Monday 6 July ~
"If I play for Manchester City I don't think the United fans will feel I am a traitor," a hopeful Carlos Tevez said yesterday. He won't be the only one hoping to be forgiven for a supposed act of disloyalty after this weekend: Paul Ince returns to MK Dons unsure if fans will overlook him deserting them for Blackburn a year ago, while Michael Owen must be wondering how Liverpool fans will react when he returns to Anfield with Manchester United next season. While football increasingly becomes influenced by the world of business, the concept of blind loyalty to a club remains one of the few illogical factors that differentiate it from other industries.
The party that benefits most from the proposition that clubs should be shown loyalty is, of course, the clubs themselves. On the one side when a player like Tevez leaves Manchester United the fact he has been treated unfairly by his manager disappears out of the window as soon as he considers players for a club's local rivals. On the other the fact that fans show an unyielding loyalty means if ever clubs raise prices or lower quality of the “product” it is safe in the knowledge people will keep coming back.
For fans it is more confusing. When you support a club it is easy to mix up players' will to win and desperation for adulation from their fans with a loyalty to your club. When a player like Tevez professes his love for playing at Old Trafford it must be considered that this logically comes second to a desire to make the most of a football career that he has always dreamed of and will not last much beyond the age of 30.
For Paul Ince the return to MK Dons is about hoping to be given a second chance after he decided to forgo loyalty and leave for Blackburn last summer. Obviously, MK Dons hardly have a leg to stand on when it comes to loyalty themselves, but they still must be feeling like the boyfriend who was dumped for the better looking guy only to be asked back out by the girl when she was dumped herself. Of course, the failing of that simile illustrates the whole problem of presumed loyalty in football, because for most within the game clubs aren't things to fall in love with like a girlfriend but a place of work, and so pragmatism comes first. Josh Widdicombe