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George Friend: Give footballers a fighting chance
7:00am Wednesday 1st January 2014 in Sport
THE winter transfer window opens for a month today and players will move clubs. Middlesbrough defender GEORGE FRIEND argues that a professional footballer has every right to seek pastures new
IN business, if a professional is offered a more lucrative deal elsewhere, it’s often accepted as an indication of furthering their career. Rarely is resentment shown towards a colleague for moving on to a better-paid job.
So why, when a footballer makes the same decision, is he thrown into a storm of criticism and branded a mercenary?
The term mercenary refers to someone who is ‘in it for the money’. It derives from a concept where soldiers, motivated solely by financial gain, show allegiance to a cause rather than fighting because of personal conviction.
In football, the personal conviction, passion and allegiance with which fans support their clubs is indisputable and so conflict creeps in when they expect that same lifelong commitment from their players.
Today marks the opening of the January transfer window. Over the course of the next month, there will be players being bought and sold. That is how football works. It’s a romantic perception and bordering on the farcical that footballers play at their club solely for the history, jersey and tradition.
For a footballer to stay purely for this reason is normally only seen in the career of an elite, top earning individual such as Steven Gerrard, who joined Liverpool's academy at the age of nine.
It is possible to become emotionally attached to a club. I’ve found that myself. I’ve wanted the best for a club and its supporters, and have given 100 per cent in effort and attitude.
But when given the opportunity for greater financial reward, I moved on.
I know that there are footballers who, acting in an unprofessional manner, deceive and unjustly gain contracts. I know because I’ve played with a few. But ultimately they all still love playing football.
However, to be branded a mercenary when simply trying to better one’s financial position is undeserved.
If a better financial opportunity arises we’re likely to take it. Football for us is as much a livelihood as a lawyer, banker or teacher. It’s a short career where only the very top players have the luxury to pick the club of their choice.
For the majority of professional footballers throughout the leagues, the door of employment is open for a very limited time only and is fraught with uncertainty.
The fears of not playing regularly, losing fitness or sudden injury linger nearby as unwanted reminders that the door could easily be shut forever, so opportunities for footballers to move for monetary reasons is understandable.
Every fan loves a one-club man. A stalwart like Ryan Giggs is commended for his loyalty and longevity but these players are rare to say the least and just because Ashley Cole didn’t stay at Arsenal to see out his career doesn’t make him a football mercenary.
Of course he gained financially by joining Chelsea but why not, the move certainly wasn’t detrimental to his career, in fact many would argue it enhanced it.
Like any move for anyone changing jobs, many factors are considered, particularly if it includes uprooting family, meeting new colleagues and working with new management.
Add into the mix a short contract and the financial carrot begins to look juicy … so players get a bit fed up when fans beat them with a ‘mercenary’ chant stick.
There is no desire for war, no disloyalty, just a wish for understanding of time limited career opportunities.
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