Sunday, January 31, 2010

A thoroughly modern footballer

Apparently John Terry kissed the Chelsea badge when he scored against Burnley yesterday. Shame the badge belonged to one of his teammates.

Ha ha etc etc.

How much do I care about John Terry's off field pursuits? About as much as I care about his on field pursuits. Which is to say very little.

Will he be stripped of the England captaincy? Fabio Capello will make his mind up on that based on what he believes is best for the team. If the team have lost confidence in him then Capello will sacrifice him. It's all about the team for Italian. Again, I'm not that bothered.

But Terry's is a tale of our times and a warning shot for all footballers. Coupled with the very public - and, for the media, profitable - unravelling of Tiger Woods' life, the lifting of the Terry injunction means all bets are off. The vultures are circling and that rarified breed of fully grown children that staff professional football clubs are in their sights. Other footballers, and their staff, should look at Terry and think "there but for the grace of God."

Terry's career is a litany of misdemeanours
. The latest indiscretion proves that he's not grown up at all. Worse he's now living in such a bubble of money and drooling underlings that he's prepared to try and use the law to buy silence.

No doubt debates about privacy and freedom of the press will continue to rage. But the fact remains that as his people sent out releases highlighting his marketabilty as England's brave John Terry, as his list of honours extended to Dad of the Year and as the money kept rolling in he was knocking off his mate's bird.

One need not moralise on infidelity to say that carries more than a hint of hypocrisy.

Firing off an early contender for the Obsequious Column Of The Year Award, the Mirror's Oliver Holt argued passionately that Terry must not be stripped of the captaincy. Alongside listing Terry's qualities in a manner that would make the most dedicated PR blush, Holt also hinted that Terry's behaviour is in part due to a difficult upbringing.

From what we read we may surmise that life Chez Terry was probably not The Waltons. But many players from what we used to call the wrong side of the tracks have been model professionals. Many players with idyllic childhoods have turned into complete pricks. That happens.

John Terry is man who earns more in a week than the entire squads of some of the teams he plays against. As captain of club and country he is surrounded by advisors, PR men, media trainers and wise counsel. At his age he makes his own choices. The nature/nurture debate doesn't really wash with a man who earns as much in half a week as the Prime Minister does in a year.

Sadly John Terry is a thoroughly modern footballer. Overpaid, too much time on their hands, too many yes men, too many people prepared to cover up for them. John Terry is as much a product of the madness of his sport as he is of his upbringing.

And the result is a man who thinks right and wrong extends only to what he wants to do. The manager might have the final say at training and on match day, although even that has been open to doubt in the past, but the rest of the time he is living by his own rules. That's unhealthy for anyone.

He's not alone. Each day, somewhere there is a footballer risking a tabloid expose for some aspect of their private life, another risking his career by sticking something other than a Vicks inhaler up his nose.

The poster boy for England's World Cup campaign is also the poster boy for the excesses of a game descending into madness.

Changing the behaviour of the fans helped make English footballers richer than Croesus. How ironic it would be if it was the behaviour of the footballers themselves that began to drive the new breed of fans - and the money men - away from the game.

In the meantime the clubs need to bring in more control. Academies need to offer much more than just an education in football and saying very little in post match interviews. Somebody, somewhere needs to try and introduce some sanity into the way players are paid and treated. It's not too harsh to say that a lot of footballers are not the brightest and are given to stupidity. Clubs have to stop letting that stupidity reign.

At the moment football is eating itself and it's really not that pretty.