Friday 10 July ~
Rafael Benítez's attempt to keep his midfield pairing of Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano has turned personal. Speaking yesterday, the Liverpool manager appealed to the sense of loyalty the players should show to their club. Benítez thinks that, as Liverpool have developed the pair into the superstars they are today, they ought to stay with the club. Mascherano was by no means a regular at West Ham when Benítez signed him and while Alonso had huge potential at Real Sociedad before his move five years ago, his stock has risen considerably under Benitez's tutelage.
"We signed Xabi when no one knew him, then renewed his contract two years ago and it seemed he was happy,” he said. “With Mascherano, you know the situation, so both players know they owe Liverpool a lot... They owe us, in terms of loyalty." It is an interesting position and one that seems intuitively fair. However, Benítez is only giving one side of the story.
Managers demand loyalty from their players, but they are not always as rewarding themselves. Jaap Stam's transfer from Manchester United to Lazio in 2001 is a case in point. Alex Ferguson now admits that forcing Stam out of the club was a mistake, but at the time, incensed by the defender's autobiography, Ferguson shipped Stam to Italy without as much as consulting the player. The same applies for the transfer of David Beckham, who famously found out about his move to Real Madrid on Ceefax. Both players had performed well for the club but were treated as expendable commodities.
Never one to duck a talking point, Roy Keane summarised the player's perspective: "Jaap Stam's transfer to Lazio illustrates how little power footballers have in the game. Contracts mean nothing. Stam has discovered that, to football clubs, players are just pieces of meat. When a club is finished with you, they get rid. My advice is look after yourself. If you get a chance for bigger and better things, then go for it. People question players' loyalty. I question clubs' loyalty. It's a business to them. If you're not needed, then you can be out of the door in ten minutes." Now a manager, Keane's take on loyalty may reverse, but the point stands.
Benítez's claim of moral superiority over his players is a hollow one. The reality is that, if Mascherano and Alonso had not performed so well for the club, they would have been shown the door some time ago, as Robbie Keane can testify. In football, whether a manager or a player, you're only as wanted as you are valuable. By using personal expectations of loyalty in his transfer dealings, Benítez is proving that loyalty in football is a game with two sides. Paul Campbell