The Fan and the Player: A Fickle Romance

Updated: April 23, 2015

Since the dawn of time, there has been sport.  And since the dawn of sport, there have been fans.  Without fans, professional sports would be a watered-down contest of egos.  Fans stoke the flames of epic sporting rivalries because they are often literally born into them.  True fans wear their team like a badge of honor, proudly advertising their loyalties in various accessories from jerseys to scarves to caps.  While players come and go, the committed fan is unwavering – their allegiance will never change.  A few weeks ago, José Mourinho insisted that perhaps people take football too seriously:

I am passionate about football, of course. But for us professionals, if it means everything, we are in trouble; and for supporters the same. In Portugal they say that you can change everything except your mum and your football club. I understand because of football’s power, socially, politically and culturally.

And is that not what separates the professional from the supporter?  While a fan’s loyalties will almost never change, most professionals are hired guns: around for a few years and then off to join another club.  Their devotion to the club notwithstanding, players and managers hired by the club must accept the reality that they are assets to be purchased, used and – one day – disposed of.

Perhaps that sounds harsh, but the reality is that the business of football is not prioritized by fan approval.  Just ask Crystal Palace fans how they feel about exorbitant Premier League wealth which has not directly benefited those without whom the games would surely be meaningless.

Crystal Palace fans lash out at 'exploitation' of fans by wealthy Premier League  execs following announcement of £5.3bn annual TV deal.

Crystal Palace supporters lash out at ‘exploitation’ of fans by wealthy Premier League execs

With loyal fandom comes the often misguided perception that players and managers must possess an equally unwavering commitment to a club.  And, while they exist, the ‘one-club player’ is a dying breed in contemporary world football.  You have your Steven Gerrards, your John Terrys, your Francesco Tottis, your Xavis, your Darijo Srnas.  Years ago, star players or beloved managers signing deals with a close rival was major news.  These days it seems to be happening far more frequently.

Fernando Torres’ move from Merseyside to West London was met with derision by the Liverpool faithful, spurred on by triumphant jeers from Chelsea supporters who reveled in his decision to leave his former club in search of silverware.

Speaking with Italian media after making a loan move from Chelsea to AC Milan prior to the 2014/2015 season, Torres reiterated what exactly sparked his desire to join the Blues in the first place:

Chelsea gave me what I was looking for when I left Liverpool: trophies… It [joining Chelsea] gave me all the trophies I have with clubs and I was lucky enough to also win trophies with Spain.

Rafael Benitez, former manager of Liverpool, also joined the West Londoners in search of trophies. According to Benitez, he was interested in joining Chelsea because of the possibility of earning silverware:

I am looking for a club that can challenge for trophies and Chelsea is one of these clubs. I am just trying to go to a team that can win.

Like Torres, Benitez’s appointment was met with much controversy by fans of Chelsea and Liverpool alike. Blues fans maintained that no former Liverpool manager should be in charge of any Chelsea team.  Many Reds fans insisted that he, like Torres, was a traitor.

Cesc Fàbregas, former Arsenal captain and talisman with youth ties to Barcelona, now kisses the Chelsea crest.  Following his recent heroics in the Premier League – scoring the only goal in Chelsea’s narrow away victory over QPR  – Arsenal fans who likely used to sing his praises took to the Twitterverse to lambaste him for helping the league-leaders maintain a seven point gap over the 2nd place Gunners.

Arsenal fan laments Fàbregas' goal against QPR

Arsenal fan laments Fàbregas’ goal against QPR

Gunners supporter complains that Fàbregas 'broke Arsenal hearts again'

Gunners supporter complains that Fàbregas ‘broke Arsenal hearts again’

This is hardly a surprising development – for a serious football fan to forgive or forget a player is difficult (if not impossible).  But for a seasoned footballer like Cesc Fàbregas, trophies, titles and the promise of glory are clearly more important than his legacy at one particular club.  In fact, I’d argue that winning the Premier League title with Chelsea will trump all 300+ matches in which he featured for Arsenal.  Having already stated that he has enjoyed his football this season more than ever before, would it be that hard to believe?

Amid speculation that Chelsea are interested in Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling, and the plausible nature of both players being lured to West London by the promise of silverware, Arsenal and Liverpool fans have predictably criticized the Blues for attempting to steal their top talent.  As both players are tried and tested in the Premier League and have currently unresolved contract negotiations, it is natural that Chelsea would look to sign them.  Fàbregas’ positive experience since his transition to the Blues – a Capital One Cup trophy already won and a first Premier League title all but within his grasp – could be all the motivation the young Englishmen need to prompt a move to their bitter rivals.

Of course, Sterling or Walcott being interested in a move to West London is – for now – nothing but speculation.  One thing is for sure: if either were to make a transfer to the Blues, they’d never hear the end of it from their current fans.

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