William Gallas’ move to Tottenham from Arsenal is the most recent example of a footballer who has chosen to make the rarely travelled journey across into enemy lines. Gallas’ choice to join Arsenal’s greatest and most hated rival has got me thinking whether football players care about the fans when they cross the divide.
On first glance, it can easily be assumed that it takes a certain type of player to make such a provocative move. Only a player with no integrity, no honour and no shame would even contemplate the idea of playing for your most bitter rivals. That image was brought about by the machinations of a certain Sol Campbell following his highly acrimonious free transfer from Tottenham to Arsenal.
Campbell was adored by the White Hart Lane faithful for most of his time at Tottenham until the defender allowed his contract to run out and join Tottenham’s biggest rival Arsenal, leaving Spurs with no money for their most prized player. From that moment on, Campbell ceased to be remembered with fondness by the Tottenham fans and will now and forever be remembered as the biggest traitor in club history.
New signing William Gallas mirrored Campbell’s move across North London but his transfer has been met with little resistance from the Spurs fans. Firstly, it is because Gallas was a free transfer at a position where Tottenham are looking a bit thin following question marks over Ledley King’s fitness, Jonathan Woodgate’s long term injury woes and Sebastien Bassong’s consistency. Gallas is an experienced centre back with a wealth of Premier League experience and he would provide much needed depth at an important position. Gallas did look out of sorts at times for Arsenal but Tottenham would provide Gallas with a new challenge and hopefully help him to recapture some of the form that we saw during his time with Chelsea.
Of course Gallas knows about the animosity between the Arsenal and Tottenham fans but his move has caused little controversy as he is not a player who has come to be associated with the club. His move was predicated on the need for a new challenge and not the need to antagonise the Arsenal or Tottenham fans.
Like Gallas and Campbell, Alan Smith is another player who crossed the divide but he did so for different reasons. Smith was a young player with huge potential and Leeds were on the verge of administration and facing a financial crisis. Leeds desperately needed to sell some of their prized assets in order to survive and this is what they did. Manchester United were the only club to match Leeds’ demands of paying the £7 million transfer fee in full rather than in instalments. Heartbreaking though it was for Smith, he had to accept the deal or else Leeds would have been plunged into financial turmoil. As a gesture of good faith, Smith waived the signing on fee due to his from Leeds but this did not stop the fans from reacting with anger at his decision to join Manchester United.
Smith’s decision to leave his boyhood club was fuelled partly by necessity and also by his own ambition. With Leeds facing relegation and needing to sell their best players, they were a club facing a dark and uncertain future. Joining Manchester United would mean Smith could play in Premier League as well as the Champions League with his future playing at the highest level secured.
The modern day workplace is characterised by opportunity and football is no different. Players routinely move clubs for the prospect of earning more money or for a more important role within an organisation. However, due to the high profile nature of professional sportsmen, there is a standard of loyalty that is unprecedented in any other profession. The reason that this standard has come to pass is due to the passion that we as fans have for the game.
For many of us fans, the club we support is for life. We stick with our clubs through thick and thin. So it angers us when we see some of those players we passionately support mock our loyalty by looking to move whenever things aren’t going so well.
In today’s increasingly player-centric game, footballers will look to do what is best for them and their career and if it means angering some of the fans that used to worship them, then it is a small price to pay.
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