October 11th, 2010
10:19 AM ET

Loyal footballers are a dying breed

Ryan Giggs (R) and Paul Scholes have spent their entire careers at Manchester United - a rarity these days.
Ryan Giggs (R) and Paul Scholes have spent their entire careers at Manchester United - a rarity these days.

You know what intrigues me these days? The love and loyalty football fans have towards their clubs.

Regardless of the managers and players that come and go every season, they remain faithful. Even if they can’t pronounce the name of the new centre forward who was bought from an unknown club, they will sing it with all their might when he scores a goal.

Yes, the unconditional love is still there and it really impresses me. In today’s world, where players show little allegiance to the colors they represent, why are fans still so passionate towards them? And is this about to change?

When I was growing up, I supported Benfica. It was my hometown club, some members of my family used to go to their games, and I jumped on the bandwagon. I think most of us did that as kids, right?

We became fans by association and then slowly grew fond of the players, the manager and the stadium. In my opinion, in the 1980s when I started going to watch Benfica play, it was easy to become involved.

I knew who all the players were and I was sure they would stay with the club for most, if not all of their careers. I trusted them and I believed they would give 100% for “our club”.

The core of Portuguese players was always there and even the foreigners who came in normally stayed for at least four or five years. There was continuity and it was easy to identify with the players and the club.

Fast forward 25 years and it’s a different world. Whatever club you support, just take a minute and think about the number of players that come and go every season.

With the exception of a handful of teams in Europe, who have great academies and responsible transfer policies, it’s tough to keep up with what’s going on.

Proof of this is the small amount of players who spend their entire careers with just one club. Ryan Giggs, Paolo Maldini and Carles Puyol are three names that come to mind but they are a dying breed. Even Raul, an idol at Real Madrid, was shipped out in order for an unproven striker like Karim Benzema to get more minutes. Strange, if you ask me, but maybe I am old fashioned.

So what does the future hold? With the pressure to win increasing every year, I fear the worst. Instead of nurturing local talent and investing in academies, clubs will continue to rely on the transfer market to fulfil their needs and trade players like baseball cards. Every year, the number of new faces in different places will continue to increase.

So back to my initial question, that pertains to supporters. As a fan, do you care that players come and go every year? Do you still identify as closely with your team even if its squad changes every season?

If you do, I really respect you, but I doubt your love for the club will stay strong if the trend continues.

I would like to see FIFA introduce some new rules to add stability to club football. Personally, I am a fan of the 6+5 rule which requires all clubs to have at least six home grown players.

This would encourage teams to invest in their academies and think twice about unloading their promising youngsters in order to get a quick payday. I would also be in favor of introducing a law that would oblige all players and clubs to commit to three-year contracts. So when a club signs someone, they are stuck with him for three years.

Obviously there would have to be an escape clause for extraordinary circumstances, but it would encourage responsible spending and add some stability to the game, don’t you think?

That way, you may actually get a chance to make up a nickname for that striker whose last name you cannot pronounce...

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soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. kweku boafo

    A very interesting article Pedro, a club like Ajax amsterdam relies mainly on its academy products to fill up its 1st team ranks but in recent times the capital rich clubs have come up to the academy and offered mind burgling contracts to children to lure them away to their fake academies for fear of this so called 6-5 rule which is being seriously considered at uefa headquarters. This new situation has forced Ajax amsterdam to go on to the transfer market looking for mediocre footballers with little talent since the best footballers are already taken or yet unborn. What this capital rich european clubs dont realise is that it takes years of dedication and hard work to produce players like Wesley Sneijder and Raphael van der Vaart , all players of the Ajax youth Academy(the Toekomst). I doubt whether the rich clubs have the patience to do that

    October 11, 2010 at 11:01 am | Reply
  2. Ignatius Albert Wijaya

    I think there will always be players who show admirable loyalty to their clubs. Even today we have Casillas, Carragher and Del Piero just to name some. Casillas and Carragher are products of the youth systems of Real Madrid and Liverpool respectively while Del Piero has spent an amazing 17 years with Juventus. I agree with the writer Pedro that with increasing lack of investment in youth academies, there might be increasingly little sense of belonging among footballers to their clubs.
    But then I think players who sign from smaller to major clubs early in their career still qualify as loyal players if they go on to spend their entire or almost whole career in the club.

