The Roma star's rejection of lucrative move to Manchester City has provided football with a much-needed breath of fresh air
Riding to the rescue of football's bedraggled reputation after a month of being compared unfavourably, and largely unfairly, to the Olympic Games comes an unexpected knight in shining armour. Daniele De Rossi of Roma and Italy, in turning down Manchester City, has not only demonstrated that footballers occasionally possess both integrity and intelligence, he has restored many a jaded observer's faith in human nature.
Footballers are humans after all, not necessarily money-grabbing mercenaries or brainless belongings of the highest bidder as depicted by rent-a-rant columnists, and it is about time someone remembered it. The above stereotypes may not be completely wide of the mark – it is only fair to admit that a lot of footballers are like that and many traditional fans find the obscene amounts of money at the top levels of the game a turn-off – but it is never wise to over-generalise and De Rossi has just shown that one rule will rarely cover all.
In case you are unfamiliar with the story, City have been pursuing De Rossi for weeks, if not months, talking in terms of a £30m transfer fee and wages of around £130,000 a week. City have attempted to throw money at stars of the Italian league before – the Kaká business of a few years ago still causes the occasional cringe – but this is no longer a case of a newly rich club attempting to buy in a bit of credibility by signing a marquee name in advance of actually winning anything. City are the English champions now, they have a place in the Champions League, and they have an Italian manager. De Rossi would not have been seen as a turncoat or a mercenary had he responded favourably to Roberto Mancini's overtures, he would simply have been trading up and moving on, as most wage-earners inside and outside football generally seek to do.
Instead De Rossi said no. He politely declined City's advances. And not only that, he eloquently gave his reasons. "I'm staying for this team, for the affection of the fans, because I am a Roman and because I believe in this project," the midfielder said. "I feel good here. I haven't asked anyone to leave. What I promise is that the day I want to leave Roma to win the Champions League or to earn more money, I'll say so publicly."
This is football, of course, so there is every chance that De Rossi may come to regret his honest intentions, or even rescind them before the transfer window closes because Roma may not feel quite the same way about turning their back on £30m. Evertonians would have loved it back in 2004 had Wayne Rooney dug out the old "Once a blue, always a blue" T-shirt and told Sir Alex Ferguson that he was staying on Merseyside because he was a Scouser, but the reality of the situation was that Everton could not afford to say no to £25m.
This is the dimension, the business one, where the lives of footballers bear no resemblance to those of Olympic athletes. Most professional footballers are, in fact, pieces of meat to be bought and sold, and that is why most players and clubs take the pragmatic attitude of simply trying to ensure the highest price. Even football's many romantics understand that the beautiful game is basically about money. It always has been, though these days the sheer amounts of money tend to dwarf the contributions players manage to make on the pitch.
That is why De Rossi's sentiments, however difficult they prove to uphold, were a breath of fresh air. Not even City's money can buy everyone. Great. Not every footballer has his price. Thank goodness for that. And at least one player in Europe appears to put his relationship with his team's fans above his relationship with his agent and his bank balance, making a public promise to let the paying spectators be the first to know if he ever becomes dissatisfied with the rewards on offer in Rome. Almost unbelievable.
Doubtless City will be back with an improved offer, if not now then at some point in the future, and because the sums involved are so enormous it would be premature to suggest De Rossi has made a moral stand from which he will never be budged. Nothing in real life is ever quite so cut and dried. But at least De Rossi has made his present position clear, and stated his feelings so unequivocally he deserves a small cheer, maybe from all the people who have been so busy slagging off footballers for the past few weeks.
One respected critic went so far as to suggest that any footballer attempting to become the first Brit to win the Tour de France would have to do so on a tandem, so he could take his agent along with him. That's a very good joke, and one worth making even at the expense of the odd player who does not use agents or is capable of making decisions for himself. But as De Rossi has just shown, you cannot lump all footballers into the same category. All the world plays football, and there is all the difference in the world between individual footballers. Long may it continue.