I remember having an evening paper round as a kid, I did the free newspapers and was paid one penny per paper delivered. I quite enjoyed it, but I dreamt of one of the Sunday morning rounds becoming available. Yes, there was greater pressure because you had to give the right paper to the right address, but the rewards were clear – more money and the additional promise of Christmas tips.
It turns out a Sunday paper round isn’t what you’d imagine, the customers were all expecting their papers by a certain time and complained if they were late (and they certainly won’t keep quiet if you decide to dump a few in the local supermarket car park); and the papers were heavier and each house was miles from the previous one. It was a nightmare, I moved back to the old round before I even got to experience the Christmas tip season.
Gary Neville recently commented on the current Rooney situation “Believe me, I’ve seen football players go to Real Madrid, and other great clubs in Europe, and they always want to come back to this football club,”
I’ve never been a professional footballer, so the Sunday paper round was my Paris St. Germain; I suspect we all have one. I couldn’t wait to get back. I made a mistake, I’d had my head turned. But I learned a valuable lesson, and I never risked dumping the papers again.
We expect footballers to demonstrate a higher degree of loyalty than ourselves though (a paper round is not the same thing, right?).
Therefore the reaction of the average fan to news that their club’s star player intends to leave often generates an extreme reaction. The football fan enters a classic cycle.
Phase 1 – Shock and Denial – We convince ourselves it’s paper talk, why would he ever want to leave? He loves the club, he loves us.
Phase 2 – Anger – “Screw him, he’s never fit and he’s not as good as he was anyway. If his heart’s not in it, we don’t want him here!” Some even engage in some outrageous behaviour with insulting comments to the player and his family on Twitter.
Phase 3 – Reluctant Acceptance – “…actually, if we can get £20m for him that’s a decent deal for the club”, before quickly progressing to “I’ll carry him there myself for that much!”
Phase 4 – Forgiveness – When he decides he wants to return years later, or simply changes his mind before a move away even materialises. He just made a mistake after all.
Rooney’s current situation at United is no different to many before him (including himself, unfortunately). United fans should remember that Ronaldo was hankering after a move for 12 months before finally forcing through his transfer to Madrid. But we are well into the forgiveness phase now and so that doesn’t matter. United fans say Ronaldo should come ‘home’ to Manchester, forgetting that we consoled ourselves when he left because he was going ‘home’ to Madrid.
Many players and their clubs handle this whole situation better than others, the forgiveness phase for some even morphs into an amnesia with regard to the entire episode.
Let’s take Matt le Tissier, or “Le God” as the Saints fans call him. He is the ultimate one club man, prepared to forsake everything for the sake of his beloved Southampton. Actually, he was a Spurs fan as a kid and his dream move to White Hart Lane finally came up, in ‘Le Gods’ own words
“That was in 1990 and it was pretty much a done deal; I’d agreed terms on the contract and everything. But I pulled out of it because I was about to get married and my fiancée at the time didn’t fancy living in London.” Loyalty to his club or to his future wife? Saints fans will tell you the former, they have long since forgotten the whole Spurs saga. Phase 4.
And Alan Shearer always shunned United because of his love for Newcastle United, right? When asked recently why he didn’t opt for working with Sir Alex Ferguson, Shearer offered “There was interest from Manchester United, but I was told I had to wait three or four weeks for them to get the money together. I felt if they really wanted me then they would come and get me immediately,”
So, sounds more like a lack of patience rather than a undying love of Newcastle was the key decision criteria. But stories of impatience don’t sell many number 9 shirts to the Geordies.
What about Liverpool legend Gerrard? In 2005, the Anfield club announced
“Steven has told us he will not accept our offer of an improved and extended contract because he wants to leave.”
Gerrard also issued a statement which said: “This has been the hardest decision I have ever had to make. I have too much respect for the club and people at it to get involved in a slagging match.”
Despite reported death threats at the time toward Gerrard and his family, the Liverpool fans have now forgiven and seemingly forgotten. I imagine the same individuals who made the threats now sit at Anfield each week, chanting Gerrards name. Unacceptable, but classic phase four.
So, while we all try and convince ourselves with phrases like “the club is bigger than any individual”, let’s remember we might all be friends again next week; and being in phase 4 so soon after phase 2 can be a bit embarrassing.