Usually the subject of loyalty in soccer hits the headlines because of yet another example of disloyalty by a player or manager. I suppose it`s inevitable, given that it`s a profession in which individuals make obscene amounts of money and can indulge their every whim. Self-gratification (in its various forms) therefore tends to overrule such virtues as respect, the keeping of promises and the honouring of contracts.
While most of the stories concern players rather than managers (there are far more of them), the latter can be just as guilty of selfishness and lack of consideration for the clubs which employ them: take the recent examples of Mark Hughes and Alex McLeish. So, it`s life-affirming to read the story of Roberto Martinez, who has just turned down a profitable move to Aston Villa and an escape from the perpetual fight against relegation in order to soldier on at Wigan (admittedly with an enhanced salary). Even so, while my heart warms to him, my head tells me that this will make Wigan a more difficult rival next year. Grrr!!
Of course, here at Wolverhampton we have our own example of loyalty. Even though WW took up almost permanent residency in the relegation zone, leading to strident calls for his sacking by a section of the fans, MM plainly enjoyed the support of the board and the players. Moreover, the chairman and CEO made it clear that the manager would remain in post even if he failed to keep the team in the PL. As this looked highly unlikely at the time, this was a brave (or foolhardy, take your pick) gesture.
We shall never know what the board would have done had the team suffered the ignominy of relegation. More was at stake than mere prestige: because of the multi-million pound development plan for Molineux there was a lot riding on the maintenance of our PL status. Indeed, critics wondered whether the one could succeed without the other. I suspect that MM would have gained a stay of execution, with judgement being deferred until Christmas.
What of MM`s own loyalty to the club and the honouring of his contract? Even during the darkest days of Christmas and Easter, he constantly chanted the mantra that he should only be judged by the position WW ended up in at the close of play on 22 May. Leaving aside the issue of whether mere survival could be construed as a good enough result, he managed to pull it off. But what would have happened had Hunt not scored that vital goal in the 87th. minute? As an honourable man MM should have resigned, having patently failed to achieve his target. Thankfully, we will never know what was in his mind.
At this point, the argument goes into reverse. Should clubs adopt a different perspective on the issue of loyalty and the honouring of agreements? If a team is floundering under the stewardship of the manager, is it justifiable to sack him, written contract notwithstanding? Most fans would agree, though, as the heated nature of the debate has shown, they are divided as to what constituted a satisfactory outcome to the season.
For me, the interests of the club come first, though I wouldn`t want a manager to be saddled with unreasonable expectations, no matter what he might have had to agree to in the interview. For the record, I think that MM has fully fulfilled whatever promises he made to the selection panel in 2006. Merely to replace Hoddle was an improvement in itself. I am sure the board – and most fans- would have settled for promotion and survival in the PL for a third season. The question is: can he take us to the next level. I hope so but, if not, what do we do then? How loyal should we, as permanent fans, be to transient employees of our great club?