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How important is the ‘role model’ in football?

Manchester City striker BalotelliOn Sunday Manchester City’s football administrator Brian Marwood suggested that troublesome striker Mario Balotelli is a bad role model at the club. Since joining City in August 2010, the Italian striker has been involved in bust ups with manager Roberto Mancini, responsible for setting his own house on fire and attempting to abuse the Italian national manager after scoring in a major tournament. And this is just a few examples of many relating to misdemeanours by the 22-year-old.

Speaking to the Sunday Mirror, Marwood said, “I think – and we all know who we are talking about – that you will get people within the system who do not show the right values and the right behaviour.” It seems obvious that Marwood was citing Mario Balotelli in this quote.

Despite being a poor role model, Balotelli is always in Manchester City’s match day squads.  Very rarely is he held accountable for his actions. This was exemplified best by his goal in the 6-1 victory over Manchester City last season in which Balotelli lifted up his t-shirt saying ‘why always me?’ after scoring.  This to me is a fine example of the ideal of a role model becoming less important than it used to be. This is simply because players, who have shown misconduct, are not reprimanded by their clubs because they are seen to be indispensible.  As well as not being remorseful, Balotelli seemed to be making light of acting in such an irresponsible way. Yet, because he is Mario Balotelli, it doesn’t matter.

Many of the readers growing up will remember that there was always a chapter in the Physical Education text books dedicated to how important it is to be a role model. In the article Brian Marwood says how Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Joe Hart, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott are the perfect role models for youngsters. However, the vast majority of media articles, such as this one of course, focuses on the bad boys of football, ultimately, because they create a greater sense of intrigue and whether we love them or loathe them, ultimately they sell the merchandise. Who would the kids rather buy the t-shirt of, Pablo Zabaleta or Mario Balotelli?

The key point here is that the obsession with these players, often sensationalised by the media, makes them more coveted individuals. Within the last couple of years there have been countless examples of poor role models who play for major clubs who dominate the airtime on the most popular sports channels.

These players include Carlos Tevez and his refusal to warm-up against Bayern Munich, Ashley Cole and his shooting of an intern with an air rifle as well as his Twitter mishaps, John Terry and his racial abuse towards Anton Ferdinand and Luis Suarez and his diving antics.

So, just to recap the key points at this stage of the article. Arguably the role model is not as important as it used to be and should be. This is firstly because the major clubs do not discipline their poor role models in order to make an example of them and secondly because the media spend a lot of the time focusing on the poor role models which invariably gives them a platform to shine upon. But ultimately, the unfortunate sad truth is that the ideal of a ‘role model’ is still mightily important in the game.

And here’s why. The perfect case study for this is the diving issue in football. Incidentally, Suarez shouldn’t be singled out because the issue of diving has been a hot topic in the domestic game long before the Uruguayan arrived in the Premier League. However, ‘Don’t X the line’ is a campaign to safeguard young people and referees at grassroots level. One of the main problems that this campaign faces currently is its problem with young children going down too easily and thinking that it is okay to dive because of what they see week in, week out in the Premier League.

This demonstrates how important the role model is in football because like youngsters have for decades, they imitate the actions and behaviours of the heroes they see on TV. This statement may seem very obvious but it is still an important point worth making.

My final point is that poor role models also have the potential to become good role models. Role models can appear in several forms. One of these is a footballer’s ability to learn from their mistakes. In many ways, as people we can relate to these role models more than we can relate to the role models who come across as perfect leaders in the media. The shining example of how a poor role model can transform himself into a good one is David Beckham.  Many of us will remember his red card against Argentina in the 1998 World Cup tie followed by middle finger gestured towards the England fans in Euro 20000. Despite this, today Beckham is seen as one of the greatest ambassadors for British sport and an England legend. One of the great attractions of Beckham was ability to make amends in the face of adversity. As previously mentioned this type of role model in many ways is more human and appealing as the perfectly robotic role models such as the Zabaleta’s of the game.

The irony is, Beckham should not only be a role model to us,  but can also be a role model to the likes of Mario Balotelli on how to become a role model.

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Article title: How important is the ‘role model’ in football?

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