Recently the discussion came up regarding team loyalty at all levels of play or should I say the lack of team loyalty. Every year, and more often than not, players at all levels are switching teams to seek greater personal fame, a larger pay cheque or immediate championships. The sense of loyalty where young players grow up supporting their favorite team and then playing for them is gone. This type of behavior hurts the game in the short and long run. Furthermore, it takes away from fan enjoyment. This type of non-loyalty is becoming common in all sport today including the NHL, NBA and the NFL. When there is a lack of respect, loyalty and honor, aspects surrounding the sport begin to lose value quickly. The expression “blood, sweat and tears” is no more.
In the Western Ontario Soccer League (WOSL) premier division (Ontario, Canada) there are ten premier teams comprised of mainly local ethnic clubs. These teams include two Portuguese teams, Italians, Croatians, Greeks, Polish and a few local clubs made up of white Anglo-Saxon players. What is happening more and more is players are not sticking to their respective clubs and instead are choosing to play where they can have quick success winning a league title or a league cup. For example, many local Portuguese players have abandoned their Portuguese club and gone over to play for the Greek team (to help put things into perspective, the Greek team is comprised of a group of talented players put together without any Greek ties). As a result of this abandonment, half of the Portuguese team are not even Portuguese players. Instead of sticking together and representing a community and building a community, they go off where they think they can develop glory for themselves. In the long term they will regret it and their communities will suffer. In ten years time when the Portuguese community is scattered and weak, you’ll be able to connect the dots to players who had no sense of loyalty to their roots and to their club.
Growing up there was a huge rivalry between my local club London Croatia and London Portuguese (I should mention I have zero family connection or history to London Croatia despite joining them as a young player – I would be classified as a Canadian with Irish/Scottish background on my father’s side with a mix of Eastern European on my mother’s side). London Croatia and London Portuguese always played each other and eventually developed a deep competitive spirit towards each other. If that were still around today people would come watch those games in the thousands because they would know the history behind these battles and they would respect that both teams are loyal. Instead, the two clubs play a few games in the league, win some, lose some…and level off. This trend is not unique to London Portuguese but happening across all teams in WOSL. Half the players in WOSL have played on at least three teams in the league and it has destroyed any sense of loyalty.
True rivalries only come about when players and teams don’t like one another. Not only that but there needs to be a history between the clubs. When players switch teams like it’s musical chairs it removes this passion the players share. In addition, fans will stop coming out in support of the club. A trend we are seeing across the city of London, Ontario.
“It’s a business”: unfortunately, people are using the line “it’s a business” now as a defense and excuse for players lack of loyalty to a club. After all, it is a business but there is no reason that side of it has to take over the game and people’s true passion and love for their club. Former World Player of the Year, Luis Figo, star of FC Barcelona played many great years in his career before switching to arch rivals Real Madrid in 2000 for a bigger pay cheque. And really what’s the difference between $100 million and $96 million? At that point it’s all the same. This trend is continuing more than not and needs to stop! Not only that, but players need to remember that often times their best days as an athlete are at the club where they developed prior to making the big switch. They do not need to play at the biggest club in the world to reach the top. The same thing goes for players in the smaller leagues.
The World Cup: many French soccer players were born in their native Algeria or have Algerian ties through their parents. Now even though young players may have started out in the French national program they can switch to the Algerian program prior to the age twenty-one. More players are choosing to do this and it is great to see. These players feel a sense of respect and loyalty to their native country. Algeria has nowhere near the history of French soccer but these players are choosing to stay where their heart is. After all, playing for your country is about passion and heart. If you don’t have either of those then you don’t belong on the team.
The Future of the game: when a player puts on a club jersey they are representing something far greater than the shirt itself. They are representing the club, its people and all those who cannot play. They are representing the players of past and the culture itself. At the same time they are slowly building and creating a new history. There should be a great sense of pride taken in this. Until the raw aspect of heart is brought back into the game, it won’t improve. This needs to change!