It is fair to say the beautiful game has changed over the years. That’s not to say it’s no longer beautiful, far from it, but it has certainly changed.
The days of the one club man are over and there are only a few left standing. Francesco Totti and John Terry are still going, plying their trade having only worn the colours of one team, but even they are wavering, with both players expected to leave this summer after a combined 42 years at Roma and Chelsea respectively.
It’s likely their next clubs will be in the USA or Qatar, where many have gone to end their careers. Both the MLS in the USA and the Stars League in Qatar offer megabucks and the luxury of not having to go up against their old club.
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It begs the question, is it a new era for one club men? In years to come, will this be the accepted pathway for the most loyal of footballers?
Steven Gerrard and Xavi have already taken that route, joining LA Galaxy and Al Sadd respectfully, both without hampering their reputations at Liverpool and Barcelona and yet prolonging their careers.
The same applies to Iker Casillas and, slightly less so, to Bastian Schweinsteiger. Ultimately, it makes sense. In the modern game, players can continue for much longer than say a decade ago. Ryan Giggs made it into his 40s, as did the likes of Robert Pires, Teddy Sheringham, and Rivaldo, and in many cases, taking it down a notch in terms of quality will keep the years rolling on.
It means regular football well into their 30s and at a pace which suits ageing legs. All the while, picking up a large paycheck before hanging up the boots for good.
Not Just A Pay Packet
Naturally, many fans see it as exactly that, a big payday before retirement. But if you think about it, a player’s career is very short, so winding down in the right way is important.
For Gerrard, he chose LA Galaxy due to his lack of playing time at Anfield, with Brendan Rodgers gradually phasing out the talismanic captain.
Many British fans are dismissive of the MLS, but Gerrard himself has struggled slightly in the league and even before putting his Galaxy strip on said: “The MLS has grown and improved over the years, and the teams have also got stronger and better.”
A Throwback to Days Gone By
It’s perhaps a throwback to days gone by. While we always associate Gerd Muller as Bayern Munich through-and-through, or George Best as a Manchester Utd legend, both spent time in the USA towards the end of their careers, not affecting their legacy as two of European competition’s greatest ever players.
The same applies to Bobby Moore, Franz Beckenbauer, and Pele – all renowned for one club yet spent time in America.
So Why is this Returning?
As we all know, the beautiful game has changed. Even in the last decade, football has transcended new heights. Premier League players are in the limelight 24/7. They are snapped in the supermarket, in restaurants and even outside hospitals. Foreign soils and lesser known leagues offer a level of anonymity. A step away from it after over a decade of being hounded.
Gerrard has noted the differences from life in Liverpool stating, “It has been nice for the first time to take the kids to a fairground on Santa Monica pier.
“It is something I’ve never been able to do in England. It’s good that not many people notice me out here because away from training and the games it is nice to go and spend some quality time with your family as well.”
Have we destroyed the one club man? Quite possibly…
However, football itself has become a fickle sport. With money so important, managers come and go and sadly that means the traditional one-club men are also falling out of favour.
It is case and point at Chelsea. Mourinho left John Terry out of his side a number of times at the beginning of the season, essentially clearing the pathway for him to leave in the summer. That happened with Gerrard and Casillas last year, and it could well happen again with Totti.
Time to Accept and Embrace it?
We may never see a one club man again. They’ll certainly be even fewer and farther between. Lionel Messi perhaps? Even that seems unlikely. It's likely even the great Argentine will fall out of favour eventually.
If Casillas, Gerrard, Terry, and Totti can’t manage it, then can any players at the top level? These players bleed their team's colours.