I grew up playing for the same club team for most of my childhood. I can remember few things more stressful than the first time I transferred clubs (no doubt due to my high market value). It felt weird. Complete change in coaching, organization, and teammates. Did my old teammates hate me? Will my new teammates think I blow? My excessive social anxiety aside, transferring to a new team is a large change when soccer is your life. And for actual professionals, it’s as stressful as a new job because that’s exactly what it is.
Yet hundreds of times every transfer window, players make moves across their country, their continent, and even across the world, to new organizations with foreign languages and the massive egos that are their new teammates. There are certain motivations behind a move that anyone could understand: promote career, make more money, surround oneself with bigger talents; the benefits go on and on. With that being said, as a soccer fan with no regional commitment to a team, I choose to keep my loyalties with individual players instead of entire teams.
When Lebron James left my beloved Cleveland Cavaliers back in 2010, I (along with the entire city) was devastated. A hometown hero, someone I wanted to rely on for a championship, deserted us to play ball with his boys in Miami. Unless you’ve been under a rock, you probably also know he made his return and won a championship. I think hometown pride has always been something near and dear to me, and I totally understand the emotional investment of loving “your” team. But when I don’t have that, when nearly every soccer game I watch (MLS aside, but that’s another talk for another day) takes place across an ocean, what are my roots?
I can remember even as a kid, Thierry Henry was my hero. Therefore, I liked Arsenal. But I didn’t really like Arsenal, I liked Thierry Henry and whatever came with him (France NT included). This mentality may be childish and I could peeve several people with my lack of loyalty, but am I any different than the players we love to watch following their dreams to sell out for Barcelona or Chelsea or whatever big name team you hate?
Today, I think Antoine Griezmann is one of the most exciting players in soccer He’s lightning quick, aerially dominant despite his small stature, and remains the primary offensive spark on an otherwise defensive powerhouse (eat your heart out, Fernando Torres). Does this mean Atletico is my team? I think with Cholo there as well, it sort of is, but ephemeral contracts leave me wondering: Will I still love this team next season?
The same way I moved on to a new club in my youth because I longed for a change of scenery, I love following players through their careers. My heart still feels for places they’ve been, but the players are the reason I’m watching every week. And it’s my life, so get off me. I take pride in following a diverse group of teams and the players that make them great, it’s part of the reason soccer will never get old.
There’s a fantastic opportunity for fans of soccer in the US. Honestly, this opportunity is everywhere for everyone, but especially in places removed from the “big” European leagues. Unless inherited, you have the world of soccer at your fingertips. Anyone who seriously bashes who you support is as bogus as someone who critiques the music you listen to or the beer you drink. Taste is a personal, individual development. You have to figure out yours, so watch every bit of soccer you can, find what you revs your engine, and tell the haters to get got.
You like the wicked skill of La Liga play? Watch all the Barca and Real Madrid you can.
You live for structured ball? Why not love on Bayern?
Don’t get me wrong, I love to do things like hate on Luis Suarez or Martin Skrtel or the entire Chelsea organization, but every team and every player has their role in the soccer world and someone pulling for them. There’s a magical balance and infinite opportunities to be a part of something bigger than yourself. Isn’t that what we all yearn for anyway?
And what’s even better is soccer recognizes those that stay true. Francesco Totti, the only person to appear in every FIFA video game, has been with AS Roma his entire career. And he still produces regularly at the ripe age of 40. Gianluigi Buffon, a man who will go down in history as one of the greatest to ever tend net, has been with Juventus since 2001. In a world where filthy
rich club owners will happily throw around eight (and nine) figures to get who they want, it speaks volumes to stick with your club. Not that there’s anything wrong with taking the money and running, but what is more impressive: joining a super team and winning or fulfilling your own destiny (*cough* *cough* Kevin Durant *cough* *cough* Zlatan)?
Loyalty to teams may be a rarity, but it only makes the game more beautiful. So love the team you want. And if you live in London, be happy you have options and don’t live in a soccer wasteland like Canada or something. There is loyalty at the individual, team, and obviously country level. Each level offers chances for glory and heartbreak, times of unrivaled success and terrible slumps. But I think, if nothing else, you can learn a tremendous deal about who a person is by their practices in soccer loyalty. Give it a try and let me know how it goes.