The One Club Man: An Endangered Species
Loyalty; succinctly defined it is a strong feeling of allegiance and support. Loyalty can take many forms and play multiple roles in our lives. Along with being an important component of any lasting relationship, loyalty was once an integral thread in the fibers of economic stability throughout much of the industrial and post-industrial western world. The stability of businesses, both large and small, was largely built on mutual loyalty, which, in its extreme manifestation came to be known as “cronyism” or “corruption. Yet in this previous era those who demonstrated their commitment to a business could expect more job security, social mobility, and a brighter future for their children. In recent times, however, loyalty has given way to a global obsession with efficiency, cost effectiveness, and profits at the expense of employee welfare and for lack of a better term “the common good.”
In sport loyalty also manifests itself in a variety of ways: fan loyalty to a team, player loyalty to their coaches, teams, supporters, contracts, agents, and/or commercial sponsors, etc. Apropos of those seemingly ubiquitous commercial sponsors, it is likely that the boundless amount of capital and moneymaking potential in professional sport has rendered loyalty completely obsolete. But does athlete “loyalty” to a club or to its fans mean anything anymore? Is it natural that athletes and clubs simply need to look out for their own interests? In an age when the bottom line for teams is staying competitive (and profitable), in which professional football clubs sign children as young as five to outrageous professional-tract contracts, and millions of dollars are just as often thrown at budding, unproven teenagers, where exactly does a player’s loyalty to his club fit in?
Such are the questions facing new generations of professional footballers, many of whose role models lived in eras when players considered factors other than just money when deciding their futures. These very role models, some of whom dedicated their entire careers to a single club, and are now occasionally often referred to as “club legends” or “old school players,” have become an endangered species and perhaps even find themselves out of place in today’s neo liberal market economy. It is likely that we so fondly remember these “legends” because of their willingness to dedicate their careers to a cause larger than themselves-a team legacy, its identity, or out of respect for the club that showed faith in their talents. This then, is a salute to the one-club men of yesteryear.
Many of the greatest footballers of the past two decades have pied their trades for several teams. Maradona, Pele, Romario, Ronaldo, Zidane, Baggio, Schmeichel, Cruyff, and Platini all played for at least three professional clubs. Even so, each of these legends will always carry a special place in their heart for one team. La Bombonera has long been Maradona’s second home, Pele made a name for himself, and even retired with Santos, Zidane’s greatest club achievements occurred with Real Madrid, where he now works and whose youth team his children play for. Cruyff settled in best with Barcelona where he excelled as both a player and coach. Whether pro footballers remain with one club their entire lives or play for several, most of them retain a fondness for one club over the others, a feeling that no amount of money can alter. This, ironically, is how many people feel about certain past romances.
To stick with one club (and woman) through thick and thin, in spite of greener pastures, or larger pay package offerings is a sign of integrity and dedication. One-club men are also rare in football due to the effects of promotion and relegation in most leagues, which causes the tendency for young players to be loaned out (for experience), for players to move clubs for financial reasons (if the club is relegated), and for older footballers to play at lower levels in order to elongate their careers. It is with this in mind that we should salute the handful of contemporary 30+ one-club men: Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Xavi Hernandez, Victor Valdes, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Jamie Carragher, Steven Gerrard, Ledley King, and John Terry, who remain amazingly vital to their respective teams. Club supporters will forever remember these players as more than just world-class footballers, rather, they will look upon them as definers of their team’s identity and regard them as fellow fans.