Milos Ninkovic and Ollie Bozanic have recently left their traditional A-League clubs, reportedly for derby rivals. How will their old fans cope?
I’ve always been somewhat bemused by the attitudes and even the emotion of fans when players leave their club.
Players will always come and go through a club’s revolving door. It seems though, for some fans, there are acceptable reasons for leaving, and unacceptable.
Acceptable reasons include: getting old, significant loss of form, career-ending injury and death. Most fans would accept a player leaving if they were too old, too injured or too dead.
Unacceptable reasons include: money, everything else.
The key difference between fans and players (besides football ability) is their relationship with the club. For fans it is a visceral, all embracing one-sided adoration, stronger and more durable than marriage.
For players, it is mainly economic. Of course they enjoy winning, team mates, good coaching, good facilities, opportunities to travel, showcasing their talents to the National coach, and big crowds, but they do it for money… not love.
There is an obvious comparison here.
Prostitutes (male and female) do it for money, and while their services are reasonably popular, few of their customers would feel love for them.
Players, on the other hand, get paid for what they do but are also loved. Accordingly, when they leave for money, there is a sense of betrayal that is rarely felt by a customer when their prostitute moves on to the next trick.
Of course, players don’t ask to be loved, any more than they ask to be regarded as role models… but they are. Especially players that stay for a while, kiss the badge and celebrate with the fans. Prostitutes do none of these things, and wisely so.
In some countries, you even hear of players getting death threats when moving clubs (eg, Sol Campbell when moving to Arsenal from Spurs). This is a perverted form of pathological love like the fury of a jilted lover, but can you imagine the result if some mad fan actually carried out (or tried to) that threat? No decent player would ever sign for their club again.
So if there is just one take-away point from this essay… do not issue death threats to your favourite players.
The reality is… football is a job for professional players. Like any other job they go wherever the best opportunities are and fans who don’t understand this are setting themselves up for a lifetime of disappointment.
It’s even worse in a salary capped league like Australia. There are only so many spots on the roster and it’s a constant Darwinian Struggle to retain one of those spots. Accordingly, players move on all the time as they try to maximise their share of earnings from a finite pool and coaches continually shuffle their decks to get the best bang for their buck.
Mind you, players can do (or say) regrettable things to antagonise the fans when they leave. Ziggy Gordon deeply upset the Mariners faithful when he decamped to the Wanderers and said he wanted to go to a winning club. Those sweet nothings may have been intended for his new fans but it deeply upset his old fans (even though their team finished higher than the Wanderers in both the next two seasons).
The fans particularly hate it when a player leaves for a derby rival. (This is called “snaking”.) Who can forget the images of Sydney FC fans showering Vedran Janjetovic’s goal with plastic and lolly snakes after he left to join the Wanderers. One wonders how long-term favourite Ninko will fare when turning up against Sydney in opposition colours.
I was saddened to see the (apparent) breakdown in the relationship between Ollie Bozanic and the Mariners. Ollie has been an exceptional servant for the club (over two stints) and was a key figure in their resurgence under Alen Stajcic. I’ve no idea what happened during Monty’s (highly successful) tenure but clearly it was just another case of coach and player ambitions falling out of alignment.
Therefore, Ollie had no choice but to move on, and some of the fans are feeling betrayed. It will be very hard to see him play in black and red against the yellows, but that is the inevitable result of the Darwinian Struggle at any club (unless a player is too old, too injured or too dead).
So the moral to this story?
Try to remember that players are only doing it for the money. You’ll still enjoy their performance but won’t be so hung up about it afterwards.
Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in 2022.
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