Loyalty in football? Not at the Emirates

Samir Nasri

Samir Nasri has risked alienating himself from Arsenal fans after failing to completely rule out an Emirates departure this summer. His manager, Arsene Wenger, has continually attempted to convince the French midfielder to secure extended terms on his contract which expires next summer, but Nasri has stated this week that a move to perennial title rivals Manchester United remains a distinct possibility. “Do I want to go to United? We should see if their interest is real and if it is concrete first,” he said.

It would be difficult to deny Nasri’s motives for an immediate transfer following three disappointing years in England where his individual displays have eclipsed the contribution of his team-mates. That said, Arsenal fans who have had to endure a period of disillusionment twice as long as Nasri’s employment will unquestionably deplore their most important creative force for returning regularly to the Emirates in the shirt of another Premiership team. A move abroad would be unwelcome to an extent, but Nasri’s willingness to encourage offers from Arsenal’s closest rivals for English League dominance highlights a broader concern for football fans in regards to player loyalty.

The tendency is for spectators to label players who make such moves as ‘greedy,’ or often brand them in a more sinister light, but it seems strange to disparage an individual who seeks to improve their chances of winning trophies, gaining international recognition and enhancing their bank account, especially in an industry where a competitors professional playing career lasts around 14 years. A large section of Liverpool supporters took to the streets to burn their team’s jerseys which bore the name of Fernando Torres when the Spaniard completed his £50 million move to Chelsea in January. The striker had offered three-and-a-half years of service to the Anfield outfit, a club he joined as Champions League finalists but which rapidly descended the Premier League table to be struggling in the Europa League, and for requalification, at the time of his departure.

The Merseyside faithful were not the first group of supporters to aggressively oppose one of their favourite players’ exits, but they were perhaps misguided. A replacement for Torres was identified immediately in the form of Andy Carroll, who initially stated his reluctance to leave his hometown club in Newcastle, but the 6ft 3inch striker was making a move identical in nature. Carroll has now increased his earnings immeasurably, is playing for a more esteemed club in terms of history and universal acknowledgement, and for a team which competes in European competition with a continual expectation to compete for trophies on all fronts. This switch emphasized the modern-day transfer merry-go-round which many fans have failed to accept. The fact is, during his entire playing career at club level, Torres has won just the Spanish second division title (in 2001/2002), and a player of his calibre should have been urged to seek fulfillment elsewhere rather than criticised for a perceived lack of loyalty, an ideal invented by fans, and not by Torres, in the first place.

In any walk of life, including within the entertainment industry, no individual should be condemned for trying to better themselves in terms of increasing ones wage packet or working for a more established firm with more compatible ambitions. In football, the likes of Alessandro del Piero (Juventus), Francesco Totti (Roma), Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Ryan Giggs (Manchester United) and John Terry (Chelsea), are worshipped by their fans for experiencing their entire careers at just one club, and are all marked with the loyalty stamp by neutral observers as well. However, the common theme amongst this group in addition to their individually exceptional athletic attributes is that they all play for a top club. Paul Scholes brought his 17-year career to an end last week and will rightly be placed in the category of Manchester United’s greatest ever representatives, but would the midfielder have shown equal loyalty to his hometown club, Oldham, had his career began in less than spectacular surroundings? The answer is a resounding no, because at a primitive stage of Scholes’ development, a club with greater aspirations and wealth would have convinced the player to move.

In principle, the influences which dictate a footballer’s decision to force through a transfer are completely justified, but in practice, and in an environment where many top players fabricate their thoughts through Twitter, fans are always going to be let down by their favourite stars stating their loyalty one week and their desire to leave the next.