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The Ben Smith column: A lack of loyalty in football

It always makes me chuckle when I hear people saying that individuals in football, be it players, coaches or managers, should be loyal to a certain club.

This is naivety from supporters and just outright hypocrisy from those inside the game.

There are only one group of people who show loyalty to a football club and that is supporters, however, when I say that I am not referring to all football supporters.

I don’t mean the fly by night fans who suddenly switch allegiance to whoever is flavour of the month neither am I referring to those supporters who all of a sudden start supporting their local team when they become successful.

I’m talking about those hardcore fans which every club has who follow their team through thick and thin and more often than not thin and thin! They are the only people who can claim loyalty and ask it of others.

Managers have no right whatsoever of asking for loyalty from a player. I know for a fact that on League Manager Association courses managers are told that if they get offered a new job they should take it irrespective of whether that involves breaking a contract.

Improve my game

They give no thought about the players they have signed that may have joined the club specifically to work with that manager.

Paul Ince once tried to sign me for Macclesfield. Joining Macclesfield was of no interest to me whatsoever however I was very keen to work with a midfielder who I had grown up admiring. I knew that he would be able to improve my game.

I was also aware that he was destined for big things but I didn’t want to be left in Macclesfield while that happened. For that reason I turned the offer down. Four months after I would have signed for him he moved on to MK Dons, that decision not to sign turned out to be one of my few correct career choices.

How are the very few managers that do show loyalty to a club treated? Not very well in my opinion. Look at Sean O’Driscoll he did a wonderful job at Doncaster Rovers, on numerous occasions he turned down more lucrative roles at bigger football clubs because he refused to break his contract.

He was repaid for this loyalty by being put on ‘gardening leave’ the day after he was given the dreaded vote of confidence.

Loyalty to a club

I also find it strange when a manager says a player should show some loyalty to a club. I can see an argument for this when a player has signed a three year contract, been injured for the first two years, done well on the third and is then looking to move on, that the player may owe the club something.

However even in a case such as this I’m pretty sure that if the player was out of contract after two years he would have been released.

As a rule though all a player needs to do is what is best for him and his family. As a player you are just a commodity, when you are doing well your club says you should show loyalty yet if you have a below par season but have performed well for the previous three years you don’t often see much loyalty from the football club then.

Managers are ruthless individuals and to be fair to them they have to be. I re-joined Hereford in January 2007 because I really enjoyed working with Graham Turner and I thought that would be the club where I would get the most first team football.

He is a man I had and still have a lot of respect for. However at the end of my contract he showed me no loyalty at all. I had turned down three clubs who all offered me three and a half year deals to sign for Hereford on a two and a half year deal.

Negotiated

There was an agreement that if I started 30 league games in the last year of my contract I would automatically get an extra year's contract on the wages we had negotiated to make up for the extra year I had turned down at other clubs.

You can probably guess what happened next! In that final year I made a total of 40 appearances but only 29 league starts. I was left out for one game against Colchester at the back end of the season and then put straight back into the team.

This in itself wasn’t that strange as we had an awful season in League One which culminated in relegation but I knew there was an ulterior motive it wasn’t just that I was playing crap!

I was aware that during the course of my contract the economic landscape had changed and that maybe it would be hard to justify the money I was earning. However I felt that knowing me the way Graham did we could have sat down and had a civilised discussion about the situation.

I am a very understanding guy and would have been sympathetic to his circumstances. Instead the club made me a token offer of a new contract on half my salary while pleading to have no knowledge of the clause in my contract. This really disappointed me and made up my mind to move on. Loyalty eh!

Put themselves in the player's shoes

In saying that I’ve not always been the most loyal player in the world, maybe that was Graham’s way of getting me back for leaving him in the past.

Supporters also plead for loyalty from players but before they do that they should put themselves in the player’s shoes.

I love playing football and am delighted that I have been able to make my living from it. However once you get to the stage in your life where you have bills to pay you now have to view it as a job. Funnily enough unlike the supporters of the clubs I have played for I never grew up supporting them.

I knew very little about the likes of Hereford, Shrewsbury, Yeovil and Crawley before I joined them. If you do well at a club you build up an affinity with them and follow there progress once you’ve moved on, if you do poorly you try to erase that part of your career from your memory.

I’ve never felt any guilt about telling a manager I have played for that I am leaving or a manager who is trying to sign me that I have decided to join another team.

Surplus to requirements 

They are not offering me a new contract or trying to sign me because they like me they are trying to sign me because they think I can improve their team.

Just like I never take it personally when a manager tells me that I am surplus to requirements I don’t think many managers take offence when a player turns them down. It is just business.

The sooner the supporters realise that the less disappointment they will feel when their favourite player moves on.

 


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