A Different Opinion – Knuckles down, Neanderthals

Steven Gerrard’s in the dock over accusations of assault, David Beckham’s beckoning aggressively to fans in front of the world’s media (and some young supporters in Milan shirts). Not the best week for two of our country’s finest footballers, what must Fabio Capello be thinking?

Gerrard’s much-publicised court case has been all over the tabloids and broadsheets this week, detailing accusations of a nightclub brawl tantamount to that of a boxing match. Meanwhile the pressure on Beckham threatened to overheat during the ill-advised friendly between current employers LA Galaxy and past/future employers, always admirers, Milan. Both instances of high-profile English role models being pulled down a few levels to common thugs.

How many more instances of England players in high-profile public disgraces do we need before we throw away the World Cup before even leaving for South Africa?

Fabio Capello has his work cut out – widely regarded has having reintroduced professionalism to the England national set-up – where the Italian goes with this group of men is anyone’s guess. The more these instances flare up in the media, the more England’s potential opponents next summer will take notice. The World Cup is the ultimate test of a team and of the individuals within that team. Opponents will throw everything they have at you – it’s your job to stand up, united, to that and win through. If they cannot ignore the usual chants from fans in the ground and on the street – commonplace for any footballer, Premier League to League Two – how will they hold up in the cauldron awaiting them next summer?

Our merry band of high-earners has only shown themselves up as hot-headed thugs, prone to reactions like any other man off the street. There is an argument that they are ingratiating themselves with the public with these acts showing that, superstars or not, they are indeed only human. Fair enough, you and I would react no different to a torrent of abuse from a stranger. But these guys are the professionals, paid hundreds of thousands each week to play their sport at an elevated level, witnessed week-in, week-out by millions of fans the world over. Their standing in our culture is disproportionate and a result of a perverse media fascination, but role models they have become and given the wages they earn and the money they rake in from image rights, the expectation to act as role models is only fair. Every time they do charity work it is thrown down our throats that these guys are giving back to the community, keeping kids off the street, so on and so forth. And yes they are, and such work is commendable, but at the same time, to over-promote every good deed, only sets them up for the same coverage when things go the wrong side of behaviour. If their good deeds are presented as out-of-the-ordinary kindness, then how about their misdemeanours?

During the closing months of the 2008/09 season, fellow England man Frank Lampard phoned in a radio show last season to give a very public reaction to a DJ’s irresponsible comments – these players are goaded into reactions – most of the time they are able to ignore it, but it needs to be all the time, every week.

Love him or loathe him, one thing Cristiano Ronaldo showed the Premier League and the English Press was how to take bad receptions and use it as motivation. Diving or just earning free-kicks regardless, the Real Madrid man showed the world his professionalism in Manchester – a role model for the role models. And the reason for his profile in England being so negative in 2006/07? Oh yes, knowing his team had the upper hand once Wayne Rooney had overreacted to provocation against his Portugal on the world stage. No-one to blame but yourselves England.

Part of the English style of play comes from passion – a love for the game, the ecstasy of scoring a goal in front of 50 000 fans – our potential progress at the World Cup will hinge at a certain point on how much the players want it and that passion is what will carry them through. But they won’t even get to that stage – be it in extra-time in the quarter-final or raising energy levels in the final – if they continue to show themselves up as reacting the slightest provocation.

Perhaps England’s best hope of getting to summer 2010 with their integrity still in tact lies in locking the players up, only allowing them out for training, press conferences and games. It’s that or trusting them to behave for 12 months.

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