The idea that, culturally, football has reached a stage where it is totally acceptable to leave one club for another in search of money is an objectionable one. What appears to be universally accepted though is that players will move clubs in order to win trophies. At what point did it become customary to ditch a club that has shown you nothing but loyalty because trophies were hard to come by?
Somewhere over the last twenty years good players began to believe that being an exceptional footballer gave them a divine right to win trophies. Instead of feeling as though they were lucky to play for a certain club and would do everything they could to bring glory to that club the roles have somehow been reversed.
Now the focus seems to be almost solely on the wants and needs of the individual. These days, clubs feel as though they are lucky to have certain players and will do everything they can to attend the needs of their players. This is unhealthy to say the least.
For clubs like Arsenal to have gone from captains like Tony Adams, who famously stated that he would sign any contract Arsenal would put in front of him without even reading it, to Robin van Persie, who in the summer months wouldn’t sign a contract at Arsenal no matter how many they put in front of him, is a sad indictment of both player power and the lack of club loyalty.
Now, many will argue that it was easy for Adams to say such things when he knew that Arsenal were winning trophies. However, the counter argument would be that his attitude was the catalyst for the trophies, not the other way around.
All clubs will go through dry patches in their history but they will usually recover if their players remain loyal. Look at Allesandro Del Piero and Gianluigi Buffon. They were both at Juventus when the club was relegated yet remained there for years whilst the club tried to regain its position at the top of Italian football. And, last year, they were rewarded with a league title.
How many players in the Premier League would do that for their club? Not many, if any at all. And the most remarkable thing is that whilst players believe they will be better remembered for winning more trophies the likelihood is that Del Piero will be remembered far more fondly, and with far more respect, for staying at Juventus during hard times and helping them back to the top than he would have done had he left and won a couple more trophies. His actions displayed a level of effort and humility that is lacking from the vast majority of top footballers.
There’s more to being a great player than winning things. Just because a player wins a trophy it doesn’t make them great. Take Djimi Traore, for example. He has a Champions League winner’s medal – he’s not a great player. Then look at somebody like Matt Le Tissier. He doesn’t have a single winners medal from his professional career, but he will be remembered as a great player.
I’m not saying that any player that moves club because they have ambitions of winning trophies is disloyal. However, when players are already at big clubs, they should try to help that club win trophies before they jump ship.
Winning major competitions should be a challenge, it should be a remarkable achievement and it should be something that players can be proud of for the rest of their lives. Therefore if a player, like so many are, is content to move to another club and play a bit part role in order to win a trophy then perhaps they should take a step back and question their motives for wanting to win something at all – is it as impressive and satisfying to win something in which you played little part?
More and more we are seeing this morally questionable behaviour from players who owe a lot to the club they leave behind. Like I said, ambition is fine, yet in modern football it seems that players are allowed to use their desire to win trophies as an excuse to get away with frankly inexcusable displays of ingratitude and disloyalty. Football used to be about representing a club and a community that you loved, about sharing the highs and lows of a career with that team.
Perhaps the ever widening, incredibly evident gap between players and fans means that players no longer feel that bond that should inspire them to work hard for a club. Perhaps the deifying of footballers by fans has played its part in their selfish, narcissistic behaviour patterns or perhaps footballers have unconsciously bought in to the culture of needing immediate and constant success. Whatever the case, in a world where we revere footballers more than ever they seem less and less concerned about what we think.