Loyalty in football: an ingredient or barrier to success?

Claudio Ranieri sacked by Leicester

‘There’s no loyalty in football anymore’ – the common public opinion that has followed Claudio Ranieri’s sacking at Leicester City, within nine months of him leading them to the title.

The reason owners don’t let managers rely on past achievements is perhaps because managers let their players do so too readily. This season, Ranieri has been too trusting of the players that brought him success last term when organization, quality and even commitment had been lacking. That approach – and to an extent, weakness – is not specific to the Italian:

Arsene Wenger, Jose Mourinho, Roberto Mancini, David Moyes and Carlo Ancelotti have all failed to build on title-winning squads. Common sense dictates that these are not six bad managers, because they have all achieved good things in the game.

In most cases however, the manager has been too loyal to players who once brought the team success when their performance levels drop. Evidence suggests first teamers become comfortable in knowing they will be picked and they do not strive for perfection, in the same way as somebody with a point to prove. It has often taken a change of manager – one without loyalty to the same 11 players – to turn fortunes around.

The last man to bring sustained success to one club was Sir Alex Ferguson. The Scot controversially ridded previous star performers when their performances dropped an inch below their usual standards. Manchester United were loyal to Ferguson, because they knew they could rely on him to keep a distance from his players and demand only the best. Sadly, demanding only the best is not compatible with trust throughout a whole campaign of underperformance.

Loyalty is a romantic concept. However, it is not an ingredient for sustained success – rather, it can be a barrier.