The story of inscrutable loyalty
One of the most complex characters in the Indian epic, Mahabharata, was Karna. The foster son of Radha is among the most sympathised characters in the epic because of his unfortunate background. After being abandoned by his biological mother Kunti as a newborn, he was adopted by a charioteer and his wife, Radha.
And they loved him. Being childless, they took care of him as their own, but he always wanted more. Karna knew that he was out place, that he was destined for something far greater, and so he set out in the quest for it.
Karna was a brilliant archer and he regarded himself as the best, but that wasn’t enough for him—he wanted the people to believe the same. So he decided to take on his nemesis, Arjuna, who was regarded as the finest archer at the time, in a one-on-one archery battle.
However, there was only one problem: in order to participate in the face-off, the competitors had to be kings. Being the son of a charioteer, Karna didn’t own any territory and, hence, didn’t qualify for the competition.
At that very moment, Duryodhana—the eternal enemy of Arjuna and his brothers—saw an opportunity to befriend Karna and form an undying alliance. So, Duryodhana gave one of his states, Anga, to Karna then and there itself and made him the king.
That was the beginning of Karna’s loyalty towards Duryodhana. Karna was so loyal towards his friend that he was blinded by it. Despite knowing the outcome of the Kuruskshetra war even before participating in it, Karna chose to add fuel to Duryodhana’s fire by berating the Pandavas (Arjuna and his brothers) and supported Duryodhana in his evil plans.
If he wanted, he could have averted the war since Duryodhana genuinely loved him and always took his advice seriously. Indeed, Duryodhana completely relied on Karna to give him the victory, going as far as claiming that as long as Karna was by his side, he didn’t need anyone else.
But Karna was too loyal to say anything against his friend and in the end, it became one of the reasons for a cataclysmic war.
Now, we learn two things from here: too much loyalty could be destructive and loyalty is a two-sided affair.
The imbalanced scale of judgment
For this article, the focus is set on the latter. The onus of being loyal is always put on the players, which is one of the greatest acts of hypocrisy in football. Players are labelled with a lot of names, ranging from Judas to mercenary, whenever they desire to leave the club for greener pastures.
For the fans, football is meant to be all about passion. Within their own bubble, that’s the ideal. But hardly any of these fans would refuse to swap their current job for a better option.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. Football is not a job, it is passion…how dare I liken football to something as banal as office work… and the likes. I get it. But once we start thinking with a calm head, it all makes sense.
The only way to earn money for footballers is by playing football, that’s their way to earn a living. While they are paid a lot of money when compared to the common person––which, according to most fans, renders the above analogy futile––what fans tend to overlook is that footballers are, contrary to popular belief, humans; just like the rest of us.
They have the same instinct like the rest of us. No matter how much money a person makes or how high the stature of their job is, most would want more. And they would instantly grab the opportunity should it present itself.
So why do we get so riled up when footballers do the very same thing that we ourselves do?
But, sod this. Forget it. Let’s go to the other point, the main theme of today: loyalty is exclusively demanded from the players alone and not the clubs.
A few days ago when Gianluigi Donnarumma refused to sign an extension with AC Milan, it caused a massive outrage. Milanisti were so furious at him that they threw fake notes at him during a U21 Euro group stage encounter.
And this is a guy who is still a Milan player and might as well go on to renew eventually. Only in football do we such a sight where an 18-year-old kid makes grown adults lose their maturity.
Similarly, mention the name of Robin van Persie to an Arsenal fan and “Judas” will be the first response from her/him. And there is a part of the Manchester United fanbase that dislikes Cristiano Ronaldo for the way he left, just like some Spurs fans loathe Gareth Bale.
While the reaction in the case of Donnarumma is understandable given that he is young and still has plenty of time to hop on to a better option, it is quite astounding that players are seen in such a negative light for thinking that they ought to play for a better club.
Generally, the moment a club deems that a player isn’t good enough for them anymore, they oust him out regardless of his past achievements. In such a scenario, the decision is “understandable,” but God forbid if players do the same.
Juventus fans despise Zlatan Ibrahimovic for leaving a sinking ship for Inter. However, the man who stayed back and fought Juventus back to the Serie A, Alessandro Del Piero, wasn’t awarded a contract extension after his contract expired. Why would they? After all, he was too old now and didn’t have the mojo like he did in the past.
One of the cruellest sight in football is to witness a club legend crying alone in front of a set of cameras and journalist in an otherwise empty stadium. After serving the club for over a decade, Iker Casillas had to face this scenario when he left for Porto.
The man who saved them countless times was no longer a reliable figure in front of the goal, so they had to eject him. It was only natural and the most sensible thing to do—but all hell breaks loose when a player deems his present club as an improper place for his development and wants to move to a club that fits his stature.
The story of Karna and Duryodhana might have had a destructive end, but it teaches the importance of two-way loyalty. Almost everyone expects a player to have the everlasting fidelity of Karna towards their respective clubs, but the same hope isn’t placed on the club.
While there are some cases of two-way loyalty in football, the general scenario is anything but. In short, if you want the loyalty of Karna, you must at least have the faith of Duryodhana.
Otherwise, it is just purely hypocritical.Published 25 Jun 2017, 16:33 IST