By Will Feldman
I am depressed. My first season following Premier League Football and my favorite team, Aston Villa, is so tragic they are comedic. Following our recent, devastating six nil lost to Liverpool, the idea of “professionalism” has swept across many of the articles pertaining to Villa. The accusation arose that our players are not being professionals; the fans believe that many of the footballers are simply collecting their paychecks and are not playing for the pride of our historic football club. This has me thinking about what the word professional has come to mean, particularly in sports. The title professional is tied to the idea of monetarily profiting from a certain occupation or pursuit. When one thinks of a ’professional’ one thinks of someone who performs a job and is compensated for it. A professional lawyer is not expected to have a fervent passion for his law firm much like a professional doctor is not expected to have strong ties to his hospital. It is interesting how the concept of professionalism and passion have become intertwined.
In this era of sports, where many players migrate from team to team, and even from league to league, it is considered unprofessional to not have a passion for a player’s employer. I get incredibly frustrated when I see the players for Villa play with a defeatist attitude. I want the players to share the same dread of seeing a once mighty club relegated to the championship. But why should I, or any other Villa fan, expect to see Jordan Veretout have the same passion for the club as we do? He was born in Ancenis, France and has only been affiliated with the club since July of 2015 (6 months ago). In fact, only three of Aston Villa’s first team players are graduates of the Aston Villa academy, leaving the rest of the first team as men who have no emotional ties to the club or the city of Birmingham. The footballers who take the field in the iconic claret and blue of AVFC are not playing for club pride, this is their profession, they play for the paycheck. This is not to say they do not care about the club, or the tradition, or the fans, but this a job, first and foremost. Many Villa fans were harshly reminded of this during the past summer transfer window. Villa star Fabian Delph was quoted, six days prior to his move to Manchester City, as saying, “I’m aware there has been intense media speculation surrounding my future in the last 24 hours and I want to set the record straight… I’m staying at the football club [Aston Villa] and I can’t wait for the start of the season and captaining this great football club” (Telegraph Sports). It isn’t hard to argue that Delph made the correct professional decision for himself, however, this doesn’t stop myself or other Villa fans from considering him a traitor and booing him at every chance we get. Does the transient nature of the modern professional athletes give players a pass to phone in the last games of a season at a point when relegation has become a certainty? Does the emotional and economic investment made by fans give them license to verbally berate and abuse the players who fail to give every last drop of sweat and blood defending the honor of the club until the bitter end? As a fan I have a bias and I do wish that every player who calls Villa Park home would fall in love with the club as I have, but I know I cannot expect this.
I have also decided that I won’t question a player’s professionalism as long as they train, take the pitch, and collect their paycheck. Players like Joleon Lescott may be acting professional, but I do question their integrity and their respect. Aston Villa has been around since 1874 and has crafted a fervent and devoted fan base in its 142-year history. As long as fans buy tickets and merchandise and as long as fan spend hours of their week devoted to watching the matches and reading articles relating to the team the players owe the fans more than just professionalism. While players shouldn’t be condemned for failing to love the club as passionately as the fans, they can still be criticized for failing to give their all on the pitch. We have a team chock-full of professionals. We should be demanding a team of warriors, of footballers who understand pride, integrity, honor, and respect. We have been able to field a team of professionals for the past couple of seasons, players who do their job, get paid, and move on to better team when the opportunity arises, which has left Villa eight points from safety with 11 games left in the season. We don’t need a team of fans who are all Villa academy products, but we do need players with passion for the game, who have too much pride to quit in the face of adversity, who have the integrity to respect the commitment of the fans to the club with a similar commitment to train and to play as hard as they can until the final whistle of each and every match. Aston Villa needs competitors not professionals.
The Telegraph Sports. “Fabian Delph Ridiculed after Dramatic U-turn on Manchester City Transfer.” The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 29 Feb. 2016. <http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/teams/manchester-city/11746864/Fabian-Delph-performs-u-turn-on-Manchester-City-move.html>.