Ambition and Loyalty

The January transfer window always gives us much to talk about and this year’s mid-season scramble was no different. For me the most interesting issue that was raised, though, was actually from a transfer that did not happen.

Charlie Adam’s agent spoke out today after Adam’s mooted move to Liverpool fell through that Blackpool that Adam felt let down by his his club for not allowing the move to happen. Adam had previously spoken of his desire to play “at the top of the tree” and his agent said “he was desperate to move to Liverpool – who wouldn’t feel that way when a club like that comes calling?”.

Ambition is a word used by professional footballers to justify making certain transfers. Funnily enough Fernando Torres insinuated the same thing when leaving Liverpool for Chelsea on Monday. What drives that decision to move though? Is it the trophies you might win? Maybe the chance to play with a better calibre of player?

For a player like Adam moving to a larger club seems to carry a huge element of risk. There are plenty of examples of players who have been big fish in little ponds, who have moved to bigger clubs and never made it: Scott Parker, Steve Sidwell and Shay Given (Man City are possibly larger in ambition at present than Newcastle?) to name a few.

This is not a phenomenon that is isolated to footballers though. It seems to be a general trend across industries at present that workers are more aware that they will be able to make better progress up the ladder of their chosen career, if they switch jobs and companies regularly. This may be because there are rarely 40 year jobs available in companies anymore because they are always under pressure to be efficient and streamlined but I think the point stands that people know that if they want to get ahead that they will have to switch roles reasonably often.

Top class football is a cut throat industry. Clubs will cut players very quickly if they think that the player has not been performing for a while of if they can upgrade him. Maybe a large part of why players feel they have to move on so regularly is because they know that any fidelity that their employers are showing to them will only be short lived and based largely on their short term performance.

A footballers career is also much shorter than in almost all other industries. They have to achieve everything they want to achieve in around 15 years. Perhaps this amplifies this need to feel like they are accomplishing everything they want to.

Football has a third entity other than the employer and the employee that other industries do not have though. That is the fans, and players’ ambition does not really complement that attribute most coveted by supporters, loyalty. Although it may be the player’s ambition that has driven him to play the way he has for a club, it is also that ambition that will mean he wants to leave at the earliest opportunity that is offered.

This creates the uneasy relationship we have at present where fans can adore a player one day and be burning effigies of them the next. The celebrity culture that has allowed sportsman to become ‘loved’ characters has a flip side in that if you feel like you have been ‘betrayed’ by a player then that love can quickly become a hatred.

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