Credit to Stephens for defin­ing loy­alty

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

LOY­ALTY. Isn’t that all we ask from our star play­ers? Hon­our your con­tract, kiss the badge, mum­ble all the right sound­bites. As sup­port­ers, we are des­per­ate to be­lieve our own slav­ish de­vo­tion is mir­rored by the men on the pitch. We all want a Matt Le Tissier, a Steven Ger­rard, a John Terry.

We rage at ref­er­ees. We be­rate op­po­nents. But the real anger and bit­ter­ness is saved for those who desert the cause.

We’ve paid them. Loved them. Pro­vided a stage. Now they want to throw it back in our faces for a Bent­ley and a big­ger house. It feels like catch­ing an un­faith­ful part­ner in a lover’s bed.

Yet, amid the righ­teous in­dig­na­tion and blind fury, we rarely ask whether we have any right to de­mand that loy­alty.

That’s why Dale Stephens’ mid­night mis­sive was so re­fresh­ing. The Brighton mid­fielder was the sub­ject of five dead­line day bids from Burn­ley, all dis­missed by chair­man Tony Bloom.

Am­bi­tion

Even a des­per­ate last-ditch trans­fer re­quest failed to shift their stance, prompt­ing a frus­trated Stephens to let rip.

“This isn’t an apol­ogy but an ex­pla­na­tion you de­serve,” he said in a twit­ter post ad­dressed to Brighton fans. “The foot­ball club have been aware for five weeks I wanted to leave to ful­fil my and ev­ery foot­baller’s am­bi­tion of play­ing in the Premier League.

“I’m 27 years old and recog­nised this could be my fi­nal op­por­tu­nity to do so, which is why I feel dis­ap­pointed my chance was taken away.

“I pre­fer to give you hon­esty rather than shy away from my ac­tions now the win­dow is closed. I re­spect and un­der­stand your frus­tra­tion as this is your foot­ball club. I have ten months re­main­ing and will hon­our my con­tract. Re­gards Dale.”

Fair play to Bloom and Brighton. They had no obli­ga­tion to sell Stephens. Tempt­ing as the £7m must have seemed for a player who will walk for noth­ing in May, it is shrap­nel com­pared to the £100m on of­fer for pro­mo­tion to the Premier League. That, af­ter all, is the tar­get.

Yet, if the club re­fused to let sen­ti­ment cloud their judge­ment, why should Stephens, or any other player, for that mat­ter, be ex­pected to be­have dif­fer­ently?

Foot­ball is a cat­tle mar­ket. Play­ers are meat. Richly re­warded, yes, but ruth­lessly traded. Just look at Chris Mar­tin.

Derby’s top scorer three years run­ning, he has given ar­guably the best years of his ca­reer to the Rams. Now, lack­ing form and con­fi­dence, Mar­tin could have used a dis­play of loy­alty. In­stead, the 27-year-old has been jet­ti­soned by gaffer Nigel Pear­son, con­signed to spend the sea­son on loan at Ful­ham.

From Pear­son’s per­spec­tive, most peo­ple would ar­gue he’s sim­ply mak­ing the tough, prag­matic de­ci­sions he’s paid to. Yet that be­ing the case, the choices of play­ers like Stephens should be viewed through the same prism.

No player knows when they’ll break a leg, fall out of favour or be­came a ter­race tar­get. Just ask Joe Hart, who this time last year was linked with Barcelona.

Of course, there are odd oc­ca­sions when loy­alty has been earned by clubs. In 2007, York City spent £5,000 fight­ing to pre­vent youth star Onome Sodje be­ing de­ported to Nige­ria, even re­cruit­ing the city’s Arch­bishop to speak on his be­half. Yet, just days af­ter his work per­mit was granted, the striker re­jected York’s of­fer of a con­tract to join Barns­ley.

In gen­eral, though, play­ers owe their clubs noth­ing. Stephens will take some stick, but he de­serves praise for il­lus­trat­ing that loy­alty has as much place in foot­ball as Ali Dia.

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