In a week in which we have seen Gerrard play his last game at Anfield in the red of Liverpool; I think I can safely say without the fear of admonishment or rebuke that there is no such thing as loyalty in football. Loyalty are the days of one club men being the rule and not the exception. Loyalty is playing for your boyhood club despite the advances of greater or more successful teams. Loyalty is playing for a club because you want to and not because of the substantial wage packet.
Gerrard leaves Anfield after an incredible 700+ games for the Reds. He turned down advances from Manchester United, Arsenal and most recently Chelsea to remain at a club where trophies, or even title challenges, were far from guaranteed. It is only now, after a quite frankly amazing 17 years, that Gerrard has opted to move. By moving to the MLS, Gerrard has ensured that his legacy at Liverpool will remain intact without any Lampard-esque tribulations. It is a magnificent achievement but it is far from the norm. In fact, the norm is the small bloke standing half a dozen places behind Gerrard in the tunnel with 31 on his back.
For the modern footballer, loyalty is a myth. An illusion that fans have painted whilst reminiscing over past greats. It is something fans cling to, as they hope that one of their present crop will love the club as much as they do. It is a tribalism that no longer makes sense; yet the British media and public continue to castigate those who remain unaffected by their club’s colours. Sterling’s name has been dragged through the mud this week as his agent has leaked stories amongst the countries red tops, stating that his client is unwilling to sign a new contract. This is a kid who has been given a chance at one of the most famous clubs in the world. He’s been taken from the lowly depths of QPR and given a chance on one of the biggest stages to ply his trade. He has shared the field with players like Gerrard, Suarez and Carragher. He has been offered a lucrative contract, one that most 20 years old would be lucky to get. He has been embraced by the Liverpool crowd as one of their own and yet he still rejects their advances. How can this young man be so ungrateful?
The truth is, loyalty doesn’t exist in football and Sterling owes Liverpool nothing. The argument that Liverpool allowed Sterling to play on the biggest stage, to start in their starting line-up whilst other, more experienced players sat on the bench, holds no weight. For if it wasn’t for Sterling’s own ability then Liverpool would not have given him the opportunity. Sterling earned his right to play at that level due to Liverpool’s lack of an alternative and the player’s own progress. His ability and importance to the team should not be used as a tactic against him to stay at the club; this train of thought can only be viewed as a form of emotional blackmail. You could argue that the young Englishman may not have made the progress he did without the help of Rodgers and his backroom staff but I find it hard to believe that most managers wouldn’t have been able to nurture the talent that was already there. Sterling was not lucky or privileged to be starting for Liverpool. It wasn’t through fortuitous events that Sterling became such an important player to the team. No, the simple fact of the matter is that Sterling was the reason behind his own importance at the club.
Liverpool fans may feel like I am picking on them. I’m not, this is just the topical example of the day. Looking through our own ranks, many supporters believed Fabregas owed Arsenal a degree of loyalty when his transfer to Chelsea was agreed. This was a player that the Arsenal faithful embraced, a young protégé who was lucky to be on the field at the age of 16 playing in a team with the likes of Henry, Sol Campbell, and Gilberto. Nonsense. Fabregas started because he was deemed good enough. We allowed Patrick Vieira to leave for £12million and replaced him with a 16 year old. The fact that that 16 year old proved to be an exceptional success should not be held against him. This was no act of charity by Wenger, this was a situation that was mutually beneficial to both parties.
One can have an affection for a club without owing them a degree of loyalty. Football clubs for most players are merely a form of employment. Yes they can build relations with a club, yes they can form friendships with other players and yes, they can be that special talent that the fans sing about for years to come; but at the end of the day, the club is the employer and the player is the employee.
It is undoubtedly sad that players cannot invest the same emotions into a club in the way that a fan does but the scenarios are completely different. They did not grow up watching the team, pretending to be Thierry Henry in their back garden as they smashed a 99p swerver into their neighbour’s garden. They have their own set of loyalties, ones that are often completely exempt from our own. Holding a player to ransom, believing they owe you an ounce of allegiance is foolhardy. Even when you have nurtured a player back from injury and paid his wages for the years prior to his return, as was the case with van Persie, there is still no reason for that player to remain faithful. Arsenal upheld their side of the contract by paying van Persie as he was injured playing a sport in which he is employed to do. Van Persie upheld his side of the contract by performing whenever he was capable, his only fault was performing too well and making himself too valuable to the club. When news broke at the start of the season that Diaby was injured again, many Arsenal fans claimed it was time to get rid. Pot, kettle, black. Football loyalty is only held in high esteem when it suits us. If loyalty was really deemed to be a desirable trait then I’d say we’d see a lot more Chelsea shirts with Winston Bogarde on the back.
Gerrard is the exception, not the norm. Don’t judge a player by Gerrard’s example, they will only fall short.
‘Til next time,