Issue The hypocrisy of loyalty in football

As told by Michael Wood

If you had a desire to you could have carpeted from one side of Manchester to the other with the column inches of talk about Wayne Rooney that accused the player of lacking loyalty to Manchester United before he his signed the five year deal this week.

It was not that the likes of Mark Lawrenson when taking a side swipe Rooney failed to see the irony in suggesting that a player who was signed from Everton in a transfer that gazumpt another club’s bid should be subject to loyalty it is that the notion of loyalty in football is evoked at all.

There is a harking back to some bygone age where it is supposed this loyalty in which players would remain with clubs for reasons of gratitude existed – it did not but pre-Bosman players had fewer mechanisms for exiting contracts – but even if that were the case it would be at most half of the story.

The loyalty demanded of players to clubs is seldom returned. At every level of a football club loyalty is demanded but not given. Chairmen, managers, fans. They all want a player to be loyal to them but rarely give that loyalty back.

Not given to the ageing pro who wants a contract to take him to 36 but is offered two years left. Not offered to the player who breaks a leg and comes back gingerly judged to have “lost it” and moved on. Not offered to the player going through poor form or poor performances on the field. The bellowing of “get rid of him” is heard up and down the land and has little to do with the loyalty which is demanded if Rooney now.

The brother’s Boulding

Take, if you will, the Brothers Boulding who left Valley Parade after a change of manager. Michael Boulding had taken a pay cut to remain with City at one point yet as the two faced up to a new face in the dressing room they were soon shown the door.

Whatever one thinks of the players as players would could not argue that that was a football club showing loyalty. Not the sort of loyalty which is wistfully discussed when talking about Rooney. That one side should ignore the financial implications and the transient nature of the player joining a club and carry on.

How does football reward loyalty anyway? The games does not even have the equivalent of a carriage clock that the player being put out to pasture could tell his former employers to take and shove it.

Off the field a reading of statistics makes a lie of the idea of loyal supporters who come season in season out. Statistician Simon Kuper illustrates that each season at a typical ground half the supporters will not have been at the equivalent game the season before.

Indeed when one looks at the millions of pounds that are put into Old Trafford by supporters and taken out by the Glazier family one could make an argument that Rooney done United fans a favour. Reports have it that Rooney talked to Joel Glazier before his Roo-Turn and got promises about how much money would go into the team and how much would flow into his chairman’s pocket. Manchester United – remember – have not stopped making money they have just started to give it to the family of American who own them rather than spend it on the squad.

At all clubs – and certainly at Bradford City – there are moments when one wishes a player or manager would have stood up to those who owned the club in this way. The £8m paid out in dividends at the start of the Premiership first season to the Rhodes and Richmond families has always been controversial at City. If manager Paul Jewell or captain Stuart McCall had told Richmond that they money goes back into the club or they walk would they have been doing supporters a disservice? Would that have been loyalty?

The myth of loyalty

Football loves the myth of loyalty, but it is a myth and it is so not because of the players but to suit the needs of clubs which are at the behest of the whims of supporters who demand action for improvement.

Changing players, or managers, gives the appearance of action but is seldom it. Where is the loyalty to Jon Bateson who puts in a good first season and then is cast aside in favour of a player the (new) manager has worked with before?

Few would say Lewis Hunt represents an improvement on Bateson so for the disregarding of loyalty – such as it is – what improvement is there? Is it change or the appearance of change?

Football has no loyalty and clubs want it that way. The ability to sack a manager or bring in new faces are – and always have been – a slight of hand that clubs employ to distract from the lack if a broader improvement.

Occasionally a Rooney is the focus, showing a disregard for what we would like to see as loyalty, but most often the players are cast away by clubs who consider that loyalty a disadvantage.