Is his loyalty to be admired at Newcastle United?

Steve HarperWhen Robin Van Persie moved across the Premier League from Manchester United to Arsenal there were cries of “traitor” from the Emirates. The supporters in North London were disgusted that when their star asset came good after years of injury toil, he decided to jump ship. There has been a clamour from football supporters for their players to be loyal and stick out the course of their career with one club but is it for the best?

That is debatable when you consider Steve Harper. The Newcastle goalkeeper has just announced he is set to retire from football at the end of this campaign. Harper was a proud man who has stuck his time out with the Magpies through thick and thin, always stepping in admirably when called upon. Is he respected for it?  I am not convinced.

He may get a few pat on the backs on Tyneside and kind words from the older generation. They may say “they don’t make footballers like you these days” implying that his loyalty to Newcastle was worthwhile, nothing more though. This is because he ultimately didn’t achieve success.

There will be blanket statements such as “with the greatest of respects to Steve” from supporters to sugar coat the truth which is that he has wasted his career by staying at Newcastle.

It may be harsh to say but he will always be remembered for being a number two who could never stamp his mark as a number one.

This is a stark lesson to all modern footballers. They are only in the limelight for 10-15 years and they have to be able to sit down at the end of their careers with pride at what they have achieved.

A huge motivator in the modern game is ambition which is why footballers move on to different clubs. It is a career just like any other. Those that stand still and rest on their laurels in one place are often forgotten and are punished in some shape or form.

We may bemoan when our players leave, but when they signed for an astronomical Premier League wage surely we can’t believe they moved to our clubs purely to kiss the beloved badge when they score.

The fans may accuse footballers of being selfish but unless Harper ends up coaching or managing at St James’s Park who will soon be forgotten as an ex footballer. Even if this were to happen, Harper’s achievements as a player would be swiped to the side and his legacy would lie in how well he managed. He may have given 20 years of service to the Magpies but in 20 years from now it is highly likely future generations won’t have a clue who he is.

Every season the Premier League moves on from the previous campaign at a rapid rate of knots only focussing on the present. Last season Man City were the envy of everyone now people are questioning if they will even threaten next season. There is a fickle nature to the way fans follow the so shouldn’t footballers be granted the same luxury.

There may be initial judgement for the mercenary nature of players like Nicolas Anelka or Craig Bellamy for their willingness to achieve results, and find form. The reality is though that were always in demand because of this, clubs would queue up for their services. This can’t be all bad. These players always had aspects to their game which would keep them in the limelight. Their characters may have been questioned but they tried to achieve success. Surely taking gambles is important rather than staying put, in what we should respect?

Newcastle will remember their cult hero’s but Harper will not be one of them and if players will want their careers to have longevity and achieve, they need to move on if need be. Shola Ameobi also falls into the same category as the soon to retire Newcastle veteran keeper. He should have secured consistent game time away from St James’s Park a long time ago. He will be remembered as turning up on Derby day. That is his sum total of what he will leave behind when he hangs up his boots.

David Beckham is often seen as a role model on and off the pitch, isn’t part of the reason for this for his ability to consistently adapt? He has been written off at various points as being finished yet has bounced back to deliver the goods hence why he is so regularly lauded. Steve Harper instead decided to take the easy option and sit on the St James’s Park which is why his loyalty is not so admirable.

The footballers who are debating moving on in the early stages of their career may want to think that they could be the next Steve Harper if they stay put. It is not meant to be an unflattering tag but unfortunately it is.

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