Five Faces of Disloyalty

1) Shameless Traitor – Fabian Delph

‘I want to set the record straight. I am not moving’ – claimed the lad on July 11, following his strange absence from AV’s flight to a training camp in Portugal. ‘I’m staying (…) I can’t wait for the start of the season and captaining this great football club.’ Those words, along with few other reassuring ones, gained nearly 2000 Facebook shares and nearly 4000 retweets in nine days since being issued to the Aston Villa fans. One thing’s for sure: despite their magnitude, they wouldn’t possibly be as popular on social media if not for it’s author’s follow-up decision. On Friday, out of the blue, Fabian Delph had a medical at Manchester City- just six days after his supposed ‘commitement’ to The Villans. On Saturday, exactly one week after his message of loyalty – he was gone. The only consolation was a rather slim fee for his services: £8 million for the 26-years old midfielder.

 

AV fans have now 99 reasons to be worried. Last season was literally a trail of tears for the Birmingham side. Following their surprise win over Arsenal on the opening day, they quickly collapsed, suffering six EPL defeats in a row for the first time in club’s history and becoming one of the most toothless teams around (612 minutes without a single goal at some point!). There were only two bright spots in these dark times: freshly recovered Christian Benteke and a box-to-box man Delph. After Tim Sherwood replaced Paul Lambert as a manager, those two have found their second wind late in the season and managed to set up just enough goals to dig up their team out of the relegation dogfight. Today, as we speak, one of them is gone and the other one might off to Liverpool for £32 million, as The Reds are eager to spend some of their fresh earnings. What will Villa do without them?

The man in question is unlikely to concern himself with that dilemma. Already dubbed ‘a snake’, he is now in a full damage-control mode, claiming that it’s AV’s new signing, ex-City right-back Micah Richards, who convinced him to make the move. But let’s be serious: had Delph kept his mouth shut until the deal was done, nobody would’ve been outraged that the guy leaves mediocre club for a Champions League football and much better salary. The former Villa captain acted as if all the rumours regarding his transfer to The Citizens were false – and, perhaps, they were, until City gave up the pursuit of Paul Pogba and settled for him. If it’s the case, the lad should now rethink the role he’ll be playing for this new MC side. For all we know, he might as well be a temporary placeholder in the team’s midfield until they manage to sign an actual big gun next year…

2) Greedy Traitor – Raheem Sterling

…the ‘big-gun’ of this year seems to be Raheem Sterling. I’m putting the quotation mark out there because, as I said earlier, we’re talking about possibly the most overhyped, overrated, overpriced player in the world; maybe with the exception of Paul Pogba. After many weeks of prolonged contract talks, 20-years old winger who’s been insisting on not being ‘a money-grabbing bastard’ finally ended his spell at Anfield and moved to Ettihad. The fee? £49 million; same figure that’s been paid by Real Madrid for Zinedine Zidane fourteen years ago; also, half of the price of Cristiano Ronaldo. And we’re still talking about a player who has the record comparable to the one of Gylfi Sigurðsson (Swansea), Nacer Chadli (Tottenham) or Stewart Downing (West Ham). A lad who might be – only might be – a star of the future. There’s the 2015 EPL transfer market for you, poor football fans.

The Greedy Traitor (£180k per week now) will be progressing as a footballer; there’s no doubt about it. However, I still have one question to ask. Let’s take a look back and compare his contributions to those of other wonderkids at the age of 20. Sterling’s claim to fame are 8 goals and 8 assists in 43 games. At the same stage of his career, Cristiano Ronaldo scored 11 goals and had 6 assists in 33 games. Leo Messi – 20 goals and 14 assists in 45 games. Local fellow Wayne Rooney – 18 goals and 10 assists in 40 games. Is Sterling really at the level he’s supposed to be in other to reach this level of stardom? No – and he should be there already, because, let’s face it, if a player isn’t good enough by the age of 20, he’s unlikely to get there later. In fact, it will be already a success if he knocks out Jesús Navas (0 goals 9 assists last season) from the starting 11. This Traitor simply has a lot to prove yet.

3) Good-Guy Traitor – Bastian Schweinsteiger

This case is different than all the previous ones. Unlike all other traitors mentioned here, Schweinsteiger is a well-rounded veteran and a legend for Bayern Munich, having spent no less than 17 years in the team. The fans have seen him advancing through the ranks, from a great youth prospect to the status of a leading European playmaker, who has captured eight domestic titles as well as seven German Cups and, more recently, the Champions League and the World Cup. A man of that stature could not be possibly booed for his decision to leave Germany – and he wasn’t, as his emotional farewell statement was mainly welcomed with a warm nostalgia of FCB’s supporters. What certainly helped there was that Basti had just one year left on his contract; after he didn’t get the extension terms he wanted, he helped his club to make a good profit for the transfer before it was too late.

The glory German team deserved; the glory Manchester United seeks.

