The word ‘loyalty’ is used less and less in contemporary times. Within the pages of the English Oxford Dictionary it is defined as “a strong feeling of support or allegiance”. Ah - so, even to this day, the word still remains and has a meaning?
I suppose it depends on the context; it is easy to be loyal when you are emotionally invested in the very thing that you are loyal too. Yet, professionalism suggests, one must act principally dispassionately whilst amongst the realms of business – ‘business’ being the operative word.
Let’s say that football is that context: as an entity, it is just a business. Within it however, can spring many loyalties depending on the particular people involved. There may be loyalty to clubs, to specific managers, even loyalty to those involved all the way up the ladder at the pinnacle of the boardroom.
In previous years of an ideal existence, when players were playing for the love of the sport, loyalty was everywhere; you still had a few who were never content no matter where they ended up but, in the main, most were happy in the knowledge that nothing; not money, not trophies could assure them peace of self.
The most recent exhibition of unbridled loyalty that I can remember came a few years back when a young Steven Gerrard, basking in the prime of his footballing career, turned down a big money move to Champions at the time, Chelsea, whist practically sitting in front of the contract with pen in hand.
Because of the change of heart, he sacrificed many more winners’ medals, most notably, that elusive Premier League crown his career has deserved.
Still, something within the noble Scouser; born and raised in the tough district of Huyton, North Liverpool, convinced him not to turn his back on the city; nor the team that has nurtured and stuck by him through his formative years as a rambunctious warrior, flying into unnecessary tackles with intent to do harm.
As it stands, because of this decision, it seems highly unlikely that he will ever receive a bumper pay rise or be granted an opportunity to heave the shapely sterling silver award joyously above his head.
Considering all that he has given up, Gerrard has stated frequently and obstinately that he made the right decision in his mind and heart. His regrets do not overshadow his accomplishments thus far, even after being linked with the most exclusive clubs in Europe.
Players are just not cut from the same cloth anymore; now there are only exceptional circumstances in which – most commonly – loyalties are based on wanton greed whilst only lasting a year or two before the novelty of the agreement wears off and the player becomes a thorn in everybody’s sides again.
Chant the names of these players and rub their heads as they celebrate amongst you all you want but that naff display of commitment as they smooch the team badge means little when the possibility for more illustrious glories – or, sadly, larger wages – come along.
In a way, can you blame them?
After all, football is a business and like any business, the primary objective for an employee is to make money and excel within it.
In the present day, Arsenal’s Robin Van Persie spent years injured during his time at the club, now that he has had a solitary unhampered season, he is prepared to leave. Fans of the club feel this way, consequently, they also feel entitled to a little show of loyalty.
Van Persie’s thinking is that he is in the prime of his career at the age of 29 yet he remains at a team that has dithered domestically and across Europe, always falling dramatically short on the big occasion.
Luka Modric was transformed at Spurs from a talented young player with potential into a world beater. Now he believes that he is destined for bigger things at a bigger club – that ‘bigger club’ is namely Real Madrid.
Comparatively, whilst Liverpool in 2005 were not as bad as Arsenal today, Chelsea were still the team to beat or join...yet he stayed.
Back in the same year, Real Madrid included Zidane, Roberto Carlos, Ronaldo and Robinho – arguably a better team that the Madrid of Modric’s desires today – and they desperately wanted Gerrard...yet he stayed.
There are reasons why it was easier for Gerrard to be devoted than it is for Van Persie or Modric: Firstly, as previously alluded to, Arsenal have struggled for cup success, now going a staggering seven years without adding silverware to their cabinet. Add to this Arsenal’s parsimonious wage structure and Gerrard’s decision – coming off the back of a remarkable comeback victory in Istanbul to win the Champion’s League – seems instantly more justifiable.
A similar situation can be attributed to Modric who fancies the opportunity of winning major honours, not merely the League Cup. Challenging for fourth spot isn’t nearly enough to quell his thirst anymore; Spurs have probably attempted to test his resolve with astronomical contracts but his situation doesn’t appear to be a purely financial orientated – more likely one of seeking prestige.
Another element that cannot be neglected is that Gerrard is very much Liverpool through and through. Foreign players stepping into clubs foreign to themselves with no prior connections will not always feel immediately faithful but can occasionally build an affinity with the club. It has happened many times before – with Zola and Chelsea, Di Canio and West Ham or Henry to Arsenal.
The same can be said for their lifestyles; with families who, changing climates and cultures overnight, often struggle to adapt and regain the level of comfort they once knew.
Pro's and con's
The only other issue to be weighed up is whether it benefits to keep these defectors or part ways immediately.
Teams have been known to continue to include these players in their plans, hoping for a good showing that could possibly raise their valuation somewhat for the future.
Sometimes teams will insist the player see out his legally binding agreement; even with transfer requests, there is still no absolute remit to sell.
These are exceptional instances. More commonly it is not wise to include a player in the plans of a team he has lost love for – it causes detrimental disruption – as almost occurred with the Fabregas, Nasri and Tevez debacles to their respective teams – and their frame of mind understandably isn’t right as they engineer a hasty way out.
Offering mercenaries boosted wages or signalling intent could sway their decision but ultimately clubs send out the message to the team, and rivals, that a single player is bigger than the entire franchise which should never by the perception.
It’s best to just cut losses – the players needed the club more than the club needed the players.
You needn’t move them on to direct rivals anyway if an inquiry comes from abroad so there is at least one olive branch to be gained from this.
Regrettably, the days of a ‘crest on the chest; motto on the heart’ – as my old gaffer used to say – are a distant memory.
Football is simply an unfeeling machine rather than a way of life; one where loyalty has taken a backseat to players who just don’t love the game for the right reasons anymore.
Does loyalty exist in football any more?
image: © wonker