Soccer's loyalty delusion


Players are labelled as 'disloyal' and 'traitors', but when the shoe's on the other foot, nobody seems to mind.

"I used to advertise my loyalty and I don't believe there is a single person I loved that I didn't eventually betray."

-Albert Camus, The Fall

There is an accepted notion and fact that football is no longer romantic. Once the sport turned into big business, it became a game of sponsorships and increasing ticket prices rather than a representation of middle-class workers and human passions. Real Madrid and Barcelona are making hundreds of millions from TV deals, buying the best players while their league deteriorates.

The EPL is marketed as the best league in the world; fans are charged outrageous money to attend games that, in the end, result in United winning the league by double digit points. All of this, the constant monetization of everything, the Sheikhs and Qatar Deals, unfair allocation of tickets, is carried out successfully because of the loyalty of the fans and at their. So it comes as no surprise that the fans, in their exile from the clubs, look to the players to reciprocate the same loyalty to the supporters that they show to their paychecks and fancy cars.

This would be a fair trade if the fans actually showed loyalty to the individual players. The problem with fans constantly bickering about the departure of player -- 'Judas' is not an unusual cry (which is just so unoriginal, there are so many more fun traitors than him) -- or describing journeymen players as 'mercenaries is that they don't.

Let's take the best case. For example, while The Godfather taught us that severing a horse's head can be an effective way of getting what you want, one Barcelona fan -- maybe for lack of a horse -- decided that a pig's head would do to show his displeasure at what he couldn't have. Figo, the first Galactico and a man of impeccable hair (rivaled only by one Mikel Arteta), who should be remembered for his mesmerizing skill on the ball and peerless vision is actually remembered by most for his so-called treachery in switching from the colors of Barcelona to the money-white of Real Madrid during the summer of 2000.

This demonstrates two things. Firstly that Barcelona fans are not too fond of Real Madrid, and less obviously; you can only be a Judas if you are a great player. Figo's betrayal was hurtful not only because of the dubious circumstances and the team he went to but because he was loved. And there is no such thing as a clean break-up when passion is involved.

Take for example Mikaël Silvestre and his move to Arsenal from Manchester United. How many were camped outside of training grounds to voice their displeasure? Now take Robin van Persie doing the same thing. Suddenly the anger is palpable and vociferous and more than a little bit terrifying.

This is all to prove that the fans are not loyal to the players but to their own passions. If they have no problem with Eduardo being sold to Shahktar after a leg injury, or lack sympathy for Barcelona toiling around with Kerrison's career, why should the players care about the feelings of the fans when it comes to switching clubs or asking for more money? Because you care more for one particular player does not mean that that player is then obligated to be loyal to you.

The truth is, there is a one-way street when it comes to loyalty as much as the fans are concerned. The fans are loyal to the club above us but reserve affection for certain players. There is no objection when weaker players, out-of-form players and troublesome ones are released, sold or demoted to obscurity.

The players though, are burdened with the expectation of being loyal to the club and the fans while having affection for both. The player should turn down a lucrative move to a rival, regardless of the club's ambitions and position and kiss the badge after goals to show that he cares. This all comes from the delusion that the player is a fan of the club as well as an employee.

And that's the central issue. In a case of curious cognitive dissonance, fans appear to believe that players -- like themselves -- grew up being fans of the clubs that they play for, rather than that the truth: That players play for their club because it was the most ideal situation at the time. Every person, player, fan, manager and owner wants to be as successful as humanly possible and most times "betrayal" is not too far from this drive. What fans fail to admit is that most players who remain "loyal" are given incentives to do so.

While Paolo Maldini and Javier Zanetti are men of a different class, they were also handsomely rewarded for their loyalty in the form of pay raises and fancy cars. Daniele de Rossi is constantly being wooed by other clubs and Roma has done everything next to naming the club after him to keep him there. But some will say that there are still some players who bleed the teams colors, who are fans first and employees second, as if Steven Gerrard hadn't tried to leave Liverpool numerous times or as if Raul didn't play with the same smile in Schalke as he did at the Santiago Bernabeu.

The truth that fans need to accept is that all three parties here -- player, club, fan -- want the most ideal situation and that romance is sprinkled on top of the the dirty truth of pragmatism and money. Fans don't care if a player is treated unethically, as long as it's good for the team. Teams don't care if the fans are treated horribly as long as it brings in revenue and players should not be burdened with a false expectation of loyalty either because frankly, they're the most vulnerable of all three.

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