“There is no private life which has not been determined by a wider public life”
Earlier this year, around the time of the John Terry-Wayne Bridge scandal, Wayne Rooney was cast as the voice of reason when he spoke of the benefit family life had brought him:
“It changes with age, I made that decision myself. I got into a few things that I shouldn’t have and I tried to change that.”
The country was impressed. We had accepted his previous misdemeanours as par for the course. Like Rooney, we put it down to immaturity. The frivolous antics of a child star; boys will be boys after all.
Six months on and the notion that Rooney has grown up may have been shattered. Whether the latest allegations prove to be true or not, we’re all too familiar with how footballers behave away from the field.
Like it or not (and I don’t), footballers are seen as role models. If you appear in adverts, take companies money and persuade kids what to eat, drink and wear, your private life better be akin to that of the Waltons. Cheating isn’t acceptable regardless of profession but there seems to be particular outrage whenever a footballer is involved.
But with girls eagerly throwing themselves at young men with bucket loads of cash, hours of free time and a familiarity with getting their own way, should we really be that surprised that so many top class footballers are accused of cheating? More importantly, should we even care?
The gossip hungry hoards may disagree, but what footballers get up to in their own time is entirely their own business as long as it doesn’t have an impact on their on-field antics. The trouble is; there increasingly seems to be a direct correlation between the two.
The cheating accusations levelled at Premier League footballers smack of arrogance and a blatant lack of regard for others. These are the same sort of traits we see when Ashley Cole accosts a referee or John Terry conducts a press conference slamming Fabio Capello in South Africa. Believing they are above others and a law unto themselves, players who get away with it away from football circles seem to think they can do the same when representing club or country.
Questions will arise regarding the ethics of tabloid stings but the fact that the News of the World website crashed this morning speaks volumes regarding the public’s desire to consume every nugget of information they can gather on ‘celebrities’. Players of yesteryear were not subjected to the same level of scrutiny but they were also not recipients of huge endorsement deals.
Certain players choose to shun the limelight and avoid all the trimmings that can come with being a world-class player. Others revel in their celebrity status and use the opportunity to take on endorsements. Part of this package is that you become a ‘role model’. It is not for everyone.
Tiger Woods, a media trained robot, was sapped of all personality and eventually craved excitement away from his regimented ways. Players do not need to live up to the ‘role model’ tag, but if they do, they had best make sure their private life is impeccable. Having your cake and eating it is simply not acceptable.
Rooney’s story is particularly worrying because it appeared as though a settled family life and his growing up off the pitch were resulting in maturation on the field. He is now the father, the family man, no longer the moody raging bull that lost his temper all too often. Should the latest allegations prove to be true, it will be interesting to witness just how Rooney responds on a football pitch.
“The key to success is often the ability to adapt”
This weekend provided an intriguing insight into the possible future of the England team under Fabio Capello. The retirements of Paul Robinson and Wes Brown were both bizarre and untimely. They may have little impact on Capello’s team selection but they were further examples of the communication problems emanating from the England camp. Capello’s face will have turned a shade of scarlet after these premature retirements but he would have been even more frustrated at the Wembley snubs from both Ashley Cole and Michael Carrick.
When facing the music this afternoon, Capello admitted that he needed to improve the mindsets of the players. The withdrawals of Robinson and Brown, coupled with the chilly receptions from Cole and Carrick have simply reaffirmed this. The problem is, Capello stated he simply doesn’t know how to. It is a massive admission from a man who commands £6 million a year to concede that he sees no way to improve the attitudes of his own players.
He should begin by looking squarely in the mirror. What was painstakingly obvious from this summer’s debacle was that Capello had lost his own dressing room. When he accepted the England manager’s job we were led to believe he was a disciplinarian. He would command the respect of this country’s elite and was supposedly a breath of fresh air after Steve McClaren who was more of a mate than a manager.
The initial signs were positive. A highly successful qualifying campaign brought back the lofty expectations that come around every two years. But as soon as the squad came together in South Africa things started to turn sour. The players were isolated, bored and unhappy; this manifested itself onto the pitch where England embarrassed themselves continually. The most poignant moment was a John Terry press conference where he called for immediate changes; Capello was being undermined.
For the record, I don’t believe Capello is to blame for England’s pitiful showing in South Africa. Any post-mortem should focus on the absence of a winter break. It was not just England’s players but the majority of the Premier League’s finest who toiled away in South Africa. The entire England squad faced a rigorous year in the Premier League whilst the majority of their counterparts enjoyed lengthy breaks midway through the year.
For now Capello can do nothing but lament the current schedule and hope a change comes soon enough. In hindsight, he should have lobbied harder for a mid-season break when he signed his initial deal. No doubt the large sums on offer were enough to dissuade him from pushing the issue further.
Aside from the scheduling concerns, Capello must address the internal problems. In this situation, if he wants his students to change, the teacher himself must adapt also. Players like Terry enjoy far more leverage at club level and more than likely they had more sway under McClaren and Sven Goran Eriksson too. The laid-back style of these two previous English coaches may have failed but it appears Capello’s head teacher-like style isn’t paying dividends either. Capello needs to discover a happy medium.
If he doesn’t, expect another repeat of this summer’s abysmal showing because if the players don’t want to play for their manager there is no chance success will come. Although it is certainly a more extreme case, one can’t help but look at the mess that erupted on the other side of the Channel. France’s Raymond Domenech didn’t command an ounce of respect from his players and the effects were mortifying. The French team is stacked with talent but without any motivation, they were merely a laughing stock. Brian Clough is another case in point. Clough remains one of the finest to have ever managed but even he was primed for nothing but disaster the moment he walked into that Leeds United dressing room back in 1974.
Capello’s relationship with his players is not as strained as these examples but it is also far from perfect. The man who was once held in such high regard has become an outcast. Unless he changes his ways and regains that respect, Capello will continue to fail with this group of players.