David Preece: Raheem Sterling and nouveau pals have no loyalty to Liverpool – or any club

Raheem Sterling
Raheem Sterling
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In your view, what’s the most heinous crime you could commit in football?

Leaving the “isms” that race, gender and sexuality those of a lesser IQ might promote, some might tell you it’s the cancer of diving and simulation that’s spread throughout our game that’s the worst.

You will get those who may say Rudi Völler and Frank Rijkaard’s exchange of saliva during the 1988 European Championships is the most unforgivable act you can commit on the field of play, but personally, I’d rather be spat on than elbowed intentionally in the face.

You can make your own mind up about what that says about me, but given a choice between the two, I’d sooner get over the feeling of disgust and disrespect than a broken nose or a cheek bone.

What if I told you I knew someone who supported two teams, say Spurs and Chelsea?

As a fan, where would supporting more than one team rank on the crime sheet of offensives?

Although fictional, some of you might remember Roger Nouveau, a character from the Fast Show in the late 90’s who pre-empted Roy Keane’s ‘prawn sandwich brigade’ rant by satirizing the new breed of football fan the Premier League created.

An Arsenal fan who knew little, if nothing, about football, took a hamper filled with cheese and wine along to Highbury with him and openly professed to supporting ‘Manchester United before, but then again, you had to support them where I grew up ... in Hampstead’.

To many it’s probably unthinkable, especially if they’re in the same league, but I guess most of us now take an interest in more than just our boyhood heroes.

Everyone’s got a soft spot for a team lower down the leagues or for a European side they’ve grown to love, haven’t they, which dilutes the ire against the bi-fanatics amongst us somewhat.

Still, at least they actually support a team.

Over the last couple of years in my capacity as a journalist, I’ve interviewed a fair few footballers for different websites and magazines and I began to notice something which, for me anyway, has becoming a worrying trend.

Many of the players I interviewed were under the age of twenty-one, an age where that Roy of the Rovers link between the time they sat in the stands watching their heroes and sitting alongside some of them in the dressing room should still be strong.

A time before the cynicism and the brutal reality of the game had got to them. Sadly, that is fading away.

In the beginning, when I was asked if the team they were playing for were the team they supported as a kid, it was really just thrown in there the same matter of fact way you’d ask where they’d grown up. But with each interview, an unexpected answer was given; ‘I didn’t really support any team.’

The first couple of times it happened, I let out a little laugh thinking they were joking. “You didn’t support anyone?” I asked incredulously.

They hadn’t, and I felt a little sad for them at first because I thought they’d missed out on what football was really all about.

The tribalism, the feeling of belonging and togetherness, the rivalry, the collective joy and dejection. How could they have become professional footballers without having any meaningful connection with any team at all?

It’s that question that drew me back to the Fast Show sketches and realized the players themselves had become “Nouveau” footballers.

One of them even replied “I wasn’t really interested in football, but I was just good at it, so when the club asked me to go training with them I went along. I didn’t support a particular team ... I did like Thierry Henry though.”

It probably took ten years from the inception of the Premier League for it to take hold, but this is what’s happening.

From the moment the players themselves became brands in their own right, young kids began to worship them and the team they play in, rather than their ‘own’ club.

This is why I think we have got to the point of the Raheem Sterling situation. How can we expect players to show loyalty to their club when they have never felt a loyalty to ANY club, in any capacity before?

Players are scooped up by clubs at a young age so they support those clubs just the same as anyone might feel loyalty towards an employer, not as a birthright of their hometown or a baton passed down from father to son, as most of us did.

The academy system begins at such a young age they bypass the years of riding the rollercoaster from the stands before they do as a player and that can only lead to exaggerate the disassociation between themselves and the fans when they make it on to the pitch.

They have only ever been players and never real fans and to me that’s another reason the pure soul of football is being lost.

When Gary Neville made the point about David Luiz playing as if he was ‘controlled by a ten-year-old in the crowd on a Playstation’, his point may have been more profound than you think.

The game is becoming more and more like a computer game, with kids’ knowledge of a player’s ability based on their FIFA 15 rankings and it’s faceless characters playing the game to maximize their earning potential and growing their global brand, and more is the pity.

Roy of the Rovers is dead, long live The Modern Footballer™.