Loyalty in Football: It should cut both ways
I’ve been a loyal supporter of my football club for as long as I can remember, not that it’s difficult to be loyal to a club who’ve won pretty much every trophy going since 1990. Yes, I’m a Manchester United supporter and have been since my Dad told me that’s who I’m going to support when I was a young boy.
There is plenty of arrogance within the fans of the club I support but I regard myself as a realistic football fan. I’m willing to appreciate the efforts of other teams and recognise the deficiences of my own. I take refereeing decisions on their merits and do not think, in the words of the ever so slightly cringeworthy chant, “We’re Man United, we’ll do what we want”.
This post is not about me, my wider views on football or why I support the team I do, however, so I’ll get to the point:
Loyalty in football is a funny thing. We demand it of players who play for our club. We even look with disdain at players of other clubs if they’re perceived of being disloyal. It’s a conundrum that doesn’t usually infiltrate other walks of life.
To put it bluntly, we expect an employee of a company to stay working for that company no matter what. If they’re out of the team, they should stay. If they’ve been injured for a while and have just come back but want to leave, they should stay. We have this strange view that these people, who have a limited shelf-life in their profession, should pander to the wants of the people who encourage them week in, week out. We think it should work both ways. We are loyal fans, aren’t we?
I was talking to my Dad on the phone earlier on in the week about Manchester United and the performance of the team recently. You may have noticed, my club lost 6-1 at home to our local rivals, a result unprecidented in recent history. I’m lucky enough to go to a few matches (though not that one) and get to see the players at first hand on a fairly regular basis. The great thing about being at a game is that you can watch what a player is doing even when the camera isn’t on him or if he’s anywhere near the ball.
One player I’ve particularly appreciated having in my side for the past 9 years in Rio Ferdinand. He is in the midst of a spectacularly successful career having won the Champions League, 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups as well as being named in the Premier League team of the year on 4 occassions (with a further occasion while at his previous club). He’s played 81 times for England and has captained his country.
During my phone call, I decided that Rio was finished. He’s slow, appears to have lost some influence within the team, cannot organise the defence and increasingly needs to be organised himself by his central defensive partner. I was saying that a talented youngster needs to come into the team to replace him; Chris Smalling, in case you’re interested. My Dad generally agreed with my thoughts.
Later on, I was thinking about players who’ve played for the club with great distinction who are then sold or have retired. It’s so easy to forget those players who were genuine favourites. Maybe it’s something about supporting the club I do – 4 out of 5 times, a player of similar skill comes into replace them. Maybe I wouldn’t feel the same if I supported, say, Sheffield Wednesday. I’d be pining for the early 90’s when they were a good top-flight team and comparing players like Waddle and Woods with Prutton and Weaver with a tear in my eye!
I was thinking about players like Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Andrei Kanchelskis. Great players but do we miss them? Not really. We have our new favouites now. Only watching old videos can bring back the memories of these players. Even recent departures like Wes Brown and John O’Shea. We loved them and although we’d like to see them do well elsewhere, we don’t really miss them.
Sometimes you can spot something coming. I think Rio is genuinely on a downward slope, which is a terrible shame, but in a couple of years when Smalling or Jones are partnering Vidic at centre back, will we miss him? Probably not.
We demand loyalty from the players at our football clubs but as soon as they start showing signs of slowing down, we turn our backs. Is it any wonder that players are most often out for themselves?