Thursday, 2 February 2017

Should we expect footballers to be loyal?

On a fairly quiet transfer deadline day on Tuesday shockwaves were sent across one English city, with Bristol reeling from the news that Bristol Rovers' star striker Matty Taylor was crossing the city to sign for Bristol City.

It's a move that has been rarely made in Bristol, with Taylor becoming the first player to do so since Trevor Morgan in 1987. It's also one that continues to be controversial, with Rovers looking set to complain to the Football League that City knew the details of Taylor's release clause before making their bid. That will only add fuel to the fire in the West Country, as Rovers fans mourn the loss to their rivals of a striker who had helped them to successive promotions from the Conference to League One, scoring 61 goals in the process.

Players who have played for two local rivals are rare, and even rarer are those who have moved directly from one to the other. Rio Ferdinand and Eric Cantona both moved from Leeds United to Manchester United, and Sol Campbell signed for Arsenal from Spurs, but perhaps the most famous example is Denis Law.

Having spent a season with Manchester City he had a disappointing season at Torino before moving back to Manchester, this time for United. Between 1962 and 1973 he scored 237 goals for them, helping them to two League titles, one FA Cup and a European Cup. He was given a free transfer back to City in 1973 though, and famously scored a backheeled goal against United that he thought had relegated his old club (in fact other results that day meant that United would have gone down anyway).

Law was devastated by his goal, but should we expect players to feel such emotion for their current club as we as fans do? For them it's a job, a very well paid job, but unless they've grown up supporting their hometown club before going on to play for them, Steven Gerrard style, it's unlikely that they'll ever feel the same about the club as the fans. We sometimes see players refuse to celebrate goals against their old clubs as a mark of respect, but that doesn't stop them from moving on when a better offer comes along.

Who can blame them though. Few of them grew up supporting the clubs they play for. Hardly any of them grew up in the same country as the clubs they play for, so there simply isn't the same emotional attachment as there is for the supporters who've spent their lives experiencing the highs and lows of supporting your team. Players, managers, owners, almost everyone apart from the fans might kiss the badge for a while, but they could be kissing another badge after the next transfer window.

So, gutting as it is for fans to lose their talisman to your neighbours, we have to remember that the players don't feel the same.

Even so, Taylor will be hoping that his new club (currently three points above the Championship relegation zone with eight defeats and a draw in their last nine matches) don't have any derby games against his old one (three points away from the League One playoffs) next season.