Why loyalty and football just don’t go together anymore
We hear it all the time. ‘There’s no loyalty in the game anymore’. We see it all the time too. Mancini, Pellegrini, Mourinho and now Ranieri. All Premier League winning managers. All sacked so soon after their success.
Ranieri’s sacking has caused an uproar. Rightly so. After all, he was the manager who inspired a fairytale for a team whose previous biggest achievement was a 2nd place finish in the 1928/29 season. In a Premier League with opponents such as Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham, we all know that’s no mean feat.
All football fans understood the magnitude of Leicester’s success last season. None more so than Leicester fans themselves, no doubt. Yet here we are, not even 10 months after Leicester won the league on 2nd May 2016. In the words of Gary Lineker, “Dilly Ding Dilly Game’s Gone”.
So how true is it?
For years, football seems to have spiralled out of control, usurped by greed and power. The basic values of the game have been overtaken by the lure of price tags, with players traded for incomprehensible sums and fans treated as ‘customers’ rather than ‘supporters’.
The argument that this only happens at the highest level is outdated, too. This all-consuming greed now flows through the veins of the game at a much lower level, in leagues where you could be forgiven for expecting clubs and players to express a little more loyalty. Where you would think that fans were appreciated for the time and support they give to the club, win, lose or draw.
As fans, our unconditional love for our team is unquestioned. This doesn’t mean that we can expect the same of managers or players anymore.
Sadly, at every level, football has turned into a game of power and politics. Along with the loss of loyalty, there’s also a loss of respect. This is something we’ve seen from clubs, managers and players alike.
Only last month, we watched Dimitri Payet wave goodbye to a successful career at West Ham and an embittered Slaven Bilic after he vowed never to play for them again. Insisting that the move wasn’t about money, Payet eventually agreed a deal with Marseille. However the situation clearly left a sour taste in the mouths of fans, who believed that the club had shown him the kind of loyalty that he should have returned.
Proving that loyalty (or the lack of it) is a two-way street, the media brought attention to the fact that Bilic himself left West Ham as a player in 1997, to pursue a move to a “bigger club”, Everton.
So here we are again. For weeks, rumours of a players’ revolt at Leicester have grown in stature. Let’s not forget that last season was a fluke for Leicester. For them, fighting relegation is expected. Winning the league isn’t. Particularly in a Premier League that already looks much stronger and more competitive than it ever was last season.
Now, it looks like the Leicester players have got what they wanted. The club statement reads:
“…domestic results in the current campaign have placed the Club’s Premier League status under threat and the Board reluctantly feels that a change of leadership, while admittedly painful, is necessary in the Club’s greatest interest.”
Meaning absolutely no disrespect, wasn’t the club’s Premier League status already under threat as soon as this season began?
It was obvious that after 2015/16's woeful efforts and shocking inconsistency, that big teams would plan to come out fighting for Top 4 this season, while Leicester’s unprecedented success would no doubt give hope to mid-table sides too, such as West Brom, Southampton and Stoke.
This is yet another fine example of a club succumbing to the depths that football is now sinking to. In some ways, it’s understandable why, for instance, Chelsea sacked Mourinho. Chelsea have come to expect league titles. Or at the very least a Top 4 finish. So when, sitting 16th in the table and 1 point above relegation, Chelsea took the decision to sack Mourinho, it was definitely justified. More justified than the sacking of Ranieri.
Quite rightly, clubs expect results. Or improvement. And yes, it’s fair to say that this season has seen a huge downfall for Leicester. A number of factors could be to blame. Complacency. Expectation. A better overall standard in the league. Even the loss of key players such as N’Golo Kante.
But who would’ve expected anything else?
We can’t comment on what happens behind closed doors. We will never know the full extent of what has happened at Leicester, but what we can be certain of is that there are plenty of factors at play. To place the blame firmly on Ranieri is ludicrous. To sack him now, after his incredible reign as manager is a disgrace.
If this was in fact caused by the efforts of Leicester’s players, that makes the situation even more toxic. It goes without saying that whoever takes charge will struggle to live up to the board’s optimistic “long term interests”, particularly if the players they’re managing take the rebellious, entitled attitude that has been portrayed in the press.
Unfortunately, there will be no change. Disloyalty has become so ingrained in the modern game that we can’t hope for it to disappear.
What we can hope for is that boards at all levels, in all leagues, begin to show a little more respect, and maybe a little more professionalism too.
That means sticking by those managers who have walked through walls to build miraculous success. That means nurturing those players who have shown unquestionable loyalty. That means acknowledging those fans who enter the turnstile week in, week out no matter what the result is.
It doesn’t mean throwing people away at the first sign of unrest. It doesn’t mean breaking the terms of a contract. It doesn’t mean treating fans like customers of a ‘business’.
We can dream, can’t we?