Football is now all about money. There are problems with the values within the game. And this is sad because football is the most beautiful game. We can play it in the street. We can play it everywhere. Everyone can play it but those values are being lost. We have to bring them back. — Johan Cruyff
The storyline of the last week on Wearside has been there with some of the gripping drama shows you would find on Netflix. Indeed, rumours were rampant that two more episodes of the painful Sunderland ‘til I Die are in production and it appears that whenever their cameras arrive at the club, things do not end well.
We all know what happened over the weekend; it impacted the entire fanbase. Some were angry, some were emotional, and some were just disappointed. Many - myself included - were, at one stage or another, all of the above.
Let it be made clear, Alex Neil did a fantastic job at our club. Before he arrived, Sunderland were slowly but steadily sleepwalking towards another season in League One. Despite the positive efforts of Lee Johnson, it never appeared likely that the club were going to get promoted under his stewardship.
Neil changed everything. Not only did he solidify the team and gain consistency in performances and results, he galvanised a fanbase and gave genuine belief to the supporters that last season was finally going to be the one that got us out of that arduous division.
Since his departure, I have read and listened to many voices who have used their platforms to express their views on the issue. It appeared to be a topic of discussion for football fans in general and not just ones of Sunderland and Stoke City.
The pundits didn’t have a clue of what was going on here and their simplified view was frustrating to listen to. Graeme Souness on TalkSport speaking about how the club got it entirely wrong was the final nail in the coffin for me and my chequered relationship with that particular station.
However, what struck me most about all the analysis and debate that surrounded the departure of Neil was that it appeared that many fans felt he ought to have shown more loyalty to the club and stick with the squad and the supporters.
I wonder, and I say this through gritted teeth, why Neil had to show the club loyalty?
Football has changed so much in the last thirty years alone. Ever since the introduction of the Premier League and its relationship with SkySports, the sport in England has become an uncontrollable financial beast.
Money is the sole motivating factor of many football managers and players alike these days. The game has evolved so much financially that supposed loyalty to one club is almost extinct in today’s game.
Recently, I watched the Netflix show that documents Luis Figo’s massively controversial move from Spanish giants Barcelona to their arch rivals Real Madrid. Figo had consistently promised that he would never leave Barcelona. He pledged his loyalty and adoration to the Catalan club. This was until a young Florentino Perez announced himself on the world stage and offered Figo four million a year.
In reality, in any industry, money talks. It talked for Figo, it talked for Alex Neil and it will do the same for many more footballers and football managers in the future. Whether we like it or not, Alex Neil’s affection and connection to Sunderland was only ever going to be short-lived.
Football-wise, Neil’s move to Stoke is very questionable. I have no doubt that Sunderland is as good (if not better) than Stoke. Unfortunately, this fact does not matter.
In today’s world, these professionals are aware that football careers are short-lived and appreciate the value that every move or financially beneficial transfer can have for their futures. To me, it is clear these thoughts take precedence over building a successful side or being part of something exciting.
Whilst it is hard to fathom, there are very few people in this game who have genuine connections to football clubs. Gone are the days of Francesco Totti or Steven Gerrard. Football is a business, and a dirty one at that.