It is a question that can be posed to players and fans alike: do they really love the club? How does the average fan define that love and what are his/her expectations of a player with respect to their club? This would be better appraised (by the fan) by looking at individual events instead of generalising, before a judgement can be passed. The only real certainty is that, in the end, a judgement will definitely be passed!

Would a fan be right in expecting loyalty from a player towards a club? If the monetary point of view is taken into consideration, it’s easy to see that players will almost always be inclined to move to a higher paying club.

Loyalty just might be overrated

Football clubs are similar in that, although there are small differences with regards to culture and history, their main goal is to win trophies. Players want money and trophies, and sometimes it doesn’t matter which club they play for, as long as their demands are met. American comedian Dave Chappelle once got into a sticky situation when he stated (on stage no less) that he couldn’t make out the difference between Pepsi and Coca Cola and that his decision was made in favour of the company that offered him the better contract (financially), which shouldn’t really surprise anybody. Similarly, it is possible that playing for Real Madrid or Barcelona is the same, as long as players stand to earn financially and in terms of trophies. Nowadays, everybody wants to join Barcelona but that is to be expected. After all, Barcelona have been winning a lot of trophies and ESPN found that the Catalan side has the highest average salary in Europe (slightly higher than rivals, Real Madrid).

Take the forever green transfer saga of Francesc Fabregas. The Spaniard belongs to the now famous La Masia generation of 87′. The Catalan player’s colleagues in that highly respected batch of La Masia students were Gerard Pique and Lionel Messi. At a young age, however, despite his love for FC Barcelona and idol Pep Guardiola, Cesc realised that playing time in the first team would be hard to come by with players such as Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta above him in the pecking order. The club and its fans, to date, are constant in their memories of that period in the Catalan’s career. Cesc was supposed to be the next big thing. He was expected to stay and, like Iniesta before him, would get his moment to shine. One can’t blame Fabregas for leaving; after all, he needed minutes(on the pitch) and Arsene Wenger was offering him exactly that, with the added benefit of a higher salary.

Cesc leaving Barcelona was the less publicised version of his dramatic return but supporters of the Catalan outfit haven’t forgotten. In fact, there are still fans of the European Champions who feel that Cesc chose to return at a time which was only opportune for him and had nothing to do with his love for the club. The other side of the story is that there are many fans who are extremely happy that Cesc chose to return and left Arsenal (a club that he has always stated will be in his heart) only for FC Barcelona and would not have joined any other club (although there were rumours of interest from Real Madrid).

Gooners themselves are just as erratic as Cules. A large part of the London-based outfit’s fans are disappointed and even bitter that Cesc left, to the point that any comment from Cesc about his old club results in a huge amount of traffic in social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook which includes abuse directed at the player for daring to have an opinion on Arsenal. The more moderate Arsenal fans just appreciate that he stayed for as long as he did and the respect he has always shown to Arsene Wenger and the club. This particular set of fans wish him well and hope that he does well with his new club.

The all important question, of course is, where is the line drawn? As fans, do they really have a say in the player’s career choices? An analogy might help better comprehend the question at hand. Can a company (say ‘A’ and ‘B’) actually expect an employee to be loyal and refuse a move to another firm, even if that other firm were to offer a better pay package and more opportunities? After all clubs like Arsenal and Barcelona are businesses. They generate revenue and although they differ in their core values/paradigms, the idea is to stay afloat (financially) and win trophies.

Players like Cesc Fabregas and Luis Figo (who made an extremely controversial switch from Barcelona to Real Madrid) may have had it easier. If someone were to be offered a choice between Arsenal and Barcelona, the difference in terms of prestige, history and opportunities is not that big. The really difficult decision would be a player switching from one of the lower tier clubs to one of Europe’s giants. For instance, can a fan expect loyalty from a 20-year-old youngster in a club like Leeds United if he’s just got an offer to join the first team of Manchester United? That contract, after all, would be the defining moment of his life. That player would be made for life, so to speak.

Maybe, the concept of loyalty towards a football club is an extremely thin line. It’s possible that fans have set too high a benchmark. Don’t these players have the right to make professional decisions regarding careers by themselves without being pressured by other players or fans? It would be extremely presumptuous for a fan to expect a player (even a legend of the club) to refuse a move to another club if it improves his chances of winning more trophies and hence more money. Contracts can be manipulated so that these players are refused transfers to rival clubs, which is also a common practise in the corporate world wherein an employee is not allowed to join a direct competitor or a client for a period of time after leaving.

If such high benchmarks have been set for the players of a particular club as far as loyalty is concerned, then wouldn’t it be justified in expecting the same from fans as far as the club, its players and staff are concerned? How many cases of fans going wild in their criticism of coaches, clubs and players after a loss have been publicized by the media? Take a close look at the clubs mentioned earlier in this article: Arsenal, Barcelona and Real Madrid. After the Gunners were humiliated in Old Trafford, it would have been safe to assume that even the most ardent of fans were having their doubts. There were a number of them who wanted changes, extreme ones at that, from removing Wenger as coach to changing the board of directors even.

Barcelona? The level of expectations is so high that there were fans clamouring for David Villa to be dropped to the bench and worse still, Lionel Messi being rested (which is a euphemism for dropping him from the starting 11) because the Argentine had gone ‘three whole’ matches without scoring!

The desperation for Real Madrid to win titles was so high that Ricardo Kaka, who is probably among the top ten players in the world today, was a substitute for large parts of last season. A luxury that is nothing short of shocking to any team (even the so-called giants) anywhere in Europe.

