Football is not a sport that lends itself to loyalty. With frantic transfer windows stuffed with increasingly more cash, and players pulled from one club to another with promises of glittering lifestyles and international acclaim, staying true to your team would surely seem like a losing battle.
But, according to Christian Karembeu, the iconic French midfielder and winner of multiple UEFA Champion’s League titles, a Euro and the 1998 World Cup, sport is where loyalty pays off royally.
“It’s worldwide, it’s global,” says Karembeu when we meet up in Athens, where the sportsman spent the early noughties playing for Olympiacos. “So, firstly, it’s good to understand how global this sport is, and how any sport can change our lives socially, or politically.”
It’s an important distinction to make, adds the footballer at Heineken’s City of Champions event in the Greek capital.
“Today, sport has changed a lot. Now, each player is a brand as well. So it pays to be global. Of course, as former players, we learn about that and we follow a certain pathway, a transition when we retire. But it’s not all about the individual. You have to communicate, with brands and clubs and,” he gestures around the Heineken tent, “we attend ambassadorial events.”
“Today, sport has changed a lot. Now, each player is a brand as well. So it pays to be global..."
As in wider life, Karembeu says its important in the world sport to forge lasting connections with players and clubs, even if you move on eventually. Loyalty is the key to success, he says, because if you work hard enough with one brand or team, you will succeed more notably, be noticed, and handed better opportunities.
“Before you’re selected for the national team, for example, you need to perform well in your club. First and foremost, you must be a player for your club. You need to respect the values of your club and your team, and always put them first.
“After that, even if you are selected to play for your country, while you will have to understand and learn the values of this new team and what they want from you, your club comes first.”
In Athens to watch the UEFA Champion’s League final, a match Karembeu watched his old club Real Madrid win from a Heineken-staged event inside the grand Greek Zappeion, the footballer remembers how graft in Spain led to his chance to lift the World Cup with France.
“When I first came to Real Madrid, I knew that I would be a UEFA Champion’s League winner at Madrid. And, having done that, I got noticed and was automatically in the national team. One month later, I won the World Cup. So it pays.
“But I was still loyal to the club that gave me that break,” he adds. “You have to be. It was more important for me to play with Real Madrid and win the Champion’s League and lift that trophy because they’re your everyday life. Your friends. Your family.”
Christian Karembeu is an ambassador for Heineken. For more interviews with leading sportsmen, buy the current issue of Gentleman’s Journal and learn How to Win…