A common trend among fans is to talk up, praise, and defend a player when he plays for your club, only to criticise them as soon as they move on and take up employment elsewhere. It is all too easy to see past the flaws of those who pull on the same shirt as you, and then feel resentment when they begin to kiss the badge of another.
Sometimes this is justified, if the manner of their exit is sour in any way. But sometimes it can smack of bitterness. Football is, after all, a business, and these players are just employees. In the business world, people change jobs all the time, working their way up the ladder towards the peak they envisage for themselves without ever looking back. So why is sport, and football in particular, so different?
The trouble is that we expect our players to have the same attachment to the club that we do, as fans. But they aren’t fans, especially in the multinational state of the game, where they grew up supporting clubs in their home country, probably never even paying the English game much attention. When they sign for us, they do so as a career move, to stretch and further themselves, not to realise a lifelong dream. It is not their ultimate fulfilment to play for Arsenal as it would be ours.
Take Flamini, who fought tooth and nail to succeed at the club, and then when he shone, chose to move on when his contract expired. We all know that Flamini is not world class – very good, certainly, but realistically his stock has never and probably never will be higher. The business analogy is if you just closed the deal of your life, and suddenly your newfound reputation saw you offered big bucks to be a consultant to others. It would be a great surprise if you didn’t cash in on your success without question.
Even Adebayor has a business equivalent. If he is being offered massive pay rises elsewhere, he is entitled to ask his current employers to match them. His trouble is that he probably isn’t actually being offered those sums, and is simply being greedy, an entirely different situation.
We cannot expect players to stay at Arsenal just because they feel attached to the club. Some become so in their time here, as Cesc as done, and that makes them eligible for additional adulation, not to mention the possibility of the captain’s armband. But this is a bonus rather than the standard. What we can expect is honesty. If a player wants to renegotiate his contract because he feels he is worth more, fine. If he intends to move on when it expires, fine. Just as long as he doesn’t lie about it.
Ashley Cole is rightly despised by Arsenal fans, not because he wanted more money, that he felt that he should get that infamous extra 5k, but because he lied about his dealings with Chelsea. He deceived us, or attempted to, effectively spitting in the face of those who sang his name. More recently, Hleb attempted to pass off a meeting with Inter as accidental when he ‘went for an ice cream’. Those are the sorts of deceptions that destroy the memory of a player in the hearts of the fans they leave behind.
But if they treat their contract with respect, and treat us with respect, then we should do the same for them, even if they are moving onwards and, in their opinion, upwards. So Gilberto and Flamini, thanks for all your efforts.
Always remember – they are the employees, and we are the fans. No matter what they do, how they leave, what they go on to achieve, we are the only ones who stick around for a lifetime. No player is bigger than a club, and no club is bigger than its fans.