Should footballers follow their hearts or their wallets? Once a fan, now a professional

When Wayne Rooney left Everton to join Manchester United in 2004, all traitorous talk and resentment stemmed from the fact that he had moved rather than who he had moved to.

If for instance he had left his boyhood club to join Liverpool, it’s likely there would have been more of a fuss, a commotion similar to that which accompanied his first United transfer request a few years ago when it appeared the Etihad would be his next destination.

To most supporters the idea of pulling the shirt of their fiercest rivals over their head is fairly abhorrent.

An Arsenal supporting friend of mine risked the wrath of an entire office by choosing not to wear a Tottenham shirt for a day, steadfastly declining the double your money offer for his charity in favour of looking himself in the eye come the morning.

That harsh but understandable pronouncement emphasised that when push came to shove, the African kids he cared most about weren’t the ones with no running water but those who could kick a ball about and be enticed to north London.

Non football people may find his stance uncomfortable but it’s one that I believe the majority of fans would support.

It may seem ridiculous, childish even; a lifetime’s allegiance would not be compromised by momentarily being enclothed in the garments of an enemy.

It would however be something that you could never take back, something to which your mates despite repeated assurances would regularly refer and the nagging feeling that you had somehow sold out would probably never go away.

Supporters would all love a likeminded partisan to be putting on their tam colours representing them every week.

To an extent it seems that once you cross over to the professional side those feelings are somehow put on hold, few players seem to get the opportunity to perform for the teams they followed as children.

Gary Neville and David Beckham were United fans as youngsters and both achieved their dream of playing for the club.

A reason cited for Beckham not returning to the Premier League in recent years has been that he didn’t want to play for another English side, so he clearly maintains a strong affection for the men in red.

Steven Gerrard has openly said that he could never play for Manchester United but in reality I don’t think that there are too many others who would display such bonds or hold such boundaries.

When Eric Cantona left Elland Road for Old Trafford there was surprise and a degree of hurt but nothing compared to when Alan Smith completed the same journey.

There is real animosity between the United’s of Leeds and Manchester and for a player like Smith, a terrace hero, a bona fide badge kissing and meaning it Yorkshire lad, to go to their most reviled foe signified for me that as a pro anything goes.

Southampton full back Luke Shaw could soon be faced with a similar dilemma. The 17-year-old has indicated that he is a Chelsea fan and is apparently being targeted by the West London club as well as Spurs.

Whilst Arsenal remain Spurs biggest hate figure, it’s probably fair to say that many Chelsea followers consider the team from White Hart Lane as the team they most despise.

When Damien Duff left Stamford Bridge a few years ago his quote was “”As a Chelsea player I couldn’t join Spurs,”

If Southampton do decide to cash in on Shaw it will be interesting to see whether he follows his heart as a fan to a possible seat on the bench or if he keeps his professional hat on and puts playing every week ahead of local rivalry.

Allen Whyte

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