It is very difficult for an ex professional player to look at modern day football without the odd shake of the head, or questioning how the game has changed in such a short space of time. It has massively, although in some cases not for the better.
I question the professionalism of some current players within the game. Don’t get me wrong, off the pitch a lot of the guys are absolute saints – eating and drinking correctly so they stay in peak physical shape and not falling out of night clubs and bars (well some of them), but on it many choose to cheat and disrespect the game, by diving, feigning injury, trying to get opposition players sent off and in short conning the referees and ruining the spectacle for supporters. It is becoming far more frequent and I question the personal pride of some of these players.
Yes I know some will point the finger at perhaps the lack of professionalism of players in my era off the pitch, and in many cases you are right, but on the pitch you couldn’t question it as we played the game in the way it should be played with 100% honesty and commitment. We didn’t look to get players sent off, throw ourselves to the ground at the slightest touch, or wave the imaginary cards; we had too much self pride and a respect for the game that is sadly lacking today. When I was playing I used to have a huge amount of respect for Thierry Henry, for the way he always attempted to remain on his feet, even after a challenge, and he never looked to show any weakness against the opposition. You compare that with someone like Emile Heskey who on occasions would hit the ground at the slightest nudge. What is frustrating is that whenever you go around a Premier League training ground you will undoubtedly see hard tackles flying in, physical battles throughout, yet as soon as the weekend comes along that goes out the window, leaving the referees with the thankless task of dissecting what is foul play and what is not. Their lack of honesty is destroying the game and in some cases making a mockery of it.
The worst thing about the change in players’ attitudes is that it puts an extra onus on the referees and their assistants to read through the lines to make the correct call. Being an official is an impossible task, made harder by the increase in camera angles and, more significantly, the ever changing laws of the game. Players don’t do anything to make the situation any easier and therefore it is a vicious circle that the refs find themselves in, and where they are simply in a no win situation.
I question whether the refs are given enough assistance over such matters and maybe the introduction of some panel or committee to root out these players, who are cheating and conniving, would go some way in bringing a little more honesty and professionalism on the pitch back to the game. It certainly needs it.