    October 11, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  3. rh

    loyalty is first to one's self and one's family. We have seen in the MLS that few truly excellent players will stay both because the team quality is low and the pay is even lower compared even to middling European clubs. It is sad to see 15 year veterans of MLS retiring on literally no money.

    October 11, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  4. Alex

    yes, Pedro, you are 100% right!! Globalisation in football – it's also nasty thing, like everywhere

    October 11, 2010 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  5. valentina ciceo

    I totally support your oppinions. I am a big Paolo Maldini fan. And also , as a football fan, I have a great respect for this kind of players, who faithfully stay and play an entire career at one club.

    October 11, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  6. benjamin

    You seem to have forgotten Francesco Totti, AS Roma #10, the ultimate idol fo Roma fans. Has played only for Roma and will finish his carreer in Roma. Though he had several more important teams go after him during the years, clubs where he could have won a lot more titles, he chose to stay. As they say in Rome, "there's only one captain!".

    October 11, 2010 at 3:50 pm | Reply
  7. Gene Powell

    Welcome to the American sports word & it s@ucks.

    October 11, 2010 at 4:07 pm | Reply
  8. Rods

    It's easy to be faithful to a club like Manchester United because you're being paid millions and millions.

    October 11, 2010 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  9. O.C.

    Players aren't loyal to the clubs, but neither are the clubs towards the players. If a player is having an off day(s) or season he’ll be relegated to the bench or sold for another player. So if the clubs can just ditch you whenever you’re not in your best shape/form, why can’t a player ditch a club if he can earn and win more silverware somewhere else?

    October 11, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  10. Everton1878

    I also wish it would go back to how it used to be. But money and greed have ruined the game.

    October 11, 2010 at 5:23 pm | Reply
  11. salim

    you are truly football fan Pinto.Today you are supporting a player playing for your club,tomorrow he is with another club.disgusting. I think EPL is moving to the right direction with the new rule.

    October 11, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Reply
  12. Solomon

    it's amazing how club waste money in the so called transfer market, players like giggs, scholes, madini and puyol have shown the effectiveness of academy. big spending make football look like the New-York stock exchange market. where is the old passion in the game, in today's game a player can switch from one end of the Manchester to the other end of the Manchester because of big wages and salaries

    October 11, 2010 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  13. CmonYouReds

    Totally agree... teams like Man City and Chelsea shouldn't be able to buy their success. They should have to earn it like Man U, Arsenal, and Liverpool back in the day.

    October 11, 2010 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  14. cybil

    Hello..what about FRANCESCO TOTTI? It's one thing to dedicate your career to say Real Madrid like Raul, Milan like Maldini, Giggs/Scholes with Man U, but its a whole other story to do that with AS Roma who has no money and can't offer Totti to fight for the titles his talent deserves.He's given up much more money,fame and both team and individual trophies just to play for his people and his club. That's true dedication, giving up your own gain and dreams for the club you've always supported. What have Raul,Giggs,Scholes,Maldini ever given up? Winning the Champions League 2 or 3 times? Totti is an example for all those kids out there who idolize C.Ronaldo and co. and is the ONLY remaining loyal footballer whose importance sadly is not recognized by the general public.

    October 11, 2010 at 6:47 pm | Reply
  15. ROBERT MC DONALD

    tottally agree pedro players today especially in england and scotland seem 2 think about the money for example lst season 20 odd players left the scottish spl 2 so called enhance their carreers 2 teams such as swindon leeds 2 name a few i am not disrespecting these clubs in any wae its a dog eat dog society wen players r leaving 4 big bucks but were does it end disgrutuled fan rfc

    October 11, 2010 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  16. Cary

    I am really happy that someone took the time to address this phenomenon. Thank you Pedro. Great stuff.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:02 pm | Reply
  17. Alehandro

    Recruiting from your local area is all well and good if you come from a football hotbed, but what if you're a team located in some little backwater where the gene pool is no more than a puddle? You will never have any chance of creating a truly competitive squad, and your players, as they do now, will be off seeking the silverware elsewhere the minute their contracts expire. A quota system would therefore support the current disparity between big and little teams rather than reducing it. And on the subject of fan loyalty, your local team, Benfica, happens to be a big dog so it's easy to stay loyal. The people to be really admired are the die-hard supporters of no-name clubs, they're the ones who deserve the praise. Mind you, many of them follow a big club too, so perhaps the only thing admirable about them is that they've found a way to have their cake and eat it.

