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Should Loyalty be Valued? The Anomaly that is Nacho Fernandez in the New Age of Football

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Nacho Fernandez is a deviation from the norm, in an evolving world of football devoid of true commitment from players and from clubs

Real Madrid TV - Campo De Estrellas

In the latest round of transfer gossip, it appears James Rodriguez is adamant on moving to rivals Atletico Madrid. Ed Alvarez has already explained why this would be an awful decision for Real to sell to a direct La Liga rival. But what happened to the Colombian’s apparent love for Real Madrid? Is football loyalty a thing of the past? Not just for players, but for clubs as well? Fans bemoaned the fact that a player like Xabi Alonso was sold by the club, but at the end of the day it was the player himself who wanted a change. The club gets labeled as the villain, when in reality it’s the player’s will to leave that is the determinant. In the opposite corner, when Gareth Bale wants to stay—no matter the cost—he’s the villain, as fans want the club to raise funds for new players and restructure the wage bill, rather than reward loyalty.

There is little romance left as the world of football is a business, thus it’s not dissimilar to the culture found in big corporations and the attitude of their employees. Any company, no matter how great, can change their minds on an individual in an instant. Likewise, an employee has no moral obligation to dedicate themselves to an entity, if a better offer arrives, even from a rival, most take it. People come and go, empires rise and fall, yet the only constant is you as an individual.

Marcos Llorente, a player who spent close to a decade rising through Real Madrid ranks, has committed himself to arch rivals Atletico Madrid. It’s understandable. Marcos has the opportunity to not only stay in Spain, but in Madrid—where his family resides and he and his longtime girlfriend are settled. He can play for a coach who believes in him and still compete for both the La Liga and Champions League title. Alvaro Morata, another canterano, who was given his debut by Real Madrid and was promoted to the first team by Real Madrid coaches, is yet another who has now joined cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid. And even Mario Hermoso, a player who joined Madrid’s youth ranks at the age of 10, is on the verge of joining los Rojiblancos and by all intents and purposes, would love to join the club (even after crediting Real for making him both the man and player he is today).

And as we all now know, James Rodriguez, only wants to move to Atletico Madrid. He would still prefer a move to Simeone’s Atletico, despite strong interest from Napoli and former coach Carlo Ancelotti. James himself, his father, his former wife, they had all been quoted in the past talking about the player’s dream and love for Real Madrid. Yet, he is eager to join Atletico. Again, can you blame these guys? They are human after all. This is a person’s life. They simply want to have the best career possible and live in a place where they will be happiest and comfortable with their families.

So is true commitment and love for a club a farce? Will there ever be another player like Juanito, who famously said if he were not a player, then he would be up in the stands with the Ultras? And as fans, is it fair for us to say — we are happy for you to go anywhere, except for two specific clubs?

Supporters of a club want players who truly believe in the value of the crest they are wearing; those that put the club and the teams needs ahead of themselves. Players that respect the club’s traditions. Unfortunately, especially in the current generation of football, those players are few and far between. Even club legends, Sergio Ramos and Raphael Varane, have recently leveraged their value in a bid to earn a new and more lucrative contracts from the club.

“One club man”, a term developed to describe players like Francisco Totti, Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs, and Paolo Maldini; players who dedicated their entire career to one football club, are a dying breed in the new age of football. An era that is now dominated by super agents and mega transfer fees from Europe’s top clubs and top leagues. When transferring to a club, if a player knows they cost the club considerable amount of money, then there is more incentive for that club to play that player as they want to ensure they made a sound investment. There is not as much risk, and thus not as much pressure, to play an individual from the youth academy as they cost the club close to nothing. That means players are incentivized to leave to ensure a better chance of playing or pull a “Pogba” and have their former club come begging for them to come back, resulting in the club paying large sums for the return of their services.

In a footballing world now devoid of true loyalty, there is an anomaly among Madrid's ranks. In terms of time spent at the club, Sergio Ramos is not the longest serving member of the current first team squad. José Ignacio Fernández Iglesias, commonly known as Nacho, has spent 18 years at the club joining in 2001 as a highly courted 11-year-old.

Real Madrid TV - Campo de Estrellas
Real Madrid TV - Campo de Estrellas
Real Madrid TV - Campo de Estrellas

Nacho has had the opportunity to leave on multiple occasions for a bigger role and bigger pay. Roma came knocking, a club that would be of particular interest to Nacho as he loves history and specifically reads novels on great ancient Roman battles. Yet, Nacho stayed. He’s never positioned himself for a bigger pay day or asked for anything from the club. Nacho still lives in Alcala de Henares, a small and modest town on the outskirts of Madrid, where he grew up. His dream, since the time he could remember, was to play for Real Madrid. Nacho is not a starter week in and week out. Now with the arrival of Eder Militao, he will likely be pushed to a 4th-choice center-back. With Jesus Vallejo also still on the books, if there were ever a time to leave, it would probably be now.

Yet, this is the value of Nacho. A player fans are so quickly to dismiss and place on the chopping block. Nacho has never played more than 40 club games in a single season. But the opportunity to wear the white shirt means everything to him. If given two options: one, the opportunity to be captain of Atletico and the star of the team or two, be in and out of the Madrid team playing 20 or 30 some games a year, Nacho — and this is strictly speculation — would more than likely choose the latter. Hell, he’s been at the club as long as Rodrygo Goes has been alive!

Real Madrid v Real Zaragoza - La Liga
April 30, 2011 - One of Nacho’s first few games with the Real Madrid first team
Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images
Young Captain Nacho in the 2003-2004 season
Real Madrid TV - Campo de Estrellas

Few players, if any, in the current Real Madrid squad represent the values of Madridismo better than Nacho Fernandez. Those who have known him from the youth ranks, like Dani Carvajal and Luca Vazquez, never doubt his professionalism and competitive nature. He has been captain at nearly every level of Madrid’s youth academy and now at 29, is one of the leaders of the first team dressing room. Like Hierro, Raul, Guti, Casillas, Arbeloa, and Ramos — Nacho is an ambassador of the club and one who can divulge the importance of representing the club to the plethora of young talents now a part of the first team squad. Nacho, a player-type which is on the brink of extinction, is a “character-guy” whose value in the squad is not only weighted by his skills with a football. His qualities as a person, the oh-so-forgotten factor in football, should not be undermined or under appreciated.