Fernando’s uncomfortable truth

February 8, 2011 Tags: , , Opinion 20 comments

“I never kissed the Liverpool badge,” said Fernando Torres last week.

“I see some players do that one week after they join a club but the romance in football has gone. It’s different now. People come and leave. When you join a club you want to do the best for yourself and for that club. That’s all.”

It was the brutal and unsympathetic assessment of modern football by one of its leading proponents. As Fernando Torres trashed Liverpool supporters’ hopes by moving to Chelsea for £50 million, he also laid bare the one of the modern game’s taboos.

To players, football is little more than a job; one in which the career path exists every bit as much as in the rat race of every day life. Call it greed, call it disloyalty just don’t admit it is the truth. Modern football in a cold light – a commercially oriented entertainment business in which fans are customers, and customers a revenue stream on which to leverage brands’ sponsored association.

“Some people like to kiss the badge,” added the 26-year-old Spanish international. “I only want to score goals and do my job.”

Quite apart from whether Torres did “kiss the Liverpool badge” or not – it matters not one iota to the players argument. Romance has indeed gone to meet its maker.

Torres’ statement was met with the same disbelief on the terraces as in the media. The entirely false notion that moving jobs in sports is in any way fundamentally different from other walks of life is laid bare by only a few within the game.

More universally, those that follow the game engage in a pattern of denial. It is a message few want to accept its frankness: footballers, like the supporters that buy a ticket and purchase a subscription, do their jobs for money. The shock! The horror!

Predictably supporters in Merseyside labeled the striker a “Judas” on a multitude of internet forums and held aloft banners at Stamford Bridge lambasting the striker’s supposed “betrayal”. The action driven by the same misguided perception that players should somehow harbour an emotional attachment to the club.

It is, after all, why players kiss the badge. That action, save for the few who cringe with embarrassment, is taken as a sign of love. It is a universally understood endorsement that buys reciprocation.

Manchester United supporters fell into the same trap of course when Wayne Rooney publicly questioned the club’s “ambition”. While Rooney’s biggest mistake was to poorly articulate what others were thinking, the striker’s perceived disloyalty hurt fans the most.

“He truly got United,” was a common refrain, “how could he turn on the club like this?” For Rooney and his agent the move was a logical business decision.

This game of emotional entrapment is also played, with conspicuous success, by club owners. “Be part of it” declared the mural on Mancunian Way enticing Blues to actually visit Eastlands. Live the “Dream” at Old Trafford, goes the now well-worn cliché. It is the same emotional pull that enabled the Glazer family to all but sell out of season tickets this summer despite five years of parsimonious management and astronomical ticket price rises.

Supporters, it seems, are not quite ready to behave like customers and walk away from a bad deal, just as they are unable to accept players as ephemeral commodities. Here today, gone tomorrow.

It is a truth that Torres knows only too well. Players and supporters are as one pawns in a bigger game in which high finance dictates the football industry’s direction.

After all, if owners treat players like pieces of meat, as Roy Keane once infamously said, then perhaps supporters are little more than the gherkin in the burger bun. Fans exist but nobody in club management is quite sure why.

It is these same owners that gladly play the greed card when it is to their advantage. It is an argument lapped up not only by fans but national media that should know better. Only one leading journalist openly admitted he would move paper for double his salary in the wake of Torres’ transfer.

Torres, meanwhile, will do what the striker does best and score significant and potentially silverware winning goals for Chelsea. Freed of the demotivating downward spiral inflicting Anfield over the past two years, the Spaniard is likely to flourish.

After all, the player’s move was essentially a career decision; simply the business of football. “I’m sure I am doing one big step forward in my career,” the former Atlético de Madrid player told Chelsea TV to universal anger on Merseyside.

Torres’ alacrity is a lesson many fans would do well to heed though. Football, the entertainment business. Buy a ticket, take a seat, consume the dream. Just don’t expect ‘loyalty’ to the club to be matched by players.

Nor should it be.

20 comments

Godfrey - February 8, 2011 Reply

Its a realisation that hits you hard ,loyalty is indeed a thing of the past for today’s multi-millionaire player.He’ll wag his tail wherever he’s paid the beat.But cant help but notice most of the players who keep grumbling for a rise in their pay packets hardly seem to live up to the astronomical sums which they’re being paid to ‘work’.
Funny thing that you’ll never have heard of a Ryan Giggs or a Paul Scholes hold the club to ransom.I think I could safely add the names of the flea ,his side kicks xavi and inniesta and their merry men moaning about wages.(Granted the amount the save on taxes).
And we have a Yaya Toure as the highest paid player playing fer the dummest..im sorry biggest club in manchester…