    October 11, 2010 at 9:36 pm | Reply
  18. Andrew

    I totally agree with u pedro that era is over. today the game is about winning and most coaches are about trophies rather than player loyalty thats why Barc to the sunrise of many had to let go of Eto for the unproven ibra. so the days when a player would spend 10 yrs in a club are all but gone

    October 11, 2010 at 11:38 pm | Reply
  19. marcos from Brazil

    Thanks for speaking the truth! Great article! Enough said.

    October 12, 2010 at 12:35 am | Reply
  20. Amanuel Babu

    Some times I'm not agree with your ideas,Now 100% I'm agree with you.

    October 12, 2010 at 10:02 am | Reply
  21. qasim

    nice article.
    but I dont fully agree with this part,

    " As a fan, do you care that players come and go every year? Do you still identify as closely with your team even if its squad changes every season?

    If you do, I really respect you, but I doubt your love for the club will stay strong if the trend continues."

    and I being a Real madrid Fan, I totally feel disappointed at the sale of Raul.

    October 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm | Reply
  22. BJ

    As an Englishman, I totally agree with you. As a kid, back in the 60's, I knew the name of every player in every club in the old First Division. Nowadays, I would have trouble naming even a few members of the 'big four'.

    Chelsea and Man City were nothing until the money to buy poured in. As a youngster, I aspired to be a professional footballer but never made it past a couple of trials for a Second Division club. How difficult it must be now for young footballers at clubs like Chelsea and Man City.

    6 + 5 is a good idea, although I would prefer 8 + 3. It won't ever happen though, the world is ruled by money and football is no different.

    October 13, 2010 at 1:32 am | Reply
  23. big al

    Yeah, i know what it is to see ever changing player roster at Liverpool. can hardly recognize a few players from season to season as there are so many changes.

    liverpool doesn't even look like an English club anymore........there's only Gerrad, Carrageher and now Cole. Even excellent players like Xabi Alonso , Javier M. left the club after spending only a few seasons.

    Liverpool are now in disarray as their good players have left and no homegrown talent to fill the gaps.

    they keep buying unknown and unproven players and their transfer buys during the last couple of years have not paid off. Gone are the days, when they bought Dalglish as a replacement for Keegan and Dalglish proved a big success.

    Since then can hardly recollect any transfer signing that has proved a long term success...

    October 13, 2010 at 8:27 am | Reply
  24. Menezes

    Make up your mind. In a previous article about Arsenal your suggestions as a replacement for Manuel Almunia were "Fiorentina’s Sebastien Frey, Genoa’s Eduardo or Maarten Stekelenburg of Ajax." Now, forgive me, but aren't these players among the "foreigners" whose role in the English game you want to diminish? You also spoke about Arsenal needing "two or three established internationals". I assume you didn't mean from Scotland, Northern Irealnd or Wales, and unless a quarter of the England team is about to defect to North London, that would only leave you with still more foreigners at a club where the squad is already 95% foreign. Perhaps you need to revisit your 6 + 5 or 8+3 suggestion and look at the practicalities.

    October 13, 2010 at 11:52 am | Reply
  25. bojana-belgrade

    well it's not just about players wanting to go in search for better incomes and to get more minutes,there are players who want to stay no matter what happend with their club, but club management literally throws them out,because they are not profitable,or God forbid, they are old.
    Textbook example for this is Raul,who was thrown out of RM,just because Benzema will fill his position better. Never mind the fact that he is a club legend,respected by the players and the fans – he's just not profitable...so,when yor are saying about players loyalty to the club – think how much they really have to do with their transfers,and how much does the menagement have...

    October 13, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Reply
  26. Oriaku

    We are fogetting one thing here, football is a profit making venture like any other type of business around the world. If an automobile company can hire the services of a foreigner, hospitals hire the services of a foreign qualified personnels why should the case of such in club football be a subject for discussion.

    We should let clubs make profit in their investiment. If any country want to breed young local players, then let the government of such country set up a football academy to take care of that.

    It might interest you to know that fifa, uefa, epl and all other football bodies makes profit so why trying to stop clubs from making their own profit.

    October 13, 2010 at 2:05 pm | Reply
  27. D.M

    Unfortunately nowadays it's all about the business stand of view! In fact we see that change in the way that players address issues regarding the market and transfers, saying that first and foremost they are "professionals". There are some excellent points brought up here in this article, but there are many other things that need to be taken under consideration.

