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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.

The era of professional footballers staying with one club throughout their entire career is a rarity. Ryan Giggs has played for Manchester United for 23 consecutive years. Ledley King was at Tottenham Hotspur for 14 years. Brian Labone was at Everton for 13 years. Nat Lofthouse was at Bolton for 21 years. Gary Neville, 19 years at United. Despite these lofty achievements, the day and age of one-club footballers is a dying breed.

Club loyalty is something that is a touchy subject for lots of fans. Fans of teams all over have seen their fan favorite player leave for bigger and better things, but if you’re not able to take a step back and see the reasons why they left, you may run the risk of just sounding like a hater. With the summer transfer window approaching we are sure to see lots of player’s loyalties to their clubs tested.

If you were a professional footballer, what would you do? At what point would you sacrifice your club loyalty for personal success? Give us your viewpoint in the comments section below.

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  1. Richard Kujay

    June 9, 2013 at 9:49 am

    Hey mope. This site is about football. You know, the game played on the foot. No one needs comparisons to basketball and throwball. If I want those comparisons I can tune in to a fox broadcast and listen to curt menefee make comparisons of champions league rivals to the ’86 giants or some such banal trash. Ever heard of Figo? Schmiechel? Zidane? You could possibly have used these FOOTBALL PLAYERS to make your point. Instead you show your high school lit class efforts at journalism. Learn something about this sport before you dare to impress us with your weeks old knowledge of the game and its history sport.
    Besides which, there has never been loyalty by any footballer to any club. These boys are a business. As such a business does what is best for itself. If Rooney, Bale, Cristiano or whomever leave it is because of a business decision. Do not mistake your fan loyalty for some forsaken love you lost at high school.

    • lumen

      June 9, 2013 at 1:19 pm

      And in your classes you learned what? That name calling and belittling are the best tactics to mask the fact that you have absolutely nothing to add to a conversation?

  2. Frill Artist

    June 8, 2013 at 10:14 pm

    Unless it says in their contract that the player must stay in the club for life, I don’t think they have any obligations to stay at the club.

  3. Dust

    June 8, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    In not sure why you think this one player one club has existed since the 50’s… there have been transfer heartbreak for me for in particular sir Hoddle moving to Monaco…

    Giggs is an anomaly…not the standard.

    Champions league is NOT the main motivator…your club Farsenal is s great example….as the Wenger lovers love to say “we’ve had champions league every year for 15 years!”

    Why did Cesc, Nasri, Cliche, Henry, Van Dirty leave guaranteed UCL?

    B/c winning matters and players slowly realize after being sold a bill of goods that in a season there are only certain amount of trophy’s when a club only tries to qualify for a raffle they leave…

    Other competitions like Europa league are taken seriously on the content because they realize this…

  4. Ian T.

    June 8, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    Wow, again?! When we lost out on promotion it was hard to hold it against him. He stuck to his word! I’d better wrap it up before I have to post several more comments!

  5. Ian T.

    June 8, 2013 at 12:54 pm

    Whoops! The matter in which Bale did was classy. He told our chairman at the start of the Championship season that he would stay and play with the team and then depending on how the season shaped up he would make a decision to submit a transfer request or stay with the team (based on promotion or no promotion). Well when we lost out on pr

  6. Ian T.

    June 8, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    Call me old fashioned or what have you, but as a fan of a “smaller” club I enjoy seeing players spend a good chunk of their careers at a club. I realize that many players want to win trophies & that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, it’s how you’re remembered. But as a Southampton fan I will always be thankful for Matt LeTissier an his loyalty to the club. Without him during the early 90’s we would’ve been well down into the lower leagues, but he single-handedly drug us out of the thick if relegation and never had his head turned by big offers from bigger clubs. I can certainly understand the desire to go on and win trophies, as Bale did. But the manner in which Bale did

    • brn442

      June 9, 2013 at 9:47 am

      @Ian, Le Tissier’s style of football was not exactly the “English” way back then. I’m not sure he would have been allowed to express his art at other clubs the way he did at the Dell.

  7. Rod

    June 8, 2013 at 12:10 pm

    The RVP move affected Arsenal fans more because he went to a rival team. Had he gone to a team in another league I don’t think fans would have felt quite so betrayed.

