There’s this strange thing that a lot of sports fans do, and I’ve seen it especially in football, where they get outraged when an athlete wants to leave the club that they support. It’s almost as if they’re surprised when they realise a player doesn’t love the club as much as they do or share the same reverence that they have.
For a lot of us, the club we ended up supporting is one we took on at childhood and became enchanted with. You’ll struggle to find somebody who doesn’t remember what led to supporting the club that they love or someone who doesn’t have fairy-tale story of how it came to be.
So many Monday mornings at school or in the workplace have been ruined by dismal performances the previous weekend. Our clubs are a big part of our lives. We spend outrageous amounts of money on replica jerseys to feel like we can belong, and hours spent on discussions on tactics and signings as if we’re secretly preparing for the day we could meet the coach and give him a little bit of advice. As much we love our clubs, however, the reality is that the players who wear the shirt, at times, are often more a part of the club than we are. They are on the inside, the majority of us can only dream of that kind of access.
Perhaps it’s because of this that players are expected to have the same emotional tie as a fan. It is, of course, quite silly that grownups think this way. The love a player has for a club will never match a supporters’ own love. There’s a childlike quality in that remains embedded in the minds of sports fans and it probably affects the way we see players as heroes and we end up idolising them long after they are gone. Clubs have culture and history, so often a child can be raised in the club, yet when it comes to footballers, we aren’t able to realise that he is a moment or a passing phase of the club. The club stood long before he was there and it will continue to stand long after they are gone.
It’s almost as if loving the club has become a prerequisite for signing for the club. I can’t possibly believe that even the most romantic of fans would hold fast to this notion in 2017. In the professional era, a football club is a place of work. It’s a place where somebody can offer his services for pay, improve his skills and further his career while he is there. Whatever the reason a person has for committing to play for a club, the only expectation we can have is that he will perform at his utmost best for the time that he is there.
Isn’t it senseless that during transfer/trade season, you’ll read about how a player loves the club he players and grew up supporting it and there’s no way they would leave but then in the space of a week when the player does end up leaving, he is called all kinds of unmentionable names by the very people who claimed to love him so much?
We don’t know our favourite athletes personally. Forget what they show you on Instagram or whatever; they don’t show you what really is going on in their lives or what they are going through. Comments like “I can’t believe he’s leaving for the money” or “I can’t believe he’s like that” would disappear very quickly when we understand this.
For some odd reason, we think of football being removed from the world we live in, as though the facets of life that affect every other industry don’t apply to it. Picture this: You come from nothing and have plenty of family members back home depending on you for food, shelter, clothes and whatever other basic necessity you could think of but the company you worked for couldn’t offer to pay you more money, even though you felt like you deserved it. Would you not leave if a company with a history of success, happy work environment and friendly colleagues comes looking for someone with your talents and comes calling you by name?
Loyalty is not for everyone and a person cannot be loyal to everything in his life. Perhaps it might be time for a lot of us to stop thinking of loyalty as a primary motivator for sportsmen and women in every career decision they make. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartbreak when you realise that loyalty is not the ultimate determinant in the thought process of someone who has to decide whether to stay at a club or leave for greener pastures.