Fernando Torres is the latest in a line of players to hand in a transfer request so as to push forward a move away from his current club. As players' loyalties to clubs dwindle, Max Smithson looks back at Andy Hughes' Leeds United career and explains what he thinks it takes to win the fans hearts.
It’s 19th April 2008 and Leeds are 1-0 up away at Millwall with 11 minutes left. Substitute Andy Hughes then finishes off a lovely passing move from all of two yards out to clinch Leeds United’s promotion back to the Championship at the first time of asking... or so it should have been. Had Leeds not been given a 15 point deduction at the start of that season, Hughes’ only goal for the club would have been one of the most talked about in Leeds’ history. Instead, it will only be revered by the 1,892 Leeds fans who made the trip to Millwall that day who can say that they witnessed the only goal and subsequent hilarious celebration of one of the most popular players to have worn the white shirt.
The reason for this article is that last week Hughes left Leeds for Scunthorpe United, much to the disappointment of all Leeds fans, not because he is especially talented, but because he embodied everything a fan wants a footballer to be. All too often these days we are seeing players becoming more and more out of touch with reality, and many fans are feeling alienated from the sport they love because of it. For us, footballers are living our dream. Turning out for the club we have supported all our lives every week and being paid handsomely for it. So many players seem to forget what a privileged position they are in and how much their work matters to the fans – just look at Rooney, Tevez and now Torres this season.
If these players who are becoming increasingly frustrating for fans took a leaf out of Andy Hughes’ book, football would be in a much better state. The efforts that Andy Hughes went to to make himself so widely loved by Leeds fans are not anything extraordinary but it these small gestures that fans appreciate so much, ensuring that they will always be behind you. The first of which is to always give 110%, right till the death. Hughes was always the first to admit that he was not the most gifted of players and did not have the same ability as others but to Leeds fans it did not matter because he always gave everything on the pitch. He wore his heart on his sleeve and never gave up. Fans love to see this sort of commitment because we would be doing the same if we were out there. We care so much about our teams, so it is great when we see a player playing as if he has as much passion as we do. It is this reason why it was so hard for us to watch England's abject performance at the World Cup. How could anyone appear to lack passion when playing in a World Cup for their country?
Secondly, a player must show his appreciation of the fans. This really does not take much effort but believe me, it counts for a lot. It only takes two minutes of a player’s time before his shower, but after you have travelled over 200 miles to Exeter to stand on an unsafe terrace in the pissing rain to watch your team lose 2-0 you feel the least the players can do is to come over to the away end and clap the fans a bit to thank you for your support. Hughes always did this, no matter what the result and he was always the last player left clapping. He was also looking to give something back to the fans and the community, attending fan events and being involved in LUDO (Leeds United Disabled Organisation) as well as other charity projects.
Finally, and probably the most important trait for fans in a player, is loyalty. Sadly, this is becoming an increasingly rare commodity in modern footballers. It is very unusual now that we see a player only playing for one club during his whole career but players such as Matt Le Tissier deserve huge credit to staying loyal to the club who gave them a career. It pains me to see youth players leave small teams for teams such as Chelsea despite not having made an appearance for the club which has spent many years developing them through the academy. They are convinced that this is the path to stardom but often they struggle to make an impression with so many quality players in front of them. Players are too quick to move for a better financial deal when the footballing aspect could be detrimental to their career.
The reason for Andy Hughes’ move to Scunthorpe is that they offered him an 18 month contract and with his contract at Leeds expiring at the end of the season, Hughes had to consider his long-term future. It is somewhat fitting that Hughes’ last appearance for Leeds (the draw with Arsenal at the Emirates) came almost exactly a year after the victory at Old Trafford, a match in which he had made Obertan look disticntly average. A great way to bring the curtain down on a Leeds career that will be fondly remembered for many years to come, showing that you do not have to be a special talent to win the hearts of the fans if you have the right attitude and commitment.
Thoughts, comments and opinions please...