ryan Taylor and Jonas Gutierrez, amongst others.  However, instead of both players being called into the manager’s office and having it explained to them why they were being released, Taylor received a phone call in which he was bluntly told that his contact wouldn’t be renewed and then asked to pass the phone to recent cancer patient, Gutierrez so he could be told the same.

This showed no loyalty whatsoever to the players, and episodes like that help fans to understand why a player might not make too many sacrifices to remain at a club if there is a chance that he will be treated like that.  You can feel sure that something like that would never have happened 30 or 40 years ago.  A player would have been called in a had everything laid out before him as to why he would not be staying on, not just told on someone else’s phone, miles away from the club at a moment’s notice.

This would suggest that there is little loyalty in football, and that Ferdinand is correct in that it has become a franchise.  Certainly, a couple of decades ago, there would have been no notion of a club spending over €100 million on one Welsh footballer, and not long before that there would have been no prospect of even buying out a player’s contract.  Teams simply would have had to wait until the player was out of contract before the manager would ask him nicely if he would come and play for their team instead – not offer him signing on fees and agent fees and whatever else is involved in modern contracts.  I feel that that is the period when there was true loyalty in football.

In conclusion, I agree with Ferdinand that there is no loyalty in football anymore.  It is now a franchise and players do have to guard themselves against unfair treatment by clubs, sometimes by moving on sooner than they first intended.  However, there are still some examples of loyalty in football, and I think those show that the fans have not forgotten about loyalty and passion for a club, which is why these players who are loyal are held in such high regard by the supporters of their teams.  I feel we should try and hold on to the current loyal player, and encourage younger players that loyalty is a good thing, because that might at least slow the process of football turning into a business rather than a sport.

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