Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Era of the Mercenary

Loyalty is a dying breed in modern day football. Whether it is the money, the mind set, locality or just natural progression of the game, gone are the days when a team could buy a player and expect him to want to remain at the club for the rest of his career.

We are now living in a society which is expectant of continued advancement, whether it be individually or collectively. As an individual you are aiming to make the best of life and in general all are aiming for that next promotion or next step up the ladder, usually accompanied by the highest salary possible. So when footballers do it, it should be no surprise.

Speaking to a number of Arsenal fans and their reaction to the sales of Francesc Fabreagas and Samir Nasri it was interesting to note the regard in which they held both players. One player is considered Judas whilst the other’s decision is respected on the whole. It is strange that considering both players were agitating for a move away all summer they could be treated with such a difference of opinion.

$amir Na$ri completes his move to Man City. on Twitpic
Here are two players who have forced a transfer through as they approach the peak of their careers yet only ones loyalty is called into question. In fact it has been argued that it was pure loyalty on Fabregas’ part that made him want to leave Arsenal. In fact this is the very level of loyalty that is seemingly missing in modern day football.

Here is a player who in spite of money, guaranteed play time and heroic status chose to return to his boyhood team. It has cost him financially but his loyalty to Barcelona cannot be called into question. The strange thing is many Arsenal fans appreciate this show of loyalty even if it was to the determent of their team. The question a lot of them have is; “where are our loyal players?” It seems that English clubs across the country are struggling with “the ambition” of players, there is Luka Modric at Tottenham, Arsenal have had Samir Nasri and Francesc Fabregas, Liverpool had Torres and Manchester United had Ronaldo before that. These are players that are playing football at a high level at clubs which have been instrumental in making their careers and essentially are responsible for making the player. Despite this these players have shown their respective clubs a lack of respect in demanding moves away. Is this an issue of loyalty or is this just a consequence of the times we live in. Even in the wider world we are no longer looking at jobs for life and with much uncertainty in the financial world, an individual is only concerned with looking after number one, should we as fans and observers expect footballers to adhere to a higher standard. Or is this argument flawed.

Should we be expecting players with no concept of the history of the club, no geographical affinity, and no real loyalty to the club before signing to suddenly develop over time? Are these reasonable requests of people we do not know personally yet are then morally offended when these players feel their time has come to move to pastures they perceive greener.

Of course when money is the issue, the average fan who could only dream of earning what they earn in one week over the course of the year get infuriated when salary’s are the issue. I myself have felt that way and have heard “What’s the difference, it’s more money than you can spend anyway” sentiment thrown around on a regular basis. What we are forgetting is that the average footballer will retire at the age of 35 and earning potential is significantly reduced thereafter. Whilst I would accept that this should not be much of a worry for a player earning over £4m annually they have advisors which they trust who would be doing everything to maximise their representatives earning potental and in turn their own.

There are lots of issues involved when considering these players and their desire for departure. In the case of Arsenal’s, Liverpool’s and Tottenham’s players it is argued that this desire has nothing to do with earning potential but the desire is fuelled by their own ambition. This argument of course cannot be used in the case of Ronaldo and Manchester United, as he is unlikely to win, at least in the short term, the quantity of trophies he won at United.

So are there no loyal players left anymore? Is the era of a one club man coming to an end? I definitely do not think so. I feel the current state of affairs has arisen due to the reliance of overseas talent in the league. I for one moment am not suggesting anything as preposterous as caps on players due to nationality as I feel it is not only wrong at a political level but the fact that this will greatly reduce the quality of the Premier League. I do however feel that clubs which have a core of British players, have found it easier to keep hold of their key players, with Manchester United and Chelsea clear examples of this. Of course there will always be professional ambition and as such there will be players wanting to leave and players wanting to join your club, but by being blind to the fact that certain players are unlikely to give you their undivided loyalty is asking for a situation where people feel let down.

I as an Arsenal fan abhor Samir Nasri’s decision to leave us and his conduct afterwards. Should I have been surprised given the number of times it has happened to my club in recent years? Is that because they have all been foreign or is it mere coincidence?  Despite all of these questions it is clear that my view is clouded with regards to these transfers by my own passion.

So where does football go from here? Have we entered a perpetual cycle where by players will come and go as they please without any regard for the club or its best interests? There is certainly a risk that this can happen and if current trends in player recruitment continue it is difficult to imagine a situation where a player will be wholly committed to the team, in sickness and in health. Player’s loyalty is not a quality that is much sought after and if it is even considered when buying a player, it is usually an afterthought.

Players that come through the club of course have the potential to be more loyal to the club. They have that emotional connection to the club that is needed in order to be able to sacrifice certain things to stay at the club they love. Of course this represents its own problems in that there is no guarantee that players of the right ability will continually come through each clubs ranks. Even this though is not a guarantee in retaining players as they are not beyond the lures of greater riches.

On the other side of the spectrum, players are seen as commodities by the club and when they are deemed surplus to requirements they are usually, swiftly and ruthlessly gotten rid of.  In much the same way that players with financial incentives or otherwise want to leave the club, clubs are just as disloyal in the reverse. Surely this in itself justifies why players, in their short career, would like to further themselves the most they can both monetarily and in terms of accolades, if only to themselves.

We all know football fans have the potential to be incredibly fickle but perhaps the most hypocritical of all our sins is holding players to higher values then we ourselves follow. There is barely an entity in the world that would choose to reject an offer of higher value from a rival company. Are we then not expecting too much from our favourite footballers to do the same?

So, as fans do we need to change our expectations of footballers and come to the realisation that the modern footballer has lost the important quality of loyalty or should we continue to be hurt, upset and angry over these issues. Whilst it may seem on the surface futile and much of what I have written is pessimistic, I feel the fans need to continue this level of passion especially in these circumstances in the hope that we may be able to change the mindset of these footballers, even if it is very slightly. If fans drop their expectations that will only lead to a further decline in the loyalty of players and that is something the world of football cannot afford to do.

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