(Emmanuel Adebayor and Robin Van Persie at Arsenal 2006/07 season)
Football has changed over the years. We've seen an influx of money influence leagues, clubs and players in ways that could never have been imagined a couple of decades ago. What once was a simple sport has now become a business too - and this is what has killed loyalty in modern day football.
Everyone and everything related to the games obsesses with the brand images they've created. Whether it's a club trying to promote "anti-racism" messages or players sporting their newest product off of their own personalized brand, what happens on the pitch feels almost secondary at times. The brands matter. What they are associated to matter. What they promote matters. What they actually do...meh, not so much.
The money involved has become so influential that we've seen even the most dedicated of players leave their beloved clubs and join fierce rivals just for a quicker buck. Some players use the excuse of "ambition" to engineer moves and it is true to some extent, but without the additional money aspect, these moves would never have taken place. These same players are now being brandished as disloyal players. It's a debatable topic. Are they truly disloyal? Or has loyalty itself in football simply just vanished thanks to the money that's flooded the game?
Think about it. There are so many examples of players displaying "love" for the club they play for before moving on to greener pastures. For example, when a players kisses a badge; is there a bigger load of nonsense in the sport? It's ridiculous and it's just a quick pleasant lie to satisfy the modern fans (who seem to be blessed with such short-term memories); these same fans that believe in every word players say in their usual boring routine interviews. Footballers don't care about anything other than themselves. They don't care about the fans. They don't care about the club. For them it is their job and they happen to love it.
The very definition of loyalty in football is what's changed down the years. You must earn loyalty. You can't buy it. No contract in the world can guarantee loyalty. Previously regardless of what piece of paper was signed, players and fans were extremely loyal to one another. We'd see players staying at the same club for at least a good 10-15 years once they'd made it through the youth set-up. Can we say the same now? Not a chance.
Football clubs are, as I mentioned earlier, run as companies a lot more than they are as clubs. In truth it's become more about employers and employees rather than managers and players. The employers are looking for better staff to make their company more competitive, whereas the employees are looking for other jobs where they can make more money and earn a better living. Makes sense doesn't it? That's how the players and clubs see it these days. But can the regular fans understand that? Can we accept that?
It's time we did. Loyalty is dead. Forget the badge-kissing. Forget the nice words. The unconditional love we, as supporters, show the clubs and players isn't reciprocated or even cared about. We've seen some of the biggest names break the traditions and rivalries between clubs and move between them without having the slightest care about how it could tarnish their reputations or, better yet, the feelings and emotions of fans. The players just don't care. The clubs don't care either. The respect of a club's traditions don't matter any more. The fans are the only ones who do care, and it's mainly because we are unable to accept that football, the sport we love and have dedicated so much time to, is now a business more than it is a sport.
Think about it. When you get a job offer from a competitor that offers you double your salary and the opportunity to work in a "bigger" and "better" environment, would you say no? Didn't think so. So why should footballers do the same now? Money talks in our daily lives and it does even more in football these days. Loyalty no longer exists in the game. The last remaining loyal players are at the end of their careers and it's unlikely we see such figures anytime soon.