ian - February 8, 2011 Reply

I think you have gone dangerously over the top, Ed. Once a fan becomes cynical, big time -& that is what this piece is about-then he is no longer a fan. Fans have always moaned, knocked players, cursed the manager,& nowadays rubbished the owners,& they always will; they want to express their two h’pence & without that the game would be dead. But “The Club” does matter to a helluva lot of people, at a tribal level,& they truly suffer when things are not going well & celebrate when on the sweet days. You might scoff, but I call this romance, the heart not the head, & once the romance goes you might as well start playing tiddlywinks. We have never lived in an ideal world & never will. You constantly knock the Glazers- I don’t like them too- but they have never interfered with the football side & SAF has always said they have stumped up the cash for players when needed.
Big business has been bad for football in some ways,-it has usually moved the club away from the local community- but it has been bloody good in many other ways. Despite our moans the quality & excitemnt in the PL makes the game of 30 years ago look amateurish. Remember Mr Knighton? Big business has made Barca the best football team to have ever played the game, at club or international level -by a margin, in my opinion- & I have been a fan for over 50 years. That is the dream. If the team improve & play in the right kind of way, who are we to complain?
What more do you expect from the players? Just take one case, Pat Evra. A great player. Plays the game in the right way. He gives everything for the team, week in week out. The fans adore him. He plays for ‘the badge’. He suffers when we lose. I honestly believe that United will stay in his blood for ever. Let’s suppose Real make him a better offer than United at the end of the season & he leaves. Do you blame him? How can you expect more than a player sweating blood for you? That’s the point. Let’s consider a very good player at a club with no chance of winning anything, you might almost say Torres,what do you expect him to do? All good players must be ambitious enough to want to become as good as possible, so a lot move on. Its a lot more complicated than just being about ‘big business’ & money.

Ed - February 8, 2011 Reply

Ian – I have a feeling you didn’t read very carefully because the piece is about fans’ perceptions of players and owners differing from what they want it to be.

I have to take issue with your assertion that “once a fan becomes cynical… he is no longer a fan” though. Quite the opposite in fact. I’m a passionate fan but there are certain elements of the game that I’ve come to accept – one of the most important is that players see football as a job (this I’ve heard directly from players and ex-pros I’ve spoken to). The other is that owners see fans as customers, with a willingness to exploit fans’ brand attachment for profit.

sidney - February 8, 2011 Reply

Tevez, Torres & Rooney, all loved and embraced by their clubs & fans, and all requested transfers

Modern football is a load of shit

Spike - February 8, 2011 Reply

Errr
Not so young sid…there are still players out there who stay loyal.

Ed - February 8, 2011 Reply

Question is – why should they?

Ashish - February 8, 2011 Reply

Unfortunately the same shit thats happening in modern football is also happening in our day to day lives aswell.

God knows how many employees ask for a pay rise without even proving themselves.

No matter how well off young people are as compared to their forefathers…..they’ll still bitch,whine and complain that they’re being put down upon.

No matter how much todays youngsters earn as compared to their forefathers,they’ll still complain that they’re earning less.

I don’t know how we’ve become a such a society of victims….and this trend is not just followed by the common man…..but also by footballers.

sidney - February 8, 2011 Reply

Blog Commenter said:
Unfortunately the same shit thats happening in modern football is also happening in our day to day lives aswell.
God knows how many employees ask for a pay rise without even proving themselves.
No matter how well off young people are as compared to their forefathers…..they’ll still bitch,whine and complain that they’re being put down upon.
No matter how much todays youngsters earn as compared to their forefathers,they’ll still complain that they’re earning less.
I don’t know how we’ve become a such a society of victims….and this trend is not just followed by the common man…..but also by footballers.

What you on about
Are you a boss of some kind? Do you employ a small number of poor unfortunate bastards?
You’re saying the young people today should be content with their lot because in your day you had to shit in an ourdoor lavvy and eat bricks for breakfast and lick slipways clean and favver would cut you in two wit’ breadknife?
The current generation are gonna be worse off than their forefathers (hence the reason its kicking off all over the world) not just in terms of the standard of living, income, cost of living, but in terms of social mobility. Society was more mobile than it is now. You had it better – you had more opportunity.

uncleknobheadforfucksake - February 8, 2011 Reply

enter sheesh

Bill - February 8, 2011 Reply

Yep alot of the people fans/press who criticise these players would move company/jobs if they were offered more money and/or to work for a firm with more prospects.

