It was the biggest U-turn since Stevie G handed in a transfer request, flirted with Jose and decided to remain loyal to the Anfield cause. Rumours had been rumbling for months linking Aston Villa captain Fabian Delph with a move to Manchester City, but for the best part that’s all it had been, rumours.
Such rumours came to a head a few weeks ago after the social media hills were alive with the sound of whispers that the 25 year old had passed a medical at City. This prompted Delph to make a very public display of affection towards the claret and blue club he captained. Quotes consisted of words such as ‘set the record straight,’ ‘I’m not leaving’, and ‘this great football club’.
All strong words that left City fans reeling and Villans punching the air with delight – who said loyalty was dead? Here was a 25 year old England international, that had resisted the lure of Arab money for the pull of captaining this great club with a wealth of tradition and finishing mid-table. Ish. Even Tim Sherwood spoke about his ‘delight’ that the midfielder was staying, stating it was a ‘measure of the guy that he is, showing loyalty to the fans, the football club and the chairman.’ There was only one winner here. Morals 1, Delph 0.
So imagine everyone’s surprise when just six days later, Delph was unveiled as City’s latest signing. Pleased as punch, holding the sky blue threads next to club ambassador Mike Summerbee, Fabian seemed blissfully unaware that Villa’s media team had actually published his commitment statement onto their website. It was a done deal – £8 million had secured the services of the footballer who had bigger balls than Ron Jeremy.
Villa fans took to Twitter in their droves: partly to delete those 140 characters of post-statement praise, partly as an outlet for relentless abuse towards their former captain, and mostly to publish hastily-concocted photo-shopped pictures of Delph’s head onto a snake’s body.
City fans on the other hand? Well they mostly sat back and laughed. They hadn’t expected him to sign and were mainly bewildered and bemused at the turn of events. But they joined in the banter and lapped it up. A hornet’s nest he had most definitely stirred up. Delph 1, Morals 0.
Why the sudden dramatic change of mind? Had he been made promises Villa couldn’t keep? Had he got wind that star striker Christian Benteke was on his way to Anfield? Had he contemplated staying at Villa Park because it was, on paper, the ‘safe’ option? He was captain of his club, with six senior caps for England. His team were Premier League regulars and had recently been FA Cup finalists, had a solid fan-base, with an exciting if slightly unpredictable young manager. It was a comfortable situation to be in.
I’m surprised the words ‘money grabbing bastard’ or ‘benchwarmer’ weren’t trending that day, but the reality is City came knocking on the door. Not the Brother-sponsored, managerial merry-go-round, getting beat at home to Bury and Stockport, scraping out of Division Two City. Nor is it the City who played David James upfront, aimed to just score one more than they conceded (hello Kevin Keegan!), or the one who lived constantly in the shade of their Trafford counterparts.
Oh no. This is City circa 2015: the club who now have global franchises, with ageing legends adorning their kit across the pond and beyond. Who won the Premier League trophy in Fergie Time™ to snatch it from the grasp of Phil Jones et al, with a moment from Sergio Aguero that was so sweet Sky Sports will forever be grateful.
The fact is that City are now a regular Champions League side with quality through their squad. A team who puts up a strong challenge for all four trophies every season, armed with talent that have pedigree as regular internationals. It’s an exciting place to be – and Delph couldn’t resist the temptation of being involved in a squad that put up a serious fight for trophies.
Let’s face facts and be realistic. Try to take off your club-tinted specs for a minute or two. What would you have done? Stick or twist? The easy decision would be to opt for the safe bet: to stay at a club that you captain, where you are one of the first names on the team-sheet home and away. To keep going into your normal job week in, week out; earning your predictable wage, seeing the same familiar faces and parking in the same spot as you have done since your move from Leeds United back in August 2009.
But what if a bigger and better opportunity came knocking? To be part of a winning side, to join one of the best Premier League squads and to fight for your place. A chance to truly challenge yourself and push yourself further than you ever could have imagined during the prime of your career.
The prospect of moving to a club that has turned dreams into a reality, and made lifting trophies a consistent way of life, is what every footballer has dreamed of since playing with jumpers as goalposts in the local park. To adopt that winning mentality, to embrace the battle that lies ahead in an attempt to set yourself apart from the rest, and to earn your right to be in the starting XI. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?
It’s an easy if not lazy decision to stay as a big fish in a small pond (think Gerrard) or to sacrifice winning certain trophies for maintaining loyalty (Shearer). The hardest thing to do is to take a risk, to accept a challenge and for that Delph should be applauded.
Of course, he will be reimbursed handsomely for his efforts, but aren’t all footballers compared to us mere mortals? He opted to not stagnate in mediocrity, but to test his abilities amongst, as he put it, ‘some of the world’s best players’.
So don’t punish Delph for chasing his dreams and for wanting to become a better footballer. Some may scoff that Scott Sinclair, Adam Johnson and Jack Rodwell have walked the same path and exited via the same door, but at least the latter two of those three left with a Premier League winner’s medal for their efforts.
Those decisions are often a head vs. heart situation. There is always risk involved in the pursuit of personal ambition, but it’s better to regret the chances we take rather than the ones we don’t. Delph himself has since admitted the move was a ‘huge opportunity’, that it is a ‘challenge to push himself to the next level.’
In fact the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘excited’ were uttered many times during his first post-transfer interview. His excitement at being at City was palpable. Villa fans may be preparing snake-laden banners, and printing fake money to wave in his face on his return to Birmingham and their visit to the Etihad, but their short-sightedness can almost be forgiven. In a couple of years, they may well have the last laugh if the gamble backfires and Delph moves on to pastures new.
But there is that possibility of him holding aloft a certain trophy adorned with sky blue and white ribbons. The chance of playing opposite Lionel Messi in the Champions League. The possibility of being a part of one of the best derbies in the world. The more or less guarantee of finishing a minimum top four each season. As Martin Tyler once said, ‘Premier League dreams come true in blue’. The guy should be commended, not condemned. That’s as long as he can stay injury free…