    Analyzing our situation here in Portugal, a club like Sporting can't afford not to sell their players... for a few reasons. First because they need the income, second because the players will start to make pressure in order to compete in the top championships, thus earning status and more money. There comes a time in a professional players life that they start living off their savings (cuz not every player is a household name).
    But this is another subject entirely. Moving on...

    Big clubs such as Man United or Barcelona have great academies and also have no need to sell theirs future prospects to sustain a economical balance, therefore while keeping their players/staff they are neutering a relationship that begins everyday during practice and is strengthen by the fans. Other clubs might not follow the same path not only because of money issues, but also because sometimes they need the "change" to inspire fans and also players that something good might come out of it! And say what you want but "Everton" is not fighting with the same "weapons" as Man United.
    But is always nice to see a clubs like Barcelona having 6 or 7 players from their "cantera" playing on the starting team. Or seeing the potential in an academy such as Sporting that is giving 6 to 7 players to our current National Team (Portugal)

    Oh... but i almost forgot! We also have a lot of different circumstances... i will give here 3 examples:

    1º Rui Costa promised to end his career at Benfica and so he did. When he left, it was probably one of the hardest things for him... but Benfica needed to make that business! Fast forward one year after he was sold to Fiorentina, he scores a goal against his former team in a friendly match and... cries! Afterwards goes to Milan but never forgetting his promise to Benfica Fans, coming back for 2 seasons! Rui Costa is one of the few examples of a player showing his love and LOYALTY do a club!

    2º Then we have João Viera Pinto who left Benfica and went on playing for their main rivals, Sporting. It seems like a shameful thing but we need to take a few things into consideration. João Pinto, a Benfica legend was let go by (at the times President) Vale e Azevedo. It's not like it was J.P choice to leave Benfica and play for Sporting. He went on to make one of the best years of his professional life and took Sporting to the championship win. He still continues to have the respect and admiration of Benfica supporters because of what he represents and his efforts/actions during his years in the club.

    3º Last, but not least, he have the Uruguayan C.Rodriguez and more recently João Moutinho , both now playing at Porto.

    Rodriguez left Benfica because of money issues... being publicly criticized by staff, players and fans, who called him a mercenary. He only played in Benfica one season, but since the early beginning he gained the supporters admiration for his competing spirit. He could go on to be a franchise player (in my opinion) but just gave us little faith in thinking that "show them love and respect, and they will give the same feedback".

    João Moutinho, Captain and Symbol of Sporting, left the club because we wanted to earn more money and win more titles. Sporting was enduring some harsh times, and Moutinho "kinda" just abandoned the ship. Once a loved player, now he his hated by most Sporting fans and regarded as a sellout by most football fans in Portugal.

    This is a very tricky subject with lots of valid arguments that are difficult to express in a small text. Great topic do discuss amongst sports fans overall.

    October 13, 2010 at 6:15 pm | Reply
  28. JamesC1991

    Great Blog
    totally agree with this,very sad to see
    and also the lack of respect for there countries,retiring so early

    October 13, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Reply
  29. Mario

    What Pedro is asking/saying, is if our loyalty to the club will remain, eventhough you can hardly even identify with the players that represent your club. Kweku already mentioned Ajax, where it used to be 80% represented by lads from at least around Amsterdam, with less than a handful "foreign" players. the 6+5 rule would be great! before the Bosman case, only 3 "foreign" players were allowed to be pitch at a time (per team). Oh the days that Romario, Koeman, Stoichkov, Laudrup and Richard Witschge were playing for Barça, but they could not all be on the pitch at the same time...

    Anyways, back to that loyalty... Although Ajax still produces some of their own educated players (which in some cases nowadays they indeed bring on from abroad at extremely young ages) that make the first team, I can still somewhat identify with the players despite the tendency is that they also leave at a very young age (20-23).
    But how can one identify and remain loyal to clubs like Inter or Chelsea (which I find great, btw) when just about NONE of the players actually come from the area that the club supposedly represents???? I believe there are more Portuguese players at Real Madrid than there are Spanish players in the starting line up...

    one more thing: Ajax's line up in 2007 included the following players: Stekelenburg, Heitinga (Everton), Van der Vaart (Tottenham), Babel (Liverpool), Sneijder (Inter), Maduro (Valencia)- all from the own youth pool...

    My loyalty is not likely to fade, but indeed, what if the trend continues and I can no longer identify with my club?

    in short... nice article PP!!!