If players and coaches are expected to be loyal even to the point of taking lower wages (something that the fans, honestly, don’t have any say in and shouldn’t either) and curbing their desire for trophies then it is only fair that the clubs expect the same loyalty from their fans.

To their credit, Arsenal fans have been highly appreciated (world over) for their support after that thrashing in Old Trafford (especially the fans who watched the match live in the Theatre Of Dreams). Cules world over, in general, know certain facts (something Guardiola never lets them forget), which is Barcelona is now witnessing the best era in the clubs history and that the fans are expected to enjoy the ride and remember that winning 5-0 shouldn’t be taken for granted. Madridstas are dangerously loyal to the club and their mettle has been tested time and again over the last four years with the demand for silverware just as strong as ever.

In the end, fans and players alike should be reminded constantly that football is a sport. It is entertainment. Enjoy the sport with the respect it deserves and keep in mind that there are things which are more important than the beautiful game.

The 2007 Ballon d'Or winner is now a rotation player in Madrid

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The Transfer MarketAi??

Sticking to the corporate/firm analogy: How many cases have there been of Ai??company ‘A’ paying ‘B’ a large (extremely large considering how inflated the transfer market, especially in the United Kingdom) amount of money to ai???buyai??? an employee?

Emphasis on the word ai???BUYai???. These are players, with the right to free will and choice. The American constitution states that a person has the ai???RIGHTai??? to ai???Pursue Happinessai???. Despite Will Smith’s passionate portrayal of a rags-to-riches story, the point of the film is significant. Agreed, the article is talking about football clubs in Europe and not the United States but doesn’t the same concept remain?

These players are not slaves after all, they are free men allowed to make decisions regarding their personal and professional lives without advice from anybody. Indeed, it’s their prerogative and theirs alone! So how does a club justify ai???SELLINGai??? or ai???BUYINGai??? a free man? Unless of course, slavery is part of the fine print of their contracts, the sheer stupidity and audacity of such a 20th century business model (the transfer market) should leave even the average fan, flummoxed and gasping for breath.

If the sport is to evolve and if leagues in Europe want real competition and equality, then maybe leaving aside the oh-so-old argument of TV distribution rights, for the moment, and moving on to the argument of ‘how to justify the existence of a transfer market’ might help. Indeed, if that were the case, football fans world-wide might even be lucky to see players of the calibre of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or AndrAi??s Iniesta in one of the smaller clubs. If not those players themselves, (since their salaries would be extremely high and rightly so) then younger players with potential. If a smaller club had the means to compete (atleast with respect to salaries) and the player was willing, is it really so hard to imagine a talent such as Neymar joining them? After all, in most cases it’s the transfer fee that prevents them. Carlos Tevez (who is infamous for his rants and desire to leave Manchester City) would probably have joined Brazilian side Corinthians if it weren’t for City’s asking price of 45 million Euros. Everton could have avoided selling Wayne Rooney (who, previously, was believed to have said “Once a blue,always a blue”) if money and pressure (from bigger clubs) wasn’t an issue. How many clubs can continue to stand up to pressure from the likes Manchester United, Real Madrid etc? Indeed, the concept of loyalty from a football player and inflated transfer markets are connected in some level.

Also an argument can be made about players and their contractual obligations. However, a standard of some sort has to be set, wherein the length of the contract depends on the fee paid (maybe even some restriction or cap on transfer fees) at least until a viable alternative to a transfer market is implemented. The solution is not easily available but nobody said it would be. Further thought into the matter is a must and as soon as possible because. quite frankly, the transfer market is out dated and the football world deserves an upgrade. Until then, the richest clubs will continue to have a monopoly of the best player and dominate the European game.

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3 Responses to “The Curious Case Of Loyalties and The Transfer Market In Club Football”

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  1. Aditya Sharma says:

    I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong with the transfer market as a concept.. A few points that come to mind:
    1. Firstly, rather than looking at players as employees, look at them as smaller institutions that these bigger companies (clubs) hire on a contractual basis. For any contract to be broken before it’s stated stipulations are satisfied, the company has to be compensated. That compensation, in this case, comes from the second company, which is taking away your resource.
    2. Before we talk about transfer values, we also need to remember that there are smaller clubs out there that, though they might not perform very well in their respective leagues, do a great job of nurturing talent. When these players leave for bigger clubs (and bigger salaries), in the absence of a transfer fees, their efforts in developing the player would have gone completely to waste.

    I can see your point if we look at things from the players’ perspective, but we also need to look at the clubs’s perspective. If left up to the players, they might want to try a new club every year. Companies with 1000s of employees can afford to have constant employee turnover, but football clubs are generally built on the shoulders of just 20 men

    • Inder Methil says:

      I do agree with the youth system…and especially compensation to a club for nurturing and developing talent…a club making huge profits(although acceptable) is a touchy subject especially from ‘sales’ of players…however the fact that the transfer market seems to be based on some random person in a club thinking of a number is silly….35 million quid for andy carroll????seriously???

      • Aditya Sharma says:

        It is a silly amount… and the club has no one to blame but itself for paying so much. They lost a player late in the market, and had to replace him. Some of the things that blew up the price tag were: 1. Carroll still had years remaining on his contract were Newcastle, 2. He was a player Newcastle really did not want to lose, 3. The deal happened so late in the season, there was no time for proper negotiations, or to convince Carroll to put in a transfer request
        There are silly deals (like Carroll’s) in the market, but there are also smart buys (Suarez). It’s really up to the club to get their business right