ALONG WITH SELFIE-STICKS, an unhealthy fascination with net-spend and those ridiculous looking half-and-half scarves, the latest “thing” to be embraced by a certain generation of football fans is the deluded view that the modern day footballer actually loves the club they play for.
Now don’t get me wrong; there’s nothing more a supporter could wish for than a player pulling on the shirt of the club that you and he both love. It’s a marriage made in heaven for all concerned.
But let’s face it. How many marriages are made in heaven? And how many are born out of convenience, money and even greed – often occurring during a difficult stage in both party’s lives?
Of course it does happen and fans love it when they see “one of their own” fighting for the cause. Just ask boyhood Arsenal fan and now Spurs favourite Harry Kane.
Alright, Kane was on trial at The Emirates when he was pictured in an Arsenal shirt at the tender age of 11, but if anything, that just shows how fickle the professional footballer can be. If Kane had stayed at Arsenal would he have remained a Gooner? Would anyone have cared?
Ryan Giggs coming on as a 17-year-old substitute for his beloved Manchester United back in 1991; Alan Shearer pulling on the famous stripes of Newcastle in front of 10,000 jubilant fans outside St. James’ Park; and John Aldridge playing for his boyhood favourites Liverpool and becoming a Kop hero are all stories to bring a tear to the glass eye of any supporter.
However, these are more of a novelty than the norm and there are several players that have optimised this fan led obsession with loyalty in recent years, none of whom have a case to answer in my view.
Take Luis Suárez, who almost single-handedly won the league for Liverpool two years ago, terrorising defences and banging in goals for fun in one of the most exciting campaigns Anfield has witnessed for some time.
Taken to the Kop’s heart for his never-say-die mentality and stunning ability, and rightly so, his efforts were almost super-human, and he ran his socks off for a cause that oh-so-nearly resulted in a first league championship in the best part of a quarter of a century.
But when the call came from Barcelona he was off, he didn’t need much persuading, despite the fact that Liverpool Football Club, along with the majority of the fans, stood by him through several high-profile on-field incidents that would have spelled the end for many. Some even accused him of using such “distractions” to engineer his way out of the club – all just a few months after he had flirted with Arsenal over a potential move.
Then there was Chelsea’s golden boy Frank Lampard, who not only left the club that fans believed he loved with the same passion as theirs, but ultimately ended up at a club that were to become their nearest title rivals, Manchester City.
But maybe the player that attracts more criticism when it comes to his loyalties is the current captain of Manchester United and huge Everton fan Wayne Rooney. Rooney achieved what almost every child dreams of doing at an early age – playing for his boyhood idols – and at the tender age of just 16.
But as he excelled in his early years and his reputation grew, the probability of him leaving the club that he still loves became greater and greater, until the temptation of increasing his medal haul and swelling his bank balance at Old Trafford became too much.
Now let’s get this straight, Rooney is a top-class player but he is not, and never has been, a Manchester United fan, and he would tell you that to your face.
The “Once a Blue always a Blue” t-shirt may have been something of a PR disaster, but you only have to look at the pictures he proudly tweets of his children to see that dad and lad are very much Evertonians – and what is wrong with that?
Yes, recent criticism can undoubtedly be put down to a drop in form, but Rooney has played for United for over a decade, something very few players can boast. Cantona, Whiteside, Stapleton, Pearson fell well short of this accolade and even Mark Hughes left once during his 10 year love-affair with the club. Yet all were seen as being United through-and-through, in the eyes of the supporters at least.
So why, after all this time, is Wayne Rooney constantly being asked to declare his undying love for Manchester United or treated as some kind of imposter in a red shirt who is bluffing a living out of die-hard fans?
Rooney’s form may have dipped but he has undoubtedly played a huge part in keeping a stuttering United team ticking-over in recent seasons – particularly when he was stuck in midfield during Sir Alex Ferguson’s final term – and in past campaigns been instrumental in many title winning sides, not to mention a victorious Champions League campaign.
But this isn’t enough for some modern day match-goers who seem to want blood over match-winning performances.
Yes, they are well paid, but show me a footballer who isn’t. And, okay, it’s not in Wayne Rooney’s, Frank Lampard’s or Luis Suárez’s contract to declare their undying love for the club they play for. As long as they turn up to do a job that should be good enough for most.
It seems some fans nowadays – the ones who aren’t posing for selfies in half-and-half scarves – are under some illusion that the players they pay good money to see belong to them and are at their beck and call. Well I hate to break it to you so bluntly – but they aren’t.
Just look at the fascination among supporters about how many Scousers are now playing for Liverpool, or the amount of local lads that are in Manchester United’s first team squad each weekend. I don’t remember many academy kids pushing for a place when Souness, Rush, Dalglish, Robson, Strachan and Stapleton were doing their thing in the 1980s, and I don’t remember many people being too concerned either.
It seems fans are becoming ridiculously possessive; of players, managers, even of each other. And it appears that, as clubs become more like businesses, supporters are desperately looking for a pulse, or a flicker of evidence that a golden era of fan/player relationship still exists.
Well it didn’t and it never will.
Apparently a man can change his wife, but he can never change the football club he plays for, which is essentially his job. But the reality is, a player is not obliged to be a fan of the club they play for and never will be.
Not so long ago a photograph started doing the rounds of a young Steven Gerrard in a full Everton kit, standing next to the old league championship trophy from 1987. Jamie Carragher was also an Evertonian that went on to play for Liverpool.
So did Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman. John Terry’s boyhood team was Manchester United; Ole Gunnar Solskjær supported Liverpool; Lee Dixon followed Manchester City. Yet no one could doubt the loyalty or question the passion these players have shown to the clubs they eventually would end-up playing for.
Fan ownership is a fantastic concept and one all fans could embrace and one that works on so many levels, but with the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Manchester City and most other top-flight clubs, it’s a long way off happening, if at all. And until that day comes, fans will have to like-it-or-lump-it when it comes to what is put in front of them on the pitch.
So, in the meantime, is it not in the best interest of the club and players alike that supporters get the best out of what they have, rather than expecting to be best buddies when the time comes for them to move on?
By Matthew Crist. Follow @Matthewjcrist