Nevertheless, it wasn’t the team or the fans that got betrayed here – it was Schweinsteiger’s ambition. Two or three weeks ago, he sought himself in Bayern for yet another season. His motivation was straightforward and convincing: he wanted to win the fourth Bundesliga title in a row – a success that has never been achieved in the history of German competition; not even by the legendary Bayern of Franz Beckenbauer, Sepp Maier and Gerd Müller. Basti, along with twelve other players, was ready to make the history there. Well, actually, ‘ready’ is an understatement: after winning the league with 10 points to spare, FCB were an overwhelming favourites to conquer it in 2015-16 campaign – and, as a matter of fact, they still are, despite losing their leader. He ditched that chance for £180k worth of wages at Old Trafford – a move reasonable for ageing player, but also a bit disappointing.

There’s no doubt that he’ll be a regular started in United next season. Even with a horribly stacked midfield, featuring Ander Herrera, Daley Blind, Marouane Fellaini, Michael Carrick and the other new signing Morgan Schneiderlin – the Bayern legend is statistically stronger, more reliable choice for Louis van Gaal than the majority of his other options. The average of 89% pass success, as well as 9 goals and 8 assists last season, speak volumes about Basti’s ability to excel as a major creative force in the middle. His transfer should also mark the end of Wayne Rooney’s spell in a playmaker’s role: with Van Persie and Falcao both out of the window, England’s star will finally find his place back where he belongs – upfront. All in all, that’s a lot of benefits for a fairly modest, £14.4 million transfer fee. The only question is: which MU midfielder will become the heavy bench-warmer next season?

4) Former Traitor – Iker Casillas

Saint Iker. The Untouchable Goalie. The one who saved Real Madrid from throwing away the Champions Cup at Hampden Park in Glasgow (could you believe that it was more than 13 years ago?). One of the main reasons why Florentino Pérez was never keen on buying world-class centre-backs or defensive midfielders – because The Goalie would save his team regardless of outfield players’ bloopers. The man who made 725 appearances for Los Blancos and has been chasing Raúl’s record – which, by the way, he’d surely break in 2015-16 season, if he stayed at Santiago Bernabeu. Out of 34 years spent on this planet, Casillas has committed 25 to the royal club – a club, where he started from scratch as a nine-years old kid. And now, it’s all over. He’s just been offloaded to FC Porto and replaced by Espanyol’s goalkeeper Kiko Casilla. Just like in Xavi’s, Pirlo’s or Gerrard’s case – an era has ended.

For years, Casillas’ reputation has been undisputedly great. The five-time winner of IFFHS World’s Best Goalkeeper Award has been showered with compliments and eventually was rewarded with a lucrative contract valid until 2017. And then, suddenly, the problems started. Upon appointing José Mourinho at Bernabeu, a silent war broke out between him and the players, fuelled further by the frustrations of Mou’s initial season, in which Real struggled to remain competitive against Barcelona. Casillas, reportedly leaking important backroom news to his girlfriend Sara Carbonaro, was one of the first to feel The Special One’s wrath. In January 2013, former Real’s backup goalie Diego López returned to his original club and immediately took the #1 position, using Casillas’ nagging injury as a perfect opportunity to prove himself. And it worked: for the first time in years, RM was stronger without Iker.

In the end, Mourinho lost his war against players. The group led by Casillas and Sergio Ramos prevailed and the manager had to resign despite clinching a record-breaking La Liga win in 2012. However, this was all but a Pyrrhic victory for the portero. Saint Iker was never the same – and he later went on to become an anti-hero of 2014 World Cup game against Netherlands as well as of several important La Liga games, including derby clashes with newly emerging Atletico side. As his performances declined, his disloyalty to the former manager was forgiven, but not forgotten. A short, hasty and rather awkward farewell ceremony on Monday, 13th of July, confirmed the impression that Real is getting rid of a player they did not back up anymore. In the end, the war had no victors – only RM’s image suffered. Especially if we compare this departure with the farewell of FCB’s Xavi…

5) Traitor? – Victor Valdes

This has to be one of the most mysterious cases of 2015 summer. In the middle of the signing frenzy, Louis van Gaal has basically kicked out Valdes out of his team after the goalie refused to play a game for MU’s reserves. This disobedience resulted with VV’s exclusion from Red Devils’ pre-season USA tour. At the same time, van Gaal, bossy as usual, has issued some stern comments to the press regarding his goalie’s degree of professionalism. Though there is no doubt that the former Barcelona player has crossed the line, a single screw-up shouldn’t normally result with such a big punishment. After all, the 33-years old has been considered a strong back-up option to David de Gea last season and the closest campaign could’ve been his shot at breaking into the first 11 – since his main rival was widely expected to sign for Real Madrid and MU didn’t have a player lined-up as a replacement.

But here’s the catch: apparently, De Gea is not going anywhere. United will therefore, retain their brightest star and this would condemn Valdes to benchwarming forever, which is surely below the lad’s ambitions. Furthermore, Victor has not been playing competitive football for over a year and it’s not even clear whether his goalkeeping traits would go well with the physical, crossing-oriented style of Premier League. Considering all these facts, Red Devils might’ve been looking for an excuse to let the player go, especially since he’s been known to have a rather negative relationship with the manager. Ultimately, in case of De Gea’s transfer, the Dutch boss started eyeing Jasper Cillessen instead of taking Valdes into consideration – and the player himself was recently linked with Valencia and Antalyaspor. So… traitor? Compared to the morals of few other guys at Manchester – almost a saint.

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