I would never subscribe to the popular theory that all professional footballers are a bit dense. I have known some and seen plenty more who make a mockery of that claim. They mightn’t have letters after their name but their heads have undoubtedly been properly screwed on.
A significant proportion of professional footballers, on the other hand? Intellectually underwhelming?
Absolutely beyond argument.
Sadly, some of the latter were in evidence at the weekend. Just as you don’t let kids near a box of fireworks, so I believe professional footballers should be kept well away from social niceties, at least until they realise that ‘nuance’ isn’t just the name of a nightclub.
If you came ‘cold’ to Sunday’s Manchester City/Arsenal game, you could be forgiven for thinking that City’s German international midfielder Ilkay Gundogan was dead at the age of 26. There were his team-mates, after all, lined up in the tunnel, all pointedly wearing shirts that bore Gundogan’s squad number.
A touching tribute to a player so cruelly snatched away from us, for, er, six months… Herr Gundogan, you see, suffered a knee injury midweek that will keep him off the field for the rest of the season.
Now this is undoubtedly sad, frustrating and regrettable. Unless you’re a 26-year-old with a terminal illness somewhere, in which case it is nothing more than a modest bump in life’s road. A sense of perspective they could have done with at Eastlands on Sunday.
In their defence, the City players are young men living in a slavishly touchy-feely world, thanks largely to many people of their generation who think that hugs and emoting are everything and that if you’ve gone 24 hours without changing your Facebook profile picture to a social justice slogan, why, you’re just not livin’ right.
But where was the voice of reason, even so? The voice reminding them that they’d all been to see their injured team-mate and had all resolved to keep him as involved as they could for the rest of the campaign. And that it was now time to go to work?
Unfortunately, however, this is a profession that has form when it comes to cack-handed etiquette: witness the knots they occasionally tie themselves into when working out to which team they should throw the ball after an injury; or the fact that any old injury now seems enough for everyone to stop playing, even if the stricken player is clutching his big toe rather than his head. That’s on them, that one – the workforce that can’t draw a distinction between gallantry and overkill.
Thankfully, the backlash for yesterday’s mawkishness has been profound, the ultimate condemnation inadvertently coming from Gundogan himself, his Tweet thanking his teammates for their gesture ending with the postscript, “Don’t worry – I’m still alive”. On the terraces, if not in the dressing room, it would seem the reality check is alive and well.
Whether the mockery will be enough to save footballers from themselves in future, we will have to wait and see. I still think clubs could take a lead here by removing whatever motivational message is painted over the players’ tunnel – This is Anfield etc – and replacing it with a four-word plaque; standard issue throughout the professional game.
Shut Up and Play.