After AC Milan announced on Thursday that prodigious goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma was not going to sign a new contract, it made football fans question if loyalty still is existed in world football.
As far as I am concerned, loyalty ended when Roma legend Francesco Totti played his final match for the Giallorossi in the last round of the 2016/17 Serie A season.
When the 40-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute in the Lupi‘s 3-2 victory on May 28, it was the closing of a chapter in the history of Italian and world football. Totti made his senior debut for Roma in 1993 and gave great dedication to his hometown club.
He was showing great signs of decline in the second half of the 2014/15 season and he was perhaps fortunate to play this season after some excellent performances as a super-sub nearly the end of the 2015/16 campaign.
Admittedly I believed that it was time for the Roma forward to accept that he was a shadow of the player he was in the 1990s and 2000s and he should have acknowledged that his ageing body could not handle playing in Serie A on a weekly basis.
Despite that, the Giallorossi hierarchy and Coach Luciano Spalletti should have handled the situation better. They should have given him greater clarity before the 2016/17 season about how long his playing contract would be and how much playing time he would be allocated.
When the final whistle blew after the match against Genoa, it marked the end for one of Roma’s heroes. Totti was a sublime talent and a Roman. The die-hard fans of the club identified with him because he wasn’t an outsider and instead he was a man who was immersed in the club.
It is easy to say that he earned plenty of money to remain at his hometown club – he reportedly earned as much €8.9 million a season – but his loyalty to the supporters and love for his city should not be questioned. It is doubtful that he would have felt more comfortable outside of Rome or have that admiration from fans at another club.
Donnarumma could have been in similar situation to Totti at Roma or like other recent bandiere in Serie A like Javier Zanetti at Inter, Paolo Maldini at AC Milan, or Alessandro Del Piero at Juventus. With the new Chinese investors at the Rossoneri, they would have enough capital to keep him at club but he is demanding more than what they are offering.
It seems that remaining faithful to a club is a thing of the past. Players like Luigi Riva and Giancarlo Antognoni staying loyal to Cagliari and Fiorentina respectively are not footballers or human beings that you should expect to see in this day and age. There is a greater focus on money and agents have greater power and influence than they did in the past.
Even if you look at non-Italian examples, Steven Gerrard remained loyal to Liverpool for many years and so did Pele at Santos, Uwe Seeler at Hamburg, Raul at Real Madrid, Xavi at Barcelona, and several other greats. Even if they played at other clubs, they are still remembered for playing at one particular club.
It is understandable that players want to be paid what they are worth and if a person is going to be loyal to a club or a group of people, that loyalty needs to be rewarded and not abused. By the same token, footballers should be grateful to those who granted them a chance in the first place.
Donnarumma’s decision to not sign a contract extension has become symptomatic of world football today and there will be countless others like him. Even staying at a club with history of AC Milan is not enough to persuade him to stay.
Loyalty means close to nothing to modern footballers. The epitome of a loyal player seems to have disappeared once Totti had to leave the Stadio Olimpico.