Fernando Torres is yet to find his feet at a certain club in West London. Ever since his move from Liverpool that involved humongous amount of cash exchanging hands, he was instantly expected to click for Chelsea but the expectations have certainly not been met; so far, that is. When Roman Abramovich engineered the multi-million dollar move amidst relatively turbulent circumstances at the club, he clearly wanted a striker who could, bluntly put, score goals at will and win his team points at crucial junctures.
A lot has been documented about the failure of the Spaniard at Stamford Bridge and much of it has been attributed to the playing style practiced at Chelsea that is much different from the one at Liverpool. However, few could disagree that the highly unwarranted and easily avoidable reprimand that the striker faced from Liverpool circles at the completion of his transfer certainly impacted his performances donning the blue shirt. That, his actions were touted traitorous – you might speculate – was definitely a factor, perhaps only psychological to hamper the progress of the striker at supposedly greener pastures.
Almost unequivocally this concept of loyalty in football prevails across all the major sections of fans. It is universally believed whenever a player is attached to a certain club, the association is to be extended on the emotional grounds too and should a player choose to break the barriers of loyalty citing greater ambitions, his actions are instantly deemed being of betrayal.
It only takes minutes for the fans to reduce the player to the levels of a mercenary whose priority is money, fame and glory over some perceived bond with fans of a regional territory he himself might have no physical or emotional connections with. Granted, a football club invests a considerable amount of money in grooming a player and the fans shower unconditional love towards the player they think being one of ‘their own’ but at the end of the day, history only remembers a player for the titles he won.
In order to counter this particular rationale, the most prominent argument is that of the concept of a ‘one-club man’ which defines players who spent their entire career at a single particular club, remaining stuck to their roots through the thick and thin and earning a cult status among the fans in the process. These players over the due course of time turned legends for the club’s faithful with their decision to stamp a permanence in their association with the club.
Almost subconsciously, the very first name that rings the bell while discussing this concept is that of Paolo Maldini. Carrying the family legacy established at AC Milan by the people he inherited his biological gene pool from, Paolo personified the Milan symbol for more than two decades at the highest level like few could. Easily regarded as one of the best ever in his department, Maldini was always a player whose services though were so much sought after, no club could really even express the desire to land him. The transfer tycoons must have ridiculed the very thought of even making an attempt at attracting Paolo away from San Siro. Only in retrospect, did Sir Alex Ferguson once reveal how he always desired to see Maldini play for Manchester United and that his dreams were immediately put to good rest with what father Cesare had to say about it.
Though the veneration saga for Maldini and his loyalty for the club is unending, it also must be considered he always represented a squad that continued scaling greater heights of success, of course with few ups and downs. The underlining thought here is to understand Milan were a club capable of matching the abilities of a player with the credentials of Maldini and continued to produce champion teams around the legend. If only, his childhood club was far from being the most successful one in the world, it could be anyone’s guess what Maldini’s stand on the concept of loyalty could have been.
Pretty similar in nature is the story of Ryan Giggs. Few know the Manchester United legend was at one point in time under the radar of cross town rivals Manchester City. In fact, though for a negligible amount of time in consideration to his prolonged and illustrious career, he was with the youth program of City before eventually painting himself red. The point to note here is how close was he to emerge as a hero from the other half of the city of Manchester.
However, once he rose to the senior ranks of United, his prominence was there for everyone to see and notice. Unlike in Maldini’s case, Giggs was not born in this part of the world to feel any emotional connect with the land and hence his sentimental attachment with the club is perhaps even more revered.
In the early 2000′s, Inter were pretty insistent on signing the Welsh wizard and the move could have provided him an opportunity to explore another brand of football while he still was playing at the best of his abilities but apparently, nothing substantial materialized out of those attempts and Giggs went on to adding to his darling status among the fans of the club. Once again, the question remains whether Giggs could have maintained the same levels of allegiance and commitment towards the club where he learnt his trade had Manchester United been even slightly less dominant force than what they have been in England.
Which typically brings us to the case of Alessandro Del Piero. The Juventus legend, apart from his unmitigated love for the club, is particularly regarded for his decision to stay put even after the club was embroiled into calciopoli and was asked to ply their trade in lesser division before earning the promotion to play in Serie A again. At the same time though, one must appreciate the fact Padova too played a role in the development of the player and that they were not big enough to carry the burden of Del Piero’s vastitude beyond a point in time. Del Piero had to migrate to a bigger club and he did. Once at Juventus, he never felt the need to move elsewhere before the club actually asked him to but there was a point in his career where he could no longer afford the principles of loyalty that could have sabotaged his individual growth after all.
Francesco Totti is the most notable exception who challenges this rationale and establishes this in a much pronouncing manner that the bond with the club and its fans can be of much superior worth than any other glory. Despite being an unimaginably talented player, Totti never won more than five relevant titles in his career – a number that certainly would have read a lot better had he decided to move to a club that could have done much more justice to his caliber.
While it is more than clear that the aforementioned club legends have often sacrificed their personal aspirations for the larger good of the club they respectively belonged to, there’s definitely a case where you argue their attachment could probably not have remained as strong had their clubs not been the dominant forces in their respective leagues during the times they peaked as players.
Among the more recent names carrying this trend forward, names like Carles Puyol, Xavi, John Terry and Steven Gerrard can be mentioned. Puyol and Xavi are presently part of a squad that arguably is the best club side ever and their contribution to its success is beyond measurable limits. It is unlikely either of the two shall exercise a move away from Barcelona unless they are forced to towards the end of their career like Raul was by Real Madrid after he was deemed surplus.
Andres Iniesta too is on the same path of loyalty for the Catalonian club but Lionel Messi, the biggest icon of his generation of players, you may get the feeling might not be able to maintain a life-long bond after all and may give in to the temptation of proving himself in other leagues too, primarily for his greatest competitor Cristiano Ronaldo having already proven himself in two different leagues.
Someday, Messi might feel the need to prove to the world he can be equally majestic irrespective of where he plays. Should Messi eventually decide to move away from Barcelona, it can hardly be considered a case of betrayal towards the club that made him what he is. The will to prove himself and his worth in a different environment is completely justifiable on a player’s part. It may be argued that the likes of Maldini or Scholes never wanted to meet new challenges and explore a new brand of football and were content restricting themselves to their comfort zones and as a matter of fact, nobody can deny that idea with conviction.
That brings us back to the basic question – Is club loyalty an overrated concept? For one cannot conclusively proclaim a player can remain loyal to a club failing to match his individual might, the very concept can be deemed flawed. The list of the icons of loyalty majorly constitutes players from the most glorious of clubs with Totti and Gerrard being obvious exceptions. Certainly, the players who are considered the ambassadors of club loyalty in today’s materialistic football cannot be undermined by any means but the very concept of loyalty is hardly convincing in its purest possible sense. Some players do have it in them, while some do not. It’s something that is best left at an individual’s discretion.