Now football is about money. There are problems with values within the game. And this is sad because soccer is the most beautiful game. We can play it in the street. We can play it everywhere. Anyone can play it, but those values are being lost. We have to bring them back. —Johan Cruyff
The Last Week in Wearside story has been right up there with some of the gripping drama you’d find on Netflix. In fact, rumors spread that two more episodes of the painful Sunderland until I die they’re in production and it seems like every time their cameras hit the club, things don’t end well.
We all know what happened over the weekend; shocked the entire fan base. Some were angry, some were excited, and some were just disappointed. Many, myself included, were, at one stage or another, all of the above.
Let’s be clear, Alex Neil did a fantastic job at our club. Before he arrived, Sunderland were slowly but steadily sleepwalking towards another League One season. Despite Lee Johnson’s positive efforts, it never seemed likely that the club would rise under his guidance.
Neil changed everything. He not only solidified the team and gained consistency in performances and results, but he galvanized a fan base and gave the supporters genuine belief that last season would finally be the one to lift us out of that arduous division.
Since his departure, I have read and heard many voices who have used their platforms to express their views on the subject. It seemed to be a topic of discussion for football fans in general and not just those in Sunderland and Stoke City.
The experts had no idea what was going on here and their simplified view was frustrating to listen to. Graeme Souness on TalkSport talking about how the club completely screwed up was the final nail in the coffin for me and my checkered relationship with that particular station.
However, what struck me most from all the analysis and debate surrounding Neil’s departure was that it seemed many fans felt he should have shown more loyalty to the club and stayed with the team and the supporters.
I wonder, and I say this through gritted teeth, why did Neil have to show allegiance to the club?
Football has changed a lot in the last thirty years alone. Since the introduction of the Premier League and its relationship with SkySports, the sport in England has become an uncontrollable financial beast.
Money is the sole motivating factor for many football players and coaches these days. The game has evolved so economically that the supposed loyalty to a club is almost extinct in the current game.
I recently watched the Netflix show documenting Luis Figo’s hugely controversial move from Spanish giants Barcelona to arch-rivals Real Madrid. Figo had always promised that he would never leave Barcelona. He promised his loyalty and adoration to the Catalan club. This was until a young Florentino Pérez announced himself on the world stage and offered Figo four million a year.
Actually, in any industry, money talks. He spoke for Figo, he spoke for Alex Neil and he will do so for many more footballers and football managers in the future. Like it or not, Alex Neil’s affection and connection with Sunderland was only going to be short-lived.
Football-wise, Neil’s move to Stoke is highly questionable. I have no doubt that Sunderland is as good (if not better) than Stoke. Unfortunately, this fact does not matter.
In today’s world, these professionals are aware that football careers are fleeting and appreciate the value that each financially beneficial move or transfer can have for their future. It’s clear to me that these thoughts take precedence over building a successful side or being a part of something exciting.
While it’s hard to fathom, there are very few people in this game who have genuine connections to football clubs. Gone are the days of Francesco Totti or Steven Gerrard. Football is a business, and also dirty.