Footballer’s behaviour: are we always fair?

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If Amazon’s new documentary about Wayne Rooney taught us one thing, it was the unimaginable amount of pressure under which the modern-day footballer has to operate. 

The situation is one that few of us can truly imagine. In the feature, we saw a boy thrust aggressively into the limelight, who, at the tender age of 18 took the hopes of the entire country on his shoulders as he battled it out on the big stage of Euro 2004.

However, putting players on such pedestals is something which has become commonplace in English football. Unfortunately it is often with the goal of tearing them off it at the first opportunity.

The treatment of David Beckham after his actions in the 1998 World Cup is a prime example of this. So why has this behaviour become so customary among fans, and are we guilty of having unrealistic expectations regarding their behaviour? 

The simple response that they are paid enough to act responsibly seems to be an all-too-easy resort to answering the question. There is no doubt that the argument carries huge weight, but it fails in one glaring aspect: acknowledging that footballers are human and therefore fallible like the rest of us.

In the world of punditry, there is no end to people taking up sanctimonious roles in judging how players conduct themselves. We recently saw this in the case of Glen Hoddle who, during the unveiling of Everton’s 40 million-pound man ahead of the Toffees’ FA Cup clash against Brentford, criticised Dele Alli’s outfit, saying that he thought Alli looked like he “had been dragged off the street.”

Days later, new manager Frank Lampard quite rightly hit back at Hoddle, stressing that he “doesn’t care” what a player wears, instead, desiring a player who “wants to produce” and “give everything.” 

There is no end to people taking up sanctimonious role in judging how players conduct themselves.

Another obvious example is, of course, Graeme Souness, who often loves to berate footballers’ actions, perceiving often utterly inconsequential events as deplorable  demonstrations of a lack of dedication. The Souness-Pogba saga has raged on for years, to a point where it has become shameless and ridiculous on the part of the pundit.

In 2020, while Pogba had an ankle injury and was deemed unfit to play by the United doctors, Souness tore into him – not for the first time – saying the injury had nothing to do with his absence putting it down to Pogba simply “not wanting to play for Man United.” His reasoning behind it: he had seen a video of Pogba enjoying himself at his brother’s wedding. Find the crime in that.  

The press even find the need to vilify footballers for having a night out. On the evening of Manchester City’s 7-0 win over Leeds in December, Jack Grealish was pictured enjoying himself with teammates, albeit looking a bit worse for wear as we have all been guilty of at some point. However, in the he was unreservedly rebuked for his actions.

It is almost forgotten that, with the pressure that they experience playing football in front of thousands of expectant fans, players need to unwind just like the rest of us, if not more. This is alongside the fact that they have to look after their bodies to an unimaginable extent with the current levels of professionalism in the game, something which must take enormous effort. The days of Razor Ruddock and Liverpool’s ‘Spice Boys’ are very much behind us.  

There is no doubting the sterilisation process football has undergone over the last thirty years or so, and a new obsession with squeaky-clean images has taken over, linked to the increasing commercialisation of the sport.

We expect footballers to live like monks to the point of driving them mad. This is not an argument for all footballers to start living like Maradona or Ronaldinho, but it is only fair to allow them to restore some of the humanity to their lives. 

Certainly, it is right for us to expect footballers to show a fairly high level of professionalism both on and off the pitch, but we shouldn’t resort to the overzealous and sometimes downright petty judgements of them that we have become used to.

Image: SocialBedia via flickr

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