It is a reflection of society today, which is selfish and greedy. The key is for each club to run their operations so well that staff don’t want to leave.

danniitronix - February 8, 2011 Reply

sidney said:
Tevez, Torres & Rooney, all loved and embraced by their clubs & fans, and all requested transfers

Modern football is a load of shit

yeah but honestly who gives a fuck? i don’t really give a shit that players move for cash – i give a shit when i don’t think they are worth it – like rooney on 250k so will have a moan but actually i dont really give a cunt

sidney - February 8, 2011 Reply

uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
enter sheesh

*Gets the lube ready*

danniitronix - February 8, 2011 Reply

uncleknobheadforfucksake said:
enter sheesh

no, enter fat maradona

bman - February 8, 2011 Reply

You cannot compare footballers to normal employees. Football is entertainment, footballers’ job is to bring punters to the stadiums or persuade them to watch on TV. Supporters are better customers if they feel more attachment to a team, and so there is a contradiction between the business need of making supporters feel emotionally attached to a team and footballers’ desire to maximise their own income. In other words, if mercenary footballers turn supporters off, that hurts the club in the long run.

It completely misses the point when people say “if you were a plumber and got offered twice the money for a different job, you’d take it”, because plumbers aren’t paid to win people’s hearts.

Clubs should link players’ wages more to the amount of shirts they sell, and give them bonuses for being voted the fans’ player of the month — that way players would have a financial incentive to earn supporters’ love, and players with a mercenary reputation would be a disadvantage.

ian - February 8, 2011 Reply

Football has always been a job, on one level; being paid half a crown was a bloody sight better than going down the pit & just for kicking a ball. Being offered seven & six, & a brown envelope in the back pocket, was always a good reason to move to the Rovers.
Don’t you see that playing for Barca today, gives players a kick more than any normal job would? Iniesta gives more pleasure to his fans -leaves them with memories- than yer average worker gives to his foreman. But, my God, he has had to put in thousands of hours pratice before getting to that level.Think about Eric.
Unfortunately, we live in a capitalist society & most owners are interested in maximising their profits. But that means having a bloody good product; not only a team that is successful but, at United, playing decent football too. I’m afraid if you want to see the best, & I do, you have to pay a premium; if you want to drive a Beemer it will cost you a bit more than driving a Seat. The real qustions are: is the quality better than it was 30 years ago? Are we enjoying watching fantastic footballers more. Yes. Yes.

Bill - February 9, 2011 Reply

I definitely agree that if players showed more loyalty it would set a better example. That leads onto the subject of what duty the players have to behave in a “correct” manner. The NFL has started to ban players for misbehaving off the pitch, which I definitely applaud.

Leading back to the initial point though its the fans that become emotionally attached to the players, in a similar way to any relationship. However it is unrequited, you like the player, but the player has no feeling for you – he doesn’t even know you.

What is happening in football is only a reflection of what is happening in general society, only with higher money and stakes, played out infront of a global audience. Until society in general starts talking the talk how would you expect footballers to follow. For a large number football is the way out of poverty, so they maximise their earnings whilst they can.

Alfonso Bedoya - February 9, 2011 Reply

It’s all down to money.

In the old days, money was just a pay check… you played for the love of the game, which was obviously enhanced by playing for the team you actually support, and the bond with the fans would have been much more genuine.

Players now are definitely mercenary, but so what? That’s the nature of life, not just football… Everyone wants to make a mint, and once you factor in taxes, signing on fees, bonuses, image rights, etc… the earning totals can get well confusing and probably quite varied… add to that, the Reals, Barcas, Bitters, Renties, who can offer 50/75%, and in some cases even double what you might have been earning previously… and what do you expect?

As long as they give their all, when they play for you, and like Ferguson says… respect the club… you can’t really ask for more.

Ronaldo is a perfect example… hurt like fuck to see the best player in the world say he wants to play elswhere… but he never disrespected United, and he gave us his best while he was here.

Beckham… a die hard United fan… I honestly believe he would have stayed with United as long as he was wanted, had Ferguson not turfed him out.

And I don’t think we’ve seen the last Scholes/Giggs type of player either… they’ll be rare, but every now and then a player will come along who puts more stock in his family, and knowing that £5 million a year may be less tha £7.5 million… but you’re still bloody rich.

herbie simms - February 9, 2011 Reply

There is no loyalty among thieves. Just ask the Glazers.
Main reason for bringing youngsters through the accademy and into the premier team if they are good enough. These players remain loyal to the club. Their heart is Man United more than it is about money. My reason for stating earlier that its best to bring in quality English or British players if they are available as they are more loyal to their clubs than the foreign players. Foreigners playing in an English league are mainly there just for the money. If they don’t get what they want, they move on.
NO LOYALTY.

ian - February 9, 2011 Reply

Well said Alfonso. I disagree on one point. In the “old days” players were loyal because there was a maximum wage. There was no finacial incentives. Its always about money. Agree to double a bloke’s wage; he’ll move.

SKW - February 14, 2011 Reply

Feel blessed. Mercantile, money-take-all hasn’t hit European football at quite the same level it has in the US, which is part of my ongoing dislike for US pro leagues and my love of leagues abroad. It could be, in other words, a heck of a lot worse.

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