“I never kissed the Liverpool badge,” said Fernando Torres last week.
“I see some players do that one week after they join a club but the romance in football has gone. It’s different now. People come and leave. When you join a club you want to do the best for yourself and for that club. That’s all.”
It was the brutal and unsympathetic assessment of modern football by one of its leading proponents. As Fernando Torres trashed Liverpool supporters’ hopes by moving to Chelsea for £50 million, he also laid bare the one of the modern game’s taboos.
To players, football is little more than a job; one in which the career path exists every bit as much as in the rat race of every day life. Call it greed, call it disloyalty just don’t admit it is the truth. Modern football in a cold light – a commercially oriented entertainment business in which fans are customers, and customers a revenue stream on which to leverage brands’ sponsored association.
“Some people like to kiss the badge,” added the 26-year-old Spanish international. “I only want to score goals and do my job.”
Quite apart from whether Torres did “kiss the Liverpool badge” or not – it matters not one iota to the players argument. Romance has indeed gone to meet its maker.
Torres’ statement was met with the same disbelief on the terraces as in the media. The entirely false notion that moving jobs in sports is in any way fundamentally different from other walks of life is laid bare by only a few within the game.
More universally, those that follow the game engage in a pattern of denial. It is a message few want to accept its frankness: footballers, like the supporters that buy a ticket and purchase a subscription, do their jobs for money. The shock! The horror!
Predictably supporters in Merseyside labeled the striker a “Judas” on a multitude of internet forums and held aloft banners at Stamford Bridge lambasting the striker’s supposed “betrayal”. The action driven by the same misguided perception that players should somehow harbour an emotional attachment to the club.
It is, after all, why players kiss the badge. That action, save for the few who cringe with embarrassment, is taken as a sign of love. It is a universally understood endorsement that buys reciprocation.
Manchester United supporters fell into the same trap of course when Wayne Rooney publicly questioned the club’s “ambition”. While Rooney’s biggest mistake was to poorly articulate what others were thinking, the striker’s perceived disloyalty hurt fans the most.
“He truly got United,” was a common refrain, “how could he turn on the club like this?” For Rooney and his agent the move was a logical business decision.
This game of emotional entrapment is also played, with conspicuous success, by club owners. “Be part of it” declared the mural on Mancunian Way enticing Blues to actually visit Eastlands. Live the “Dream” at Old Trafford, goes the now well-worn cliché. It is the same emotional pull that enabled the Glazer family to all but sell out of season tickets this summer despite five years of parsimonious management and astronomical ticket price rises.
Supporters, it seems, are not quite ready to behave like customers and walk away from a bad deal, just as they are unable to accept players as ephemeral commodities. Here today, gone tomorrow.
It is a truth that Torres knows only too well. Players and supporters are as one pawns in a bigger game in which high finance dictates the football industry’s direction.
After all, if owners treat players like pieces of meat, as Roy Keane once infamously said, then perhaps supporters are little more than the gherkin in the burger bun. Fans exist but nobody in club management is quite sure why.
It is these same owners that gladly play the greed card when it is to their advantage. It is an argument lapped up not only by fans but national media that should know better. Only one leading journalist openly admitted he would move paper for double his salary in the wake of Torres’ transfer.
Torres, meanwhile, will do what the striker does best and score significant and potentially silverware winning goals for Chelsea. Freed of the demotivating downward spiral inflicting Anfield over the past two years, the Spaniard is likely to flourish.
After all, the player’s move was essentially a career decision; simply the business of football. “I’m sure I am doing one big step forward in my career,” the former Atlético de Madrid player told Chelsea TV to universal anger on Merseyside.
Torres’ alacrity is a lesson many fans would do well to heed though. Football, the entertainment business. Buy a ticket, take a seat, consume the dream. Just don’t expect ‘loyalty’ to the club to be matched by players.
Nor should it be.