Are footballers unfairly bracketed by public opinion?
We live in a world that is fuelled by stereotypes and within the cliché driven environment of Premier League football, that notion is by no means any different. And for the public persona of the professional footballer, there is no short supply of ill-feeling, no matter who you are or who you play for.
And to some extent, how could you possibly expect any different? Within recent times, we’ve been exposed to certain somebodies taking air rifles into the training ground, igniting pyrotechnics in their country mansions and a whole backdrop of stories detailing a seeming perpetual hobby of adultery. It’s fair to say that sympathy isn’t exactly in abundance for the current crop of pros basking in the top flight.
But are we often too quick to paint all footballers with the same brush? Has the sort of exposure given to the likes of the John Terry’s, Wayne Rooney’s and Ashley Cole’s of this world been so prominent that it is now almost impossible to view a footballer with any sort of objectivity?
Such is the way that scorn is poured – often more than justifiably – upon the likes of Cole et al, that footballers seem to represent more characters, than real life people. The personal lives of top-flight players have always been tabloid fodder since what feels like the beginning of time, but it feels uneasy to think that popular opinion has been built up over a lifetime of News of the World ‘exclusives’.
A tabloid newspaper’s job is to first and foremost, sell itself and make a profit. A back page exclusive of ‘Premier League footballer opens soccer school in poverty stricken country’ is hardly going to see copies start flying off the shelf. But throw in a celebrity, reality television star and a little bit of kiss ‘n’ tell and you have yourself an instant classic. As close to a scientific formula for marketing success as you’re ever likely to find.
Of course, the argument is that there aren’t that many charitable footballers or men of good measure residing in our leagues. But that feels like an aged and certainly an unfounded opinion, at best. With a tabloid media that are unremittingly ruthless in their baying for footballer ridden gossip, has it been any surprise that players resemble something of a distant, enigmatic and frustratingly out of touch breed?
Indeed, The Guardian’s resident anonymous man on the insider, The Secret Footballer, has spoke at length about the reluctance to let their guard down. Digressing about life within the public realms, he said:
“Today if I go out to see friends, I have to be on my toes. Everybody seems to be a reporter. If you meet a footballer and he comes across as a rude, arrogant *****, the chances are that he is simply trying not to give anything away.”
Some will rightly deride such a viewpoint, although it gives an interesting insight into the thinking behind a modern day footballer. Public opinion is unlikely to seismically shift away from the current derogatory viewpoint, if players are simply too fearful to parade any part of their natural persona: good or bad.
Because the issue with stereotypes is that so often, it allows a certain minority to come to represent the majority. In truth, how much do we really know about the characters and the people behind the players that we see every weekend?
The hideously inflated and horribly out of proportion wages that they receive every week will always draw a rightful degree of negativity. But it’s unfair to decree that all who earn such money to be harness such woeful characters.
Indeed, one Craig Bellamy has taken pelters his whole career for his perceived abrasive attitude on the pitch and he is often a popular figure of derision within the media. Although despite being more than capable of earning another lucrative Premier League contract, Bellamy dropped down a division and took a permanent pay cut to move to Cardiff, for the good of his family. That got almost as little exposure as his self-funded football academy in Sierra Leone has. But hey, let’s never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
Didier Drogba is another who takes his share of relative flak from supporters. His connection to the likes of Cole through his professional background has most people tarring him with the same brush. But we’ve never seen too many back pages dedicated to his long-standing work as a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Development programme.
Even in recent weeks, the news that Manchester United winger Ashley Young, had stopped en route to the Tottenham game to attend to an injured child, was greeted with a sense of surprise and genuine malaise on the Internet. Some commented that they were surprised he’d do something 99% of the rest of the country would do. On what grounds have they formed that opinion about Young the human being, not the footballer?
With such unimaginable wealth and an unrelenting amount of media interest in their every move, it is almost impossible to harness any form of relatability towards a Premier League footballer. But can we honestly say that we don’t often unfairly bracket them as a group of people, based on the extreme actions of a very select group of their peers?
No one is suggesting to cut them any slack, to refrain from judging their every decision on the pitch or to even offer an element of sympathy towards them. Perhaps more, just a degree of fairness.
Are footballers unfairly typecast? Or do they deserve such a generalised reputation of negativity? Let me know how you see it on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me all your opinions.