It's July, which means it's time for Real Madrid to start unveiling players at the Santiago Bernabeu to the cheers of Madridistas and flashes of cameras.
On Wednesday, it was Isco's turn in Los Blancos' spotlight, after confirming a move from Malaga and a five-year contract in the Spanish capital.
The Euro U-21 Championships winner appeared delighted with his new move, but he caused consternation when he refused to kiss the badge of his new employer. In lieu of his own lips, his brother kissed the crest on the new shirt.
In a subsequent press conference, Isco explained his reticence by saying he wanted to "earn the right" to kiss the badge with his performances on the pitch.
This is a reasonable explanation, but some have perceived it as a lack of loyalty. It was recently revealed by Spanish paper El Mundo Deportivo that Isco is a lifelong Barcelona fan. In 2009, he was quoted expressing anti-Madrid sentiments (translated via 101gg.com):
"I've always been a bit antimadridista and I still am. I have the feeling it's an arrogant club, and without humility you don't get anywhere."
"101gg.com" point out that the new Madrid star even has a dog named Messi. With these "skeletons" in his closet, it is understandable why he did not feel inclined to kiss Madrid's badge.
But regardless of any affection for Barca, Isco was absolutely right to avoid this ridiculous football cliche.
Why on earth should a man who grew up 350 miles from Madrid be pressured to express an undying passion for a club for whom he hasn't kicked a ball? How could he claim to bleed white when the ink is still wet on his contract?
The fact is that most footballers do not play for the clubs they support. For them, football is a job—a desire to win is not the same thing as unconditional love for their employer.
Frankly, it is hard to think of anything less sincere than a player kissing his badge on his chest.
Take the case of Wayne Rooney. The striker played for Everton from the age of nine, and once revealed a T-shirt that read "once a blue, always a blue" after scoring. A few years after defecting to Manchester United, Rooney famously kissed his new crest at Goodison Park in front of the fans who used to sing his name.
Rooney still occasionally kisses his badge today, even after making it clear that he wished to leave the club on two separate occasions.
In these incidences, badge kissing is cringeworthy. It would be less debasing if they pulled out a copy of their contract and kissed that!
Tottenham's Benoit Assou-Ekotto—a man who freely admits he has little interest in the game and just treats it as a way to earn money—also spoke about against badge kissing in an interview with The Mirror's Paul Smith:
"It infuriates me when footballers go on about playing for the shirt. I think they should be held accountable for it when they kiss the badge and six months later clear off for a better pay day.
After all, they turn up at a press conference and go on about history and the love of the club.
But what is the first thing they ask about before signing? How much!"
Certain players may be able to get away with badge kissing. Folks who have spent their entire career at one club—like Steven Gerrard, Ryan Giggs or Francesco Totti—may feel a deep-running affinity with their employer, and in some cases, they are actually a fan of the team they represent.
But for the most part, there is no lifelong loyalty among footballers. Badge kissing suggests a player has the same relationship with a club that a fan does, but this is simply not true. Fans and players are involved with their clubs for very different reasons.
Regardless of any sense of loyalty, Isco will perform to the best of his abilities in a Madrid shirt—even if he goes home to a dog named Messi every night.
He will try to win every game and his exultation and passion for success should be clear. Just like you and I, his career should be judged by his development and achievements, not a misplaced sense of loyalty.
To expect a badge kiss from a player is unfair, and it cheapens the entire concept. Admittedly, this is a fairly fatuous subject for a B/R writer to have a bugbear about, but Isco should be commended for refusing to smooch his shirt.
So, don't worry about earning the right to kiss the shirt, Isco. Worry about earning your place in Madrid history.
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