One is arguably his club’s greatest ever player, almost certainly the best of recent times. The other, a symbolic figurehead of his team; the club captain, figurehead, leader.
At the peak of their powers, both were amongst the best in the world. They were seen as indispensable.
Steven Gerrard and Iker Casillas were the heartbeat of their clubs. But both will begin the new season not in the colours of their beloved Liverpool and Real Madrid.
The reason? There’s no loyalty in football, apparently.
You’ll have heard that saying a lot this week, no doubt. Not in relation to Gerrard (16 years at Anfield, 708 games, 10 major domestic trophies) or Casillas (25, 725, 19) but to Raheem Sterling, following his mega-money move to Manchester City for a fee in the region of £49m.
The common consensus, it seems, is that this transfer is the end of football as we know it. Some sort of watershed moment where players abandon all sense of faith and devotion in their lives.
Think Jean-Marc Bosman and you’re on the right lines.
Of course, that’s rubbish.
Ever since the concept of the ‘transfer’ came about in 1885 [before then, players were free to appear for more than one club of their choosing. How’s that for loyalty in football?] footballers have chased the farthings, shillings and thrupenny bits.
The first £1m transfer in this country saw Nottingham Forest, the First Division holders, poach Trevor Francis from Birmingham City. That was back in 1979, so the big boys poaching players is not a new development.
Francis was a schoolboy at Birmingham, too, making his debut at 16 and earning his first England cap whilst at St Andrew’s.
Contrast that with Sterling, who has no ties whatsoever to Liverpool; he was born in Jamaica and moved to London at a young age. He speaks with a Cockney accent, without a hint of Scouse twang, and he has a tattoo of Wembley Stadium, not the Kop or the Shankly Gates, on his arm.
He obviously feels, quite rightly, that he owes Liverpool very little. If anything.
The same Liverpool, remember, who offered Gerrard a bit-part deal when it became clear that their skipper’s better days were behind him.
This is football’s ruthless version of loyalty; you’re only worth your money when you’re of use to a club. As soon as that declines, so does their loyalty to you. That’s showbiz, folks. Nothing new here.
When they went to Madrid in the Champions League, Brendan Rodgers dropped Gerrard to the bench, fearing he’d be overrun by Toni Kroos, James Rodriguez, Luka Modric et al.
Where’s the loyalty? It works both ways. But this is football’s ruthless version of loyalty; you’re only worth your money when you’re of use to a club. As soon as that declines, so does their loyalty to you. That’s showbiz, folks.
Gerrard later cited his omission from that Madrid game as one of the factors behind his decision to leave Merseyside but in reality, Rodgers made the call that is his to make. So has Sterling.
But what about the money, some will cry. Of course, Sterling and Co. are heavily remunerated for their work so finding sympathy for them will be difficult. But it is similarly tough to argue that Sterling has not earned the right to make tough decisions which shape his future.
He left Jamaica for London at a young age, then uprooted again for Liverpool aged 15. He all but give up his teenage years in the pursuit of footballing excellence, on the relative off-chance he would make it.
All those sacrifices have, one imagines, been made with glory and gain in mind. So when City come calling, with the chance of medals and £200,000 a week to sweeten the deal, why is the outcome any surprise?
There will be few tears when Sterling leaves Anfield, unlike at the Santiago Bernabéu where Casillas said goodbye to his Madrid family.
He did so alone. No Madrid representatives, no fans. Just the club’s greatest goalkeeper, a handful of journalists and a hand-written goodbye message he’d struggled to read out loud.
Casillas was off to Porto, his former team-mates were off to Australia on a pre-season tour. Florentino Pérez didn’t even bother to show up. Casillas had given 25 years of his life to Madrid but he exited stage left, in tears and alone.
No loyalty in football?
You’d better believe it. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s all one way.