Fabian Delph, after multiple public pledges of loyalty, has left Aston Villa for Manchester City. It's a move that makes absolutely perfect business sense for Delph, and on those grounds it's hard to criticise him too much. At Aston Villa, he was a star who was breaking through to regular England play and an increasing payday. At Manchester City, he doesn't have to wait for that payday. He'll almost certainly be making double what he did at Villa, and those increased wages come with the opportunity to actually win something.
And the £8 million fee that triggered his release clause was definitely a result of him requesting it, but Aston Villa were at fault for letting contract negotiations get to the point where they had no leverage. You won't find me criticizing Delph for making a shrewd business move. He's a footballer and he wants to win things and make loads of money doing so. That's well within his right.
But everything comes back to those public loyalty declarations. I've said numerous times that I don't think a player should be judged as either a good or bad person based on their loyalty in a world that is first a business. That doesn't mean that we can't speculate as to what changed, though. By all accounts, Fabian Delph is both a really nice person and an earnest one. If he said he was happy to be at Villa, and eager to play, he likely was. And something changed. What could it have been?
The obvious choice here. Manchester City can pay Delph far more than can Villa. I know that we all want to say "but he was making more money than he can spend anyways!" and that may be true. But he doesn't have forever to make that money. If he can't spend it now, he can save it for later in life. Remember, he's about to have a second child, and if he can make vast sums of money now, he can guarantee his family a better-than-average life for years to come.
And for all we might say that we wouldn't grab for the money, I have a hard time imagining any of us leaving a few million pounds on the table in the name of loyalty.
But money alone isn't the sole motivator of most footballers. Fabian Delph is immensely talented. Even if you don't rate him as one of the best in England, he is almost certainly among the top 1,000 footballers in the world. That makes him a 99.9999th percentile human being. You don't get there without being wildly ambitious and giving your life to the pursuit of sport. He wants to win things and that's not going to happen at Villa any time soon. Sure, we could see a Cup victory as a surprise, but the League is out of reach and Champions League play is probably not happening anytime either.
Manchester City has a real chance at both cups, the League, regular Champions League play, and winning the Champions League. If Delph is a 99th percentile player, City are a 99th percentile team. It's a time when ambition and talent match ability, and Delph has to know that.
But why the change? This chance was open last week and the basic math here wasn't any different. Well, perhaps City has been able to guarantee Delph a better chance at regular first-team football. The one thing club play can't assure is international play, and the ambition Delph has surely extends to playing for England in Euro 2016. Aston Villa could guarantee first-team time, and thus could guarantee he continues to be in the eyes of England.
Now City may be able to do so. They may have plans for Delph that can assure he can chase both his club and country ambitions.
Change at Aston Villa
Last week, Christian Benteke was still at Aston Villa and no offers had been received. This week Christian Benteke is still at Aston Villa, but Liverpool have made an offer to trigger his release clause and his departure is now more a matter of "to whom" and "when" rather than "if." Without Benteke, and without knowing who would replace him, Aston Villa are a severely weakened side. That's not a good place to be when you're trying to impress Roy Hodgson. That's not a good place to be when you're getting booed by home fans every match if things go wrong. That's not a good place to be if you were friends with Benteke and now he's all but gone.
In addition, Villa are connected to plenty of other players. It looked as if competition in the center midfield could actually heat up. Maybe that guarantee of playing time wasn't going to be such a guarantee after all. It could very well be that changes at Aston Villa this week changed Delph's mind.
Or it could be none of the above. Maybe Delph is a spineless coward who just says whatever he can to make people love him in the moment. Maybe Aston Villa did use Delph as a ploy to sell tickets. Personally, I buy neither of those (or any other crazy theories running around). But they are possibilities. I'm not so dumb as to say there is a non-zero chance of their truth.
Whatever the reason, Fabian Delph serves now as a reminder that football is, first and foremost, a business. Declarations of loyalty don't necessarily mean much. They may have been absolutely true when they were said, but circumstances change. Something changed with Delph and now Villa have to figure out how to move on. Rather than dwelling on the double-u-turn, let's focus on the future. With Idrissa Gueye already here and plenty more seemingly on the way, this isn't the end of Aston Villa. It's just the end of Fabian Delph at Aston Villa.