Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The death of loyalty in football

(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. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Why Ronaldo won't leave Madrid this summer

It seems as though Cristiano Ronaldo's noises have led numerous football fans around the world to believe that Portugal's prodigal son may be on his way out of Real Madrid. The rumors have intensified over the past few days which have linked him with moves to Manchester United, Manchester City, Monaco, PSG and Chelsea. But truth be told, he's probably going to end up staying in Spain and here's why.

First of all, Ronaldo's been in this position before. Wanting to leave the club he's playing for in order to feel "happier" (translation: earn more money) and to take the next step in his career (translation: he's gotten bored). He did that at Manchester United in the summer of 2008 despite the club winning a double (league and CL victories). His hints were always about him leaving but never directly stating it. He teased everyone for a good 3 months during that summer with sentences like "I'm happy here, but only God knows the future"...etc. The sort of useless comment a footballer makes to get the men with the big bucks dreaming about bringing out their checkbooks. Back then he ended up staying one more year and the following season got his dream move to Madrid. So this sort of talk has been seen before by the man and it's a great attention-grabbing tactic to point over to everyone interested that he could potentially leave Madrid in the future.

Second of all, Ronaldo's team (which includes the monster that is Jorge Mendes) make big moves happen almost immediately once a genuine interest is revealed. So far, nobody has made an official bid for Ronaldo and it is important to note that Ronaldo still has 2 more years left on his contract. So, being the geniuses they are, Ronaldo's team (Mr. Mendes) will allow the player to reach the final year of his contract. Why would he do that? Well, that way the move is entirely in his hands. If he wants to leave, the club won't allow him to leave for a small fee but rather for a gigantic one (even though there's only a year left on his contract). So Ronaldo wins, his team of agents win and Madrid win. And if he wants to stay, he can corner the club into offering him a massive contract or run the risk of losing him the following year...for free. Makes sense, doesn't it? Why leave the club when your value to them isn't at its peak (financially speaking only)?

The idea of Ronaldo signing an even bigger contract at Real Madrid could obviously materialize and if that happens, be sure that it'll only increase his value as well as scare off any potential buyers. But just think of one thing. In a summer where Real Madrid lost out the battle to sign Neymar to Barcelona (a player they were consistently after for quite a while), lost the league title to Barcelona, lost their manager (who's still one of the best in world football), lost in the Champions League semi-finals to a team of under-rated stars and have just re-elected Florentino Perez as President, does anyone really believe Real Madrid really allow their prized asset to leave? I don't think so. Instead, we should expect Real Madrid to react in anger and make a huge statement of intent by signing someone to accommodate Ronaldo, rather than someone to replace him. Gareth Bale? Luis Suarez? Wayne Rooney? Zlatan?

Someone's joining Ronaldo this summer and not the other way around.

Monday, June 3, 2013

It won't be all rosy for Jose at Chelsea

It has been officially confirmed now. The return of Jose Mourinho is going to light up the Premier League once again as "The Special One" goes back "home" to Stamford Bridge. He returns to where he feels loved by his fans and loathed by the rest. He'll feel like a king when he steps into the Stamford Bridge dugout. It'll probably feel like whatever he does, he knows he's already a legend in the eyes of the fans. It's all sunshine, flowers and a bit of love all over the place. John Terry will be dancing with joy (in his full kit of course), Lampard will be dangling his new contract in the air as his "father figure" is back, Torres get the message. Everyone related to Chelsea Football Club is expecting this to be a match made in heaven.

Mourinho will definitely make the Premier League more entertaining (poking or not). He'll probably even bring success to Chelsea (not that they have been lacking it - 6 major trophies since he left). But things in England have changed quite drastically since August 2007 that it might not be so dandy after all. Manchester City have the millions to compete. Sir Alex is gone. Chelsea have won a Champions League since then, as have Manchester United. Tottenham have improved immensely.
Arsenal, well, they're still without a trophy (no changes there) and Liverpool are just being Liverpool. But where Mourinho will face his biggest test lies in two aspects. 

Firstly with the media. A lot has been made of him being a media darling with the English press. They love him. They used to cherish his every interview, whether he was talking about bird flu or about tactics in the Premier League. There was always a bit of fun when Mourinho spoke to them and they responded always in a manner that made it a perfect relationship.

However, since then the English media has become a bit more fierce. When they pick on a person, they'll make sure his life is making as much news in the front pages as it is on the back pages. Just as things have changed on the pitch, a lot has changed off it too. Mario Balotelli's stories were great sellers, Luis Suarez was crucified by the media, Ryan Giggs' shenanigans were exposed, John Terry's cheating excursions were playtime stuff for them and Mourinho will be set to face the wrath of a now unforgiving media who'll be looking to beat him when he's down. They're not what they once were. We've also got the Twittersphere now that makes sure every breath a football personality takes is being watched and judged under the most precise of microscopes. Will Jose like that? He fell out with the Italian and Spanish media for such issues and the English will be rubbing their hands with glee.

Secondly, with Roman Abramovich. Jose Mourinho still remains the longest-serving manager under the Russian. For 3 years and a half he was in charge of the club and 7 managers have since come in to try and emulate his success but have been shown the door despite some pretty decent results. Mourinho doesn't have the luxury of time with Roman this time around. If he goes through a bad patch, he might be shown the door. A 4-year contract means nothing in Roman's world and with their supposed clashes in the past which ultimately led to Mourinho leaving the club, there is no guarantee that it won't happen again. Bringing Jose back to Chelsea is like getting together with an ex-girlfriend you had troubles with, but whom everybody believed you were perfect for. The troubles don't just vanish. They're still there. The relationship people should be worried about is not Mourinho and Chelsea Football Club. It's Jose Mourinho and Roman Abramovich.

The clashes and disagreements are bound to come up again. Because just like when you get back with your ex-girlfriend, you know old sh*t is going to stir up. For those fearing the return of Mourinho to England, don't. He'll start off with a bang for a few months and then things will get messy (not Lionel); and Mourinho has proven over the past few years that when the going gets tough, he gets going. Faulting the players, the owners or anything and anyone but himself. Expect something similar this time. England has changed. The Premier League has changed. Mourinho has changed. But Roman hasn't...if anything, he's gotten less lenient since August 2007. Being successful means nothing as a Chelsea manager anymore. Ancelotti, Benitez and Di Matteo will testify.

Whatever happens, next season is going to be interesting and having Mourinho back in the Premier League is an added value to the entertainment it provides.