Loyalty schmoyalty

A day after two managers have left their clubs to go to bigger and supposedly better ones, can we really expect anyone in the game to show loyalty? Or what we’d define as loyalty?

Brendan Rodgers has had a great season at Swansea but when the plaintive Scouse cry was directed towards him, he was up and out the door. Paul Lambert had a similarly successful season with Norwich and now appears to be on his way to Aston Villa. To be fair, both Liverpool and Villa have more history, pedigree, resources and stature than the clubs they’re leaving, and jobs like that don’t come along all the time.

Yet it’s funny how players get lambasted for moving but managers seem to get a free pass, for the most part. I’m sure Norwich and Swansea fans will be grateful to the two men for the jobs they did, getting them to the Premier League and keeping them there, but will it colour their work when they start at their new clubs? Imagine they have a player who wants to move to a bigger club, with more resources, pedigree etc. How on earth can they do anything other than stand back and let them leave? They can’t demand loyalty, having paid lip service to the whole concept themselves. Do as I say, not as I do, and all that.

As fans we expect players to show the same loyalty to a club as we would if we were the player. Which is really the wrong way to go about it. As fond as any player is of Arsenal, or another club, there are a plethora of reasons they might choose to leave. Each one of them is entirely justifiable in their own minds.

It’s just a job. It’s just a job with a very short shelf life. Maximising your income for that short period is just common sense. Anybody would leave the job they’re in now if they were offered double or triple their salary elsewhere. My personal ambitions are not being fulfilled. My personal life is suffering, I need to change. I want to go home. I want to win things. The club would be quick to get rid of me if they thought I wasn’t up to it anymore. I need to stop swerving off roads. I’d just like a change of scenery. It’s my last chance for a big move abroad.

Which all make sense on a footballing level and even a personal level. Footballers have lives which are as affected by the day to day problems as ours (except financial ones – unless they’ve blown all their money in casinos in which case fuck them). They can just sit around in their solid gold houses and have these issues.

Once the talent is there, clubs will show tremendous loyalty to players. Arsene Wenger believes highly in the ability of Abou Diaby and took a risk that he could overcome his injury problems. That’s part of the risk of football. He’s got a contract, he’s entitled to his wages the same as anyone else. But at some point a decision will have to be made, we’re not a charity and he’s struggling.

In the same way that Robin van Persie struggled. Ok, not exactly the same way because Robin’s litany of injuries down the years were all different, Diaby’s stem from one terrible challenge and an ankle which has become more and more damaged as time goes by. All the same, when van Persie missed 6 months here, 5 months there, another 4 months over there etc, Arsenal paid his wages, extended his contract and so on.

Now, with 12 months left on his deal, after his first long spell of sustained fitness, the ‘loyalty’ shown to him doesn’t seem to be returned. And that’s fine. That’s entirely up to him. He’s nearly 29. He wants to win things. It’s just a job. His personal ambitions are not being fulfilled. And so on. And let’s not make this a thing, he might very well sign a new contract and stay with us even if I’m increasingly doubtful that will happen. I don’t want to turn this into any kind of anti-van Persie post, especially when there are others in this situation this summer. He’s a player I’ve loved from the day he signed almost, I always said I thought he had something a bit special about him, and over the last 18 months he’s proved that.

Maybe it’s our expectations that need to change. We see a player who we stood by through injury, the player says ‘That’s what any club would do. It’s their duty. They do it all the time for countless other players.’ As fans we expect loyalty in return for buying shirts with players’ names on them, singing songs about them, placing them on pedestals. Players lap up the adulation, play the football and if something better comes along they rarely think twice before making a decision. Thanks for the songs and the worship but it’s just a job. I need a change. Wouldn’t you leave your job if a rival firm offered you triple your wages?

Thomas Vermaelen says this morning:

I will stay at Arsenal forever. There will be no transfer for me. I love London. I’ve got a house there, I’m happy there and I don’t see any reason to ever leave the club.

Love it. It’s fantastic to hear because it’s how a fan thinks. But I’m under no illusions that if Vermaelen kicks on in his career and improves to the point where he’s interesting to the ‘big boys’ of Europe, or even those with the fullest pockets in the Premier League, he’d be taking advice from those around him about how his career is short, he has to do ‘right’ by his family, how it’s time he achieved things in his career.

And you can say what you want about how winning things keeps players at clubs. I’m sure it makes it more difficult to leave but in as much as players like Cesc and Liam Brady left Arsenal because they felt they had more chance of winning silverware abroad/at home, others like Vieira and Henry left having won plenty. Players come, players go, that’s the way it goes, that’s the way it will always go.

But maybe for other players there’s something more to a club than just a job. We seem to be a place where real connections are made. Our current captain knows the esteem in which he’s held and part of that is because we know he gets what Arsenal means to the fans. Henry, Brady, Vieira and others left but are still regarded as playing legends. Those that chose the money from the Premier League are not, regardless of what they did on the pitch or how good they were (or thought they were).

Loyalty is a two-way street, but many players have driven up cul-de-sacs of cuntery. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen this summer.


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