  8. Bishopville Red

    June 8, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Nobody wants to admit it, but club loyalty was always some form of a myth. Sure, there are guys who stay where they are because they’re comfortably compensated and ambitions are met by the club (Scholes, Giggs), but to refer to a bygone era of the “one club man” as a standard is very misleading.

    Early days, clubs held all the cards: maximum wage rules, and kept player registration in perpetuity, regardless of contract length. There was no advantage to leaving clubs and if the club didn’t want to sell you, you didn’t go. It was that simple.

    Since then, once maximum wage was abolished, freedom of contract kicked in, and the Bosman ruling freed up player movement, the only thing holding a player to one area is his ability to live comfortably there. if nobody else can match wages or lifestyle, he stays. If someone else trumps his club, the old “don’t match my ambition” line pops up and a transfer request (or more recently agent’s rumblings) land on the manager’s desk.

    But don’t cry for your club; the loyalty myth is a two way street, and the clubs have been driving it much longer than players. Frank Lampard didn’t get a contract renewal based on what he’s done, he got one because of what he can still do. If he had scored 2 goals all year and demanded a contract because the club should be loyal to him, no Chelsea supporter would hate the club to recognizing the “writing on the wall” and going with a younger, better player. For some reason, people don’t see that as a problem, but if a player wants to go, loyalty is a filter that clouds supporters’ opinions.

    In other contexts, we have no problems with it. I know a lot of teachers. They see the benefits of their schools but also realize that if they had ended up at a different school teaching a different grade, they’d probably like that set-up as much as their current ones, albeit for different reasons.

    Do they love their school and show as much “school spirit” as much as the kids who attend it? Not really. They put in a solid shift, behave professionally, which includes making the best situation possible for students, both inside and outside the classroom, but it’s still a job. If there were cutbacks in the area and their contracts were “transferred” to another school, they’d still work to the best of their abilities, build relationships with new staff and students, and move on. And nobody would bat an eye. You certainly wouldn’t have a pack of kids from the old school outside your classroom yelling “JUDAS!” as you started a new semester.

    This loyalty thing is something we have towards our clubs, but to players, they’re employers. to Clubs, they’re employees. whatever maximizes efficiency is the preferred route for both.


    • K Riz

      June 8, 2013 at 11:56 pm


      Give SB a shot a writing a column or two. One of the best replies I’ve had the pleasure of reading on WST… love the name change btw.

      SB, well said. Spot-on, my friend. Your teacher analogy was pinpoint. Your reply changed my thinking towards the subject. Plenty of food for thought to nibble on.

    • brn442

      June 9, 2013 at 9:35 am

      Well said Bishop. One club “loyalty” has always been more of a myth.

      Even though Giggs was tempted by Juve (when it was considered a step up to play in Serie A)at the height of his career, he and Scholes got enough silverware at Old Trafford to stay.

      Everyone from Denis Law and Charlie George switched clubs back in the day, and others simply rot on the bench before Bosman.

      Fair points about Lampard.

      I’m happy players have more power, I only wished they actually honored their contracts.

  9. goatslookshifty

    June 8, 2013 at 9:50 am

    Loyalty is great if the players are. Who wants crap players sticking around on your team because they are loyal?Additionally, no-one cares about loyalty when your team is the one getting the top players in and besides, foreign players aren’t going to show as much loyalty to EPL clubs as British players anyway because they didn’t grow up in the cities and support the teams from a young age i.e. Steve Gerard.

  10. Brad Banks

    June 8, 2013 at 9:35 am

    Club loyalty happens when a player comes up through a big club. If a player starts his career at Manchester United, that’s where he’ll finish it if allowed. Unless Barcelona wants to make the change, Messi will finish his career where he started because he started at a destination club.

    • Bishopville Red

      June 8, 2013 at 10:54 am

      That doesn’t make it loyalty, that means you hit your ceiling early.

      There’s nowhere to go but down, and players make so much money, there’s no need to slide down the leagues as players used to do instead of figuring out what to do now that their career is over and they’re in their mid-30s.

      As far as Messi finishing at Barça, we’ll see what Monaco, PSG, Man. City, or whatever other Billionaire sugardaddy’s club has to say about that.


      • Frill Artist

        June 8, 2013 at 10:10 pm

        Messi will likely finish at Barca. If he leaves, it will just be to fizzle out at a small club. I don’t see what PSG or Sh!tty can offer him that Barca doesn’t. It’s not like he’s starving for money there.

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