    October 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm | Reply
  30. sani inuwa umar nguru

    ray giggs too me your the best ever in Manchester united we are gonna miss you if you resign thank you with all time with us ray for man u and man u for u.............................

    October 14, 2010 at 9:55 pm | Reply
  31. Tony

    I am of the opinion that true football supporters are a dying breed. today alliances lie with either the team at the top or the most prominent player or the manager. It is rather sad that one season you are with hordes of people supporting one team only to be left out in the cold when the winning stops. and while am that, can someone please tell Gillet and Hicks to quit dragging liverpool through the muck....

    October 15, 2010 at 3:28 pm | Reply
  32. akinloye

    what an article, i believe its the sort of wake up call club like chelsea and man city needs on the relevance of having a football academy to bolster thier fold. i give props to west ham that still has the best youth development team in england followed by arsenal and manhester united. puyol, maldini, giggs and scholes are sure dying breeds of a once vibrant football academy

    October 16, 2010 at 9:18 am | Reply
  33. David Saxon Jones

    Pedro, for the most part i agree with you. For me, (and history tells us this), money is the catalyst for disloyalty. Unfortunately, the vast majority of footballers are not very intelligent. You can't blame them because as soon as they hit 16, school stops and the persuit of being a global football star begins. Yesterday i wrote an article that reflected on footballers from the golden era which effectively ended about 15 years ago. When players were paid similar amounts of money to normal members of society, Loyalty was only question for the persuit of winning titles. Money didn't really come into it because a player would earn about the same wherever he played and so footballers wanted to be footballers for the single reason that they loved playing football. For the last 15 years or so, i would argue that kids really want to now be footballers because they want to be very rich and very famous as well as renowned footballers. The fact that Tevez at 26 can finncially retire and walk away from football proves my point. Most of us go to work because we have to. Footballers at this level can do exactly what they want once they have used the "big clubs" to raise their profiles. I am sorry but this is how i feel. Footballers really, even at 16 should have to study untill they are 21. This way, the biggest cancer can be culled. In terms of the biggest cancer and my main point is targeted towards the agents. These agents are intelligent and can easily manipulate the way their clients think and feel. We all know agents make more money in transfers than they do through wage related earnings. Look at Nicholas Annelka. He has moved about 10 times. 20 years ago, 3 clubs would be the maximum a player would play for. In effect, ill educated young men get embroiled in this desire for celebrity lifestyles and are manipulated and codjoled into making the wrong decisions purely becaue their agents are looking at their own financial wealth and not the long term good name of their clients. Wayne Rooney will never be able to walk the preverbial streets of Manchester United ever again, yet his agents can come and go as they please because most of us do not know who they are. Ironically, Ryan Giggs apparently has never had an agent. Is it a coincidence that he has spent his entire carear at United and subsequantly gone down in history as arguably the clubs greatest ever legend? Even non Man Utd fans all agree that the like of Giggs are true footballers. Sadly, i doubt too that we will ever see the likes of Giggs, Scholes, Neville, Maldini, Puyol or Raul ever again. Raul would have stayed, In truth Madrid owed it to him. It is only when young players become older that they realise the grass was not greener and they really didn't need the money. In Rooneys case, surely he has enough money. Money, greed, a lack of education and manipulative self absorbed agents are the cancers that are killing loyalty

    October 20, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Reply
  34. RICK

    FRANCESCO TOTTI . HE IS THE ONLY LOYAL PLAYER LEFT ON THE FIELD WHO EVER SAW TOTTI'S TALENT WHEN HE WAS YOUNG WOULD UNDERSTAND WHAT IM TALKIN ABOUT WHEN MADRID OFFERS YOU 88 MILLION EURO TO JOIN IN 2004 AND REFUSE TO PLAY WITH A TEAM LIKE ROMA THATS WHAT I CALL LOYALTY

    October 23, 2010 at 4:30 am | Reply
  35. Dr. Cajetan Coelho

    Nice insights Pedro. I like your observations.

    In India there is a team named Dempo Sports Club and they have a tradition of retaining players for long. In the current team there are guys who have played for the club for over a decade and many close to a decade. In the past there used to be some who were almost two decades with the champion club. Socorro Coutinho, Camilo Gonsalves, Mahesh Lotlikar, Mauricio Afonso and the current chief coach Armando Colaco all played for the club till their retirement from top class football. They ended up taking responsible positions as coaches, managers, technical directors and mentors to the senior and age group teams at the Dempos, the reigning champion club of Goa and India.

    October 26, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Reply

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