The Modern Footballer
With the 2013/2014 season finally underway many football fans (myself included) find themselves glued to their televisions, laptops and phones for the latest news on the comings and goings at their respective football clubs before the transfer window shuts. However, the nature of numerous 'transfer sagas' can leave us feeling that respect, loyalty and general regard from players towards both fans and football clubs alike are a thing of the past. Unfortunately, modern football is a sport driven by money in which cash is king. The greatest players demand the highest wages in order to cement their status among footballs elite. Unfortunately, the mentality of many modern day footballers could lead to a decline within the sport. As wages increase, the lure of success and celebrity lifestyle that goes with it could be extremely detrimental to the progression and potential success of both aspiring and professional footballers alike. Instead of making their debut for the first team or scoring the winning goal in a cup final, there may come a time when the only dream these players have is driving away in the latest Ferrari or Lamborghini. As unbelievable as this may sound, can you really blame them?
With the introduction of televised football, the level of press coverage and general interest in individual players has increased year on year. Players such as Pele, George Best and Maradona became celebrities in their own right. Increased attention lead to marketing opportunities with footballers becoming the face of global brands. As a knock on effect, many players began to demand outrageous wages in response to their newfound celebrity status and the modern day footballer was born. To this day, the greatest example remains David Beckham. Through ingenious marketing, marriage to a Spice Girl and numerous endorsement deals, brand Beckham was formed. Although his talent on the pitch was never in question, it sometimes became difficult to see past his numerous additional pursuits. Beckham is an example of a player who despite the allure of such a lifestyle, rarely allowed it to affect his performance, with various teammates and managers describing him as "the model professional".
Football and the money with which it goes hand in hand has unfortunately bred a culture of countless primadonnas who believe that they deserve success and gratuity handed to them on a silver platter. Whether it be parading their latest model girlfriend, tattoo or supercar, what happens on the pitch can sometimes take a backseat. In the past year, Nile Ranger has tattooed his own surname on his face, Liam Ridgewell literally used £20 notes as toilet paper and the mostly unknown Matthew Gent (former reserve Aston Villa goalkeeper) posted photos of himself on twitter in a bathtub full of money. The most shocking factor in these examples is the fact that such behavior is the result of little or no success in the sport. We could go some way to understand such behavior had it come from players such as Ronaldo or Messi. It somehow seems that young players are not taught the importance of respect or hard work. In years gone by, trainees were ordered to complete tasks such as cleaning the professional's boots and as a result, gained a respect for the hierarchy within the club. Due to health and safety regulations, these activities are consigned to memory. As a result, many youth players feel they have 'made it', simply due to involvement in their respective academies. A recent example involved a young Manchester United trainee called Ryan Tunnicliffe. Last year Tunnicliffe signed his first professional contract. To celebrate, he bought a £60,000 Range Rover. Within days, the young midfielder crashed the vehicle and was found to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Understandably, a professional contract is cause for celebration, but within means. Many footballers these days are too worried about the amount of twitter followers they have, or releasing an autobiography two years into a career that has barely begun rather than working hard to achieve success.
The lure of money has not only affected young players in football. Each and every transfer window the relentless 'rumour mill' is in full affect. High profile names that are unsettled at their current clubs become available for transfer. However, each and every year a handful of players who seem destined for Europe's elite clubs are suddenly transferred to much smaller teams for extortionate fees. This summer has been no different. After winning Ligue 2 in France, the extremely wealthy AS Monaco will play in the French top tier this season. Even without European football as bait, they signed Falcao, Moutinho, Abidal, Toulalan, Carvalho and James Rodriguez. Falcao is one of the most highly rated strikers in world football and was reportedly being chased by Chelsea and Real Madrid among others. However, the lure of tax-free wages at Monaco and a gentle push from his agents proved all too lucrative. In terms of increased player power in the modern game, you need not look further than Premier League strikers Christian Benteke and Luis Suarez. Whilst playing for Genk in Belgium, Benteke refused to play and even took his club to court after they refused his transfer request. After a 'dream' move to Aston Villa, Benteke again handed in a transfer request this time for a move to Tottenham. However, this was swiftly removed following a new contract in which he more than doubled his weekly wage. Similarly, Luis Suarez became embroiled in a bite scandal whilst playing for Ajax. He was banned for seven games and swiftly sold to Liverpool. Now, not three years on Suarez has been banned again for biting a player and declared his desire to move on. Therefore, although teams may tie down players to four or five-year contracts, they are essentially meaningless. If a player has decided it is time to move on in modern football, it is rare that they don't get their wish.
In today's environment, it is extremely difficult to decipher a way in which to move forward and remove such negatives from football. In order to watch matches at home, there must be television rights and to watch live games, we must pay the extortionate ticket prices. Unfortunately, this will not change and we as a collective will continue to indirectly pay the ridiculous wages that our 'superstars' desire. The only possibility in changing the way in which footballers appreciate and value their talent whilst seeing past the lure of fame, celebrity and wealth is to act from the grass roots level. Managers and chairmen involved with youth players must start to implement a system in which the monetary rewards are secondary and success is the driving factor within their careers.
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