Loyalty in football is over-rated

I woke up this morning with a headache. Not for the first time, not for the last. My alarm seemed to ring about ten minutes after I had clambered into bed ready for a good night’s sleep. I had a dull day of work ahead of me, with a fusion of people I can tolerate, and people I can’t stand, doing a job that I could do standing on my head- though wouldn’t recommend! I’ve been in my job for five years now. First job. My manager likes me, trusts me.

But it isn’t quite enough somehow. I know I am lucky, I earn decent enough money for the work I do. More than I would get in a lot of other places. The people I can tolerate are friendly and funny, the people I can’t are easy to ignore. I have no travel costs, I don’t have to worry about work once I leave the building, and the food is fine.

Yet still I yearn for better. Still I desire change. Still I cast envious eyes at others and think “what if the grass was greener”. And no one blames me. No one thinks I should be ashamed. No one bawls me out about my lack of loyalty, or decides that I owe them an honest assessment. If I were offered the same job as I am in now, but for twenty pounds more, I would take it. If I were offered the chance to move to a new, exciting city, to be part of a new, exciting organisation, and in the meantime would pick up a neat salary increase, then I would probably be too excited to sign the contract.

Nothing wrong with that, you may say. Yet if I was a professional footballer, the above logic would instantly be inverted. For any footballer who seeks a change of scene, a change of surroundings, there are repercussions. They must pick up the newspapers; hear the phone-ins, read the websites, all of them labeling them a mercenary, a gold digger, a sad indictment of the lack of ethics that has become endemic in modern day football.

Take Gareth Barry as an example (but realise that this kind of thinking can be applied to just about every footballer who has ever made a transfer, ever). Last week he completed a pretty swift £12m move to Manchester City from Aston Villa, the club he had spent twelve years of his career at. At Villa, Barry emerged as a pretty talented left sided defender, flirted with being a pretty talented centre back, developed into a pretty talented left sided midfielder, and finally settled as a pretty talented central midfielder. He captained the club with distinction, scoring more than 50 goals and making over 400 appearances.

Yet the fact that he chose to swap the claret and blue of Villa for the sky blue of City means that all this was hastily forgotten by a proportion of fans. Suddenly, Aston Villa supporters were all over the place, queuing patiently to stick the boot into their ex-skipper. True enough, Barry had stated last summer at the height of his much-protracted, and ultimately failed, transfer to Liverpool that he wanted to test himself at Champions League level, and therefore a move to a side placed four places below Villa’s sixth spot finish last season would appear to contradict such a statement. But a year is a long time in any walk of life, never mind football.

A year ago Barry would probably not have entertained the idea of a switch to Eastlands, despite the fact that Sven-Göran Eriksson had guided the club to a decent eighth placed finish. City simply were not an attractive enough prospect. The arrival of Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nayhan and his glittering friends changed everything in that respect. Suddenly Robinho was on the back of City shirts, Kaka’ was in the offing, and talk was of a future brighter than the gleam of Stephen Ireland’s dome. Tenth place last season was an under-achievement, but fails to mask the fact that City are the club best placed to make a sustained, spectacular, challenge to the monotony of the leading quartet.

Lets say Barry woke up one morning feeling as I did this morning. Lets say he tired of the same drive to training, the same faces, of seeing Zat Knight and Curtis Davies bumble around in training, of Gabriel Agbonlahor’s furrowed brow. Is it possible? I think so. Barry would be the first to admit his fortune in being gifted enough to pursue such a rewarding career, yet that shouldn’t render him immune from picking up itchy feet and wishing for a change, a “fresh challenge” if you prefer official statement jargon.

Maybe he spoke with Wayne Bridge & Micah Richards at an England get together and was regaled by tales of the skills of Robinho, the class of Ireland, the friendliness of Craig Bellamy and the dancing of Joe Hart. Maybe he felt Villa had hit a glass ceiling, one which only Manchester City seem equipped to smash through. Maybe he fancied trying Manchester instead of Birmingham for his evenings out. Maybe he fancied learning from Mark Hughes & his coaches, or preferred the strip. The point is, why does he need to explain himself?

Football fans are renowned for the capriciousness when it comes to loyalty. They demand it in spades from every player blessed enough to wear their club’s shirt, yet would kill themselves to replace most of their current squad with people who could do a better job. That is football. We all love the fans favourites, but if there is a guy who can come in and score twice as many, then you can find a way to say goodbye.

Fans don’t need to explain to their goalkeeper why they would ditch him in an instant if Gigi Buffon fluttered his eyelashes their way, do they? They don’t need to apologise to shareholders of Asda if they leave their checkout post at short notice to go travelling round Thailand do they? Hell, they don’t even feel the need to apologise for giving their own players dogs abuse week in week out. So why do they demand such openness and humility from their departing stars?

Barry may or may not have had his head turned by the money on offer at City. None of us know the ins and outs of his contract at either club, our figures are simply guesswork with some help from our ever-eager red tops. My own personal view is that an already-wealthy man is not going to make such a big decision based purely on fiscal reasons. But even if he did, are you and I really in any position to judge?

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