Credit to Stephens for defining loyalty
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.
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.