Why player loyalty in Football is a myth

Players change clubs just like we change jobs

Dimitri Payet is a masterclass dribbler and arguably one of the best outfield players West Ham United have had in recent times. But one thing led to another and he wanted out. He asked for a transfer, stopped training, infuriated the coach and was dropped for the next match. The media pounced on this news like a shark would on fish.

Diego Costa is a natural finisher and riding the best wave of his career. A £49M-a-year offer from a Chinese club came along. One thing led to another and he asked for a transfer, bust up with the Chelsea coach and was dropped for the next match. The media pounced again like a shark would, this time on bigger fish.

Player loyalty or lack thereof has been touted as the next big problem in football in the aftermath of ridiculous offers from Chinese Super League clubs for some of world’s most famous footballers. Pundits and fans are reprimanding these footballers for their lack of loyalty and Chinese clubs for tapping up, and ruing the loss of a virtue from the beautiful game.

But did player loyalty ever exist in football? The Real Madrids and Manchester Uniteds of the world are themselves known to tap players up. The Chinese Super League is just playing the European leagues at their own game. Why are pundits crying hoarse then? At this moment, I can imagine critics citing Steven Gerrard and such as examples of loyal players and how they cannot be seen today. However, Gerrard certainly did not set out in his career to become a loyal player. He wanted to be a legendary player. He discovered that staying with the same club within England — where he knew most of the people and where his family was comfortable as opposed to moving to a foreign club where he might have found it difficult to adjust to the ways of football and life — was the path of least resistance to achieving single-club legendary status. Mother Teresa helped the poor not because that was her goal. She helped them because it made her happy. Everyone is selfish and selfishness is not always a bad thing. And if the critics still decry my Gerrard statement, let us not forget it was Gerrard himself who tried to push through a transfer just days after Liverpool dramatically beat AC Milan to lift the Champions League Trophy in 2005.

Even if player loyalty existed, the pundits’ views don’t make sense. According to them, loyalty is a conditional problem. Liverpool have been raiding Southampton for the past few seasons but pundits did not decry that habit. Probably because the players stayed in the same league. But now when players are leaving the English Premier League for China, it becomes a loyalty problem? That’s double standards.

It is normal for the common man to change jobs in corporate life. In fact, a move to another company involving higher pay is proudly shared with family and friends. Then why is such a move in football looked at with contempt?

Not every player move can be linked to lack of loyalty. There can be several reasons for a player leaving a club.

1. Excessive media scrutiny

No matter what the country or league, the media intensely tracks every move of well-known players both on and off the pitch. But sometimes this scrutiny becomes too much to handle. Luis Suarez reportedly left Liverpool because the British media hounded him, especially after his biting incident in the World Cup.

2. Lack of first team chances

Chicharito has seen first team chances few and far between during his stints at Manchester United and Real Madrid, despite being a prolific scorer throughout his career. What about loyalty of clubs towards their players?

3. Approaching the end of one’s career

Carlos Tevez has had a glorious career but at 32 years of age he may not have seen a better opportunity to make a high-profile switch with enormous wages. He signed for Shanghai Shenhua, a Chinese Super League side.

4. A bust up too embarrassing

A player can have disagreements with the coach or the staff and sometimes the best decision is to look for newer pastures. Andros Townsend’s move away from Tottenham Hotspur is an example.

5. Homesickness

Footballers are humans and family must play a big part in a footballer’s decision to stay at a particular club or in a particular country. Dimitri Payet made a switch back to his home club Marseille reportedly citing family problems as a reason for the switch.

Probably the only loyalty that exists is that of fans towards the clubs they support and to quite an extent, that of managers towards their clubs.

The Chinese government recently stepped in to stem uncontrolled spending of Chinese Super League clubs by limiting the number of foreign players per club from five to four. While European league fans can breathe a sigh of relief, let us not forget there was never a good argument to begin with.