Club Loyalty Versus Career Success: The Dying Age of One-Club Footballers

At what point as a player do you sacrifice club loyalty for personal success? It’s a question that surrounds professional soccer today as we see lots of players leaving the clubs that helped shape them into the footballers they are today with the prospect of more success.

As soccer fans we all have our favorite club, and when we see a great player leave, it’s never easy. But to understand why they leave you have to take a step back from being a supporter of your club and look at it in a different light. Most players in their prime leave their clubs with the ambition to win more. And when you leave a club, you will be touted as a villain for trying to do what is best for your career, not your club.

The most notable recent example is Robin van Persie. When Van Persie moved to Manchester United last summer, he was portrayed as a villain in the minds of Arsenal fans. To draw a comparison, Van Persie leaving Arsenal was similar to LeBron James snubbing his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers and choosing the Miami Heat. Shirts were burned, and James was booed when he returned to Cleveland. Does any of this sound similar to Van Persie’s situation? And can you really blame Van Persie for leaving a club he devoted a big chunk of his career to and was getting little to no help to win a trophy?

As an Arsenal fan, I was upset at first knowing that Van Persie was leaving — especially to Manchester United — but when I thought about, the move made sense for the Dutch striker. Arsenal had been selling many of their top players to big clubs, and those players were going on and winning trophies and having success while Van Persie was stuck trying to single-handedly win Arsenal its first trophy in almost a decade. While many thought Van Persie would stick through the tough times at Arsenal, a player can only watch for so long before taking action. So I don’t blame Van Persie for making the move to pursue success.

This summer, there are players who need to decide whether to stick with the club that has been loyal to them, or to move on to more lucrative pastures. For example, Gareth Bale over the past few seasons has thrust himself into the discussion as one of the world’s best players. Yet he’s stuck on a team that has had just one Champions League season in his tenure at the club. The prospect of big wages and playing for world renowned teams could sway Bale to leave Tottenham this summer, but should he? Does he owe anything to Tottenham and the club’s supporters by staying at the club this summer and turning down possible moves to Real Madrid, Barcelona, etc? I say no. If Bale did decide to leave, it wouldn’t be a surprise. The lure of Champions League football could be too hard to turn down and the prospects of winning titles would be appealing, too. But I don’t think Bale should leave. If he stays with the club, Tottenham Hotspur will bring in the world class players he needs around him to help the club excel.

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