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Home|Football News|Players|Traitors To The Cause

Traitors To The Cause

Footballers Torn Between Loyalty and Profession

Ozren Podnar

Morbo: The Story of Spanish Football.

A major paradox in modern team sports are the fans' expectations that their favourite players be permanently and invariably loyal to "their" team, while the players usually see their relationship with a club primarily as a job.

A desire for professional and financial improvement is inherent in most athletes regardless of club colours or indeed the sectarian or religious factors many fans refer to when it comes to branding as a "traitor" anybody changing their allegiance to the "wrong" team.

The recent transfer of Dinamo Zagreb's skipper Niko Kranjcar to Hajduk Split has created a national turmoil comparable in kind if not in size to that which followed Luis Figo's move from Barca to Real Madrid in 2000.

Even in such an ethnically and religiously compact society as Croatia's, the decision of the 20-year-old international to join the hated arch rival caused an upset which is not likely to subside for the rest of the season. A crowd of 10,000 people welcomed Kranjcar in Hajduk's stadium, while Dinamo's fans lit 200 candles in front of Kranjcar's Zagreb home "in the memory of Niko's honour, which is now dead", as one fan put it.

It All Started With Mo In Scotland

What then, about transfers between rivals divided by religion or ethnicity? When Mo Johnston had broken his promise to return to Celtic after a two-year spell at Nantes, only to join Rangers, he became the "soccer traitor par excellence", having become the first Catholic player to call Ibrox Park his home.

However, Johnston's stay at Rangers was not entirely happy, despite Rangers winning three championships during his time as a player. While the Celtic faithful burned Johnston's effigy in front of both Park Head and Ibrox, many Rangers' fans were not amused either, considering Johnston an "intruder".

The Great Divide - Barca & Real Madrid

In Spain, the supreme act of "treason" is moving from Catalonia's symbol Barcelona to Castilla's Real Madrid, seen as a bastion of Spanish centralism. Many more footballers have gone the way of Madrid from Barcelona, than the other way round. Whereas Luis Enrique experienced only a few boos from Real's crowd during his returns to Santiago Bernabeu in Barca's shirt, Michael Laudrup and Luis Figo were truly slated when they faced the Catalans at Camp Nou.

Laudrup, who signed for Real Madrid in 1994 after Barca surprisingly failed to renew his contract, had a hostile crowd awaiting him in front of Camp Nou with a huge banner saying "Laudrup, Judas". Then there was that deafening noise anytime he touched the ball.
"I suffered a terrible ordeal. The worst day of my career," said the Dane, remembering the first encounter with his old fans.

Figo's Agony

For Figo it was even worse, since the Portuguese rescinded his contract in order to join Real Madrid. He was Real presidential candidate Florentino Perez's trump-card in the election of 2000, Figo's transfer from Real's arch-rivals persuading the club's members to elect him over the reigning president Lorenzo Sanz.

Figo agreed to the deal and Perez, after winning the popular vote, duly paid the Catalans the buy-out clause of US$ 76 million. Barca fans were incensed. While Laudrup has been largely forgiven since his time with Madrid, the hatred towards Figo seems to grow with time.

Every one of his trips to Barcelona causes mass hysteria and object-throwing sprees on an unprecedented scale. On one occasion, in November 2002, a fan threw a pig's head. The head, which landed near the player, is currently exhibited in Kultort Museum in Essen as a symbol of soccer fanaticism.

Even four years after the fatal transfer, during the last European Championship finals between Portugal and Greece in Lisbon, a Catalan fan ran onto the pitch and threw Barca's flag into Figo's face. A "traitor" should never feel secure.

In countries like England, where strong club rivalries prevail regardless of ethnic or religious elements, some transfers have provoked amazing outbursts of fan animosity. On the day Sol Campbell dared to move from White Hart Lane to Highbury, Tottenham followers hanged his effigy on a lamp post and burned it. Campbell, the Spurs' captain, had been with Tottenham since he was 14 and his departure must have painfully reminded the Spurs fans of how much stronger Arsenal had become.

Leeds United's nemesis have always been Manchester United and Elland Road has seen too many times its best loved players move to their wealthier rivals across The Pennines.

Last summer Alan Smith, a Yorkshire lad, flew away to Old Trafford in spite of a previous promise never to play for the Red Devils. Similarly frustrating were the departures of Gordon McQueen and Joe Jordan in 1978, Eric Cantona in 1992 and Rio Ferdinand in 2002, "breaches of faith" Leeds fans will never forget.

