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It's OK for Napoli fans to call Gonzalo Higuaín a traitor

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He did what was best for him, but only after invoking the name of Diego Maradona and declaring he was about something other than titles and money.

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Gonzalo Higuaín has committed the ultimate betrayal in soccer. He has the left the city, the team and the people that he proclaimed to love, for their biggest rivals. As their best striker and player, he has taken with him their hopes of challenging Juventus in the league, their ambitions for the upcoming season, and most of all, their happiness.

From a personal perspective, and this defense has crept up a bunch, what he has done is a good move. He’s going to a better team, where he’s almost guaranteed a league title and a much better opportunity to win bigger games, and maybe even a trophy in Europe. He’s upgraded and if we were to be reasonable, there’s no reason for his choice to be so upsetting.

In a perfect world, we would read the news that Higuaín has moved from Napoli to Juventus for over €90 million and think that all sides won in the deal. Juventus get a great striker, regardless if he’s balding or not, to further their European ambitions. And on the opposite end, Napoli get an absurd amount of money for a 28-year-old player. Money that they can re-invest in the squad to stay competitive and build for the future. Higuaín himself gets to be in a better situation all around as well.

Sports just does not work like that though, and to ask Napoli fans to see this move as reasonable is offensive. Barcelona fans didn’t shrug their shoulders when Luís Figo moved to Real Madrid; they threw a pig’s head at him. Fernando Torres wasn’t welcomed back with open arms when he played against Liverpool; Daniel Agger elbowed him in the face. Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Cesc Fàbregas and Ashley Cole aren’t spoken of in endearing terms by Arsenal fans; they’re mentioned in the same way that one talks about their really gross and regrettable teenage years. And there’s nothing wrong with any of it.

It’s not just loyalty that brings out the hatred, it’s love.

That’s what makes the entire spectacle of sport watchable in the first place. No one would willingly go to a stadium to watch a collection of rich athletes run around for 90 minutes, fall over, cry and occasionally score goals if they weren’t emotionally invested.

When Higuaín moved to Napoli from Real Madrid, he said all the right things. He tugged at the hearts of the fans. He talked of working hard for them, of showing his love and gratitude for the opportunity and he hit the ultimate emotional chord: He spoke of emulating Diego Maradona in leading them to a title.

You just don’t do that to someone. You don’t manipulate them to give over their heart because it’s convenient for you, and then leave them right at the edge of success. And if you do, at least not for their direct rivals. Donell Jones summarized the feeling perfectly in "Where I Wanna Be":

But when you love someone

You just don't treat them bad

Oh, how I feel so sad

Now that I wanna leave

She's crying her heart to me

How could you let this be?

I just need time to see

Where I wanna be

When athletes do what Higuaín has done, it elicits an extreme emotional reaction on the opposite end of that love. And emotions aren’t reasonable. Jerseys/kits are burned, pictures are defaced, protests are organized and the perpetrator is labeled a Judas. The greatest traitor of them all. Which works not only to demonize the one who hurt them, but to sanctify the hurt group as well -- painting them as Jesus Christ, the one who did and could do no wrong. See? Extreme.

The whole spectacle of it is silly. Thousands of people crying and burning the jersey/kit of a man who barely knows them because he changed employers and did what was best for his career. But again, we crossed the line of silliness a long time ago when we decided to pay good money to watch people play with balls.

Sometimes the reaction does go overboard, and bigotry is revealed within the frustration. Those people should be shamed like the idiots that they are.

The others, though, have that right to be mad. Anyone who has ever had their hearts broken will testify that public embarrassment is almost a required part of the coping process. You do feel betrayed, as if you were sold a dream which eventually turned out to be a scam. Clean breaks from long, fruitful relationships are the exception. Even their moving on feels like a personal attack. Higuaín evoked Maradona, knowing what the legend meant to the fans, and they loved and protected him because they believed he felt the same way towards them as Maradona did/does. He might, but it’s hard to believe so with this move.

Some will understand and not be bothered by the move. Most will never forgive him. There will also be neutrals on each end: those that welcome the superteam that is Juventus and others who see their gluttony as detrimental to an already faltering league. Of course, the cool, super smart guys who don’t see why there’s even a problem in the first place will have their say as well, because they always do.

He’s now officially divisive, in line with politics, religion and Adriano Galliani’s transfer market strategy. It’s really easy to laugh and poke fun at the reaction of the Napoli fans, and to posture as superior for knowing that logically, what Higuaín did was just a good business decision. No one debates that. But the moment that he was signed and he stood there and promised the fans all the successes in the world and more, the kit burning and Judas smears were always on the books. When he asked them to love him with all of their heart, it was assumed to be mutual.

It is apparently not. Pig heads, elbows and mural defacements are consequences of that revelation. It’s not ideal, but if we can’t ugly cry in public after losing one of the best players in our team’s history, then we may as well just end the sport now.