Footballers Harry Kane and Jack Rodwell probably pride themselves on reading the game. Oh, that they could read themselves with such perception.
If so, this might have been the week when the Spurs striker and Sunderland midfielder saw trouble coming a mile off, swerved it with a knowing smile, and ran off with their dignity intact.
Not so, alas. To the point where, if you were the barrister defending professional footballers from the popular accusation that there’s more going on in their feet than between their ears, this would be the week when you said, “No further questions, you honour,” trudged back to your seat and advised your clients to expect the worst.
What were you thinking of, Harry Kane? You are The Man among strikers: averaging just under 0.8 goals per game for Tottenham Hotspur, a goal every other game for England; so much of your workplace output destined for the net, as if pre-ordained by the gods. Adoration, professional respect and no need to do another day’s work in your life unless you want to: all safely banked away at just 24 years of age.
What on earth are you doing grubbing around for other people’s goals, like a tramp scouring the gutter for fag-ends? I know it’s not how these things are settled, but I’ve always believed in what I call ‘prime impetus’ when attributing goals: who provided the prime impetus for the score? Even if Kane makes contact, the touch seems neither to have altered the ball’s route nor increased its speed. The prime impetus lies at Christian Eriksen‘s door.
Technicalities aside, though, so many people in the PR game hang around the Premier League now – where were any of them last week to advise Kane on the optics of this mess?
The striker looked like yet another professional athlete more interested in counting opportunities than counting his blessings, and if, contrary to all appearances, he retains an iota of self-awareness, there’s an old footballing cliché that he will hopefully spare us from now on: “The team won; that’s the important thing…”
Because it clearly isn’t, in Harry Kane’s world, and no-one now knows that better than Christian Eriksen. Kane just performed the footballing equivalent of making a play for his mate’s girlfriend; in the pub, in front of all their other mates. If relations between the Spurs duo aren’t a little cooler from now on, then Eriksen is either a bigger man than me, or a bigger prat than Harry Kane.
And you can stop trying to hide in the shadows, Jack Rodwell, because an unflattering spotlight also picked you out these last few days, with news that your salary will be slashed by 40 percent next season, whatever league Sunderland are in by then, even if this merely re-defines the term ‘too little, too late’ in the eyes of your club’s supporters.
Rodwell currently picks up £73,000 a week on Wearside, his contract having somehow remained monetarily immune to Sunderland’s exit from the Premier League last spring. If he takes no further part in first-team football this season, his three appearances will have cost the club £1,265,333 each; roughly what you’d pay to have Bruno Mars sing at your wedding.
On the outside looking in, it’s only fair I point out that Rodwell, for all I know, could be as embarrassed by this performance-unrelated bonus as you and I would be, cut to the core of his professional pride, his pillow sodden with real tears of despair each night, as he muses over how best to justify his existence.
If that is the case, however, then he could be doing a little more to get that message across. When Sunderland tried to free him up by offering to terminate his contract, Rodwell reportedly said ‘no’. When they offered him the chance to act on interest expressed by two European clubs in the latest transfer window, neither option materialised. Those two clubs aren’t in the Albanian second division, either: they were Celtic and top-flight Dutch outfit Vitesse Arnhem. As shop windows go, they mightn’t be Harrods, but they aren’t a village store in the Orkneys, either. Just ask Virgil van Dijk.
With manager Chris Coleman claiming Rodwell has not made himself available for selection, the 27-year-old England international finds himself marking time training with Academy players in what should be the peak years of his career. If he issued a statement this week, setting out how and when he proposes to right this wrong, and at least trying to put himself in a more favourable light with the turnstile-fodder who pay his wages, I must have missed it.
Two very different players; one a darling of the fans, the other an outcast. One apparently treading water, the other treading on a team-mate’s toes, but both of them united this week by a simple question.
Where’s your self-respect?