Elsewhere in Europe passions fly even higher. Last winter Panathinaikos fans were horrified upon finding out that their international goalkeeper Antonis Nikopolidis had pledged to sign for Olympiakos at the end of the season. As soon as the terrible news was announced, Nikopolidis was removed from the first team squad, and when, in spite of all, he appeared at the Panathinaikos double-winning ceremony, the 20,000 crowd saw him off with a salvo of boos and insults.

They Hate Coaches, Don't They?

Coaches, too, can be labeled traitors. Even though many coaches have worked for rival teams (George Graham at Arsenal and Tottenham, Carlo Ancelotti at Juventus and Milan, Zdenek Zeman at Lazio and Roma), nothing can compare to the experiences suffered by the Montenegrin Dusan Bajevic in Greece.

The former center forward with Yugoslavia, Bajevic was a huge star and back-to-back title winner with AEK Athens, before coaching them to several trophies and a Champions League spot in the mid-nineties. When he sensationally moved to Olympiakos in 1996, he earned himself a host of enemies among AEK loyalists.

After a hugely successful six years with Olympiakos, he incredibly returned to AEK, only to find out that the fans hated him as much as ever. The pressure of the hard-core ultras went on for months until last spring the offensive chants started to include Bajevic's wife.

The wording of the vulgar songs and the sight of a huge banner with the word "TRAITOR" written on it was more than the coach could bear. Now he is back at Olympiakos, whose fans are apparently more conciliatory.

Biggest Transfers Between Bitter Rivals

Old Club
New Club
1932 Jose Samitier Barcelona Real Madrid
1955 Vladimir Beara Hajduk Red Star Belgrade
1961 Justo Tejada Barcelona Real Madrid
1962 Evaristo de Macedo Barcelona Real Madrid
1965 Ferdinand Goyvaerts Barcelona Real Madrid
1966 Lucien Muller Real Madrid Barcelona
1973 Denis Law Manchester United Manchester City
1976 Pat Jennings Tottenham Arsenal
1978 Wilson Djoni Hajduk Dinamo Zagreb
1978 Joe Jordan Leeds United Manchester United
1978 Gordon McQueen Leeds United Manchester United
1980 Wim Jansen Feyenoord Ajax
1983 Johan Cruyff Ajax Feyenoord
1984 Stjepan Deveric Dinamo Zagreb Hajduk
1985 Ruud Gullit Feyenoord PSV
1985 Aldo Serena Torino Juventus
1985 Marco Tardelli Juventus Inter Milan
1986 Boro Cvetkovic Dinamo Zagreb Red Star Belgrade
1986 Milko Djurovski Red Star Belgrade Partizan
1986 Ronald Koeman Ajax PSV Eindhoven
1987 Robert Prosinecki Dinamo Zagreb Red Star Belgrade
1988 Bernd Schuster Barcelona Real Madrid
1988 Goran Milojevic Red Star Belgrade Partizan
1989 Gabriel Batistuta River Plate Boca Juniors
1989 Mo Johnston Celtic* Rangers
1989 Marc Degryse Club Brugge Anderlecht
1990 Bernd Schuster Real Madrid Atletico Madrid
1990 Roberto Baggio Fiorentina Juventus
1990 Luis Milla Barcelona Real Madrid
1991 Peter Beardsley Liverpool Everton
1992 Nando Munoz Barcelona Real Madrid
1992 Tasos Mitropoulos Olympiakos AEK Athens
1992 Eric Cantona Leeds Manchester United
1993 Dimitrios Saravakos Panathinaikos AEK Athens
1994 Michael Laudrup Barcelona Real Madrid
1994 Alexios Alexandris AEK Athens Olympiakos
1996 Luis Enrique Real Madrid Barcelona
1996 Predrag Mijatovic Valencia Valencia Real Madrid
1998 Lorenzo Staelens Club Brugge Anderlecht
1998 Edgar Davids Milan Juventus
1999 Romario Flamengo** Fluminense
1999 Albert Celades Barcelona*** Real Madrid
2000 Luis Figo Barcelona Real Madrid
2000 Nick Barmby Everton Liverpool
2001 Sol Campbell Tottenham Arsenal
2002 Abel Xavier Everton Liverpool
2002 Rio Ferdinand Leeds Manchester United
2002 Alessandro Nesta Lazio Milan
2002 Clarence Seedorf Inter Milan
2003 Giuseppe Pancaro Lazio Milan
2004 Fabio Cannavaro Inter Juventus
2004 Antonis Nikopolidis Panathinaikos Olympiakos
2004 Alan Smith Leeds Manchester United

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