Does your heart really need to be into football?

Bobby Zamora, QPR

For the footballing romantics out there, QPR striker Bobby Zamora’s recent comments about falling out of love with the beautiful game must have been greeted with something resembling a sharp rebuke of disgust.

Indeed, the ex-Fulham man’s sentiments that he isn’t actually particularly keen on the job that has afforded him a lifestyle that so many of us can only dream of, have gone down like a lead balloon in some quarters.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Zamora seemed to suggest that football is starting to represent something of a chore for him.

“For so many years football has been your life and it’s all everyone wants to talk about, everywhere you go,” said Zamora.

“I don’t like talking about it. I’m not a massive football fan, really.

“A lot of people find it strange [that I don’t like football]. I’m not sure what I want to do after I finish playing but if it means watching football then I don’t want to get involved.”

While Zamora certainly isn’t the first to hint at an element of disdain for playing football professionally, as a fan, it feels very difficult to try and buy into this concept he simply doesn’t enjoy what he’s doing.

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Being gifted enough to earn a living from football, not just professionally, but at the highest level, is the very pinnacle of the dream that every football fan has desired at some point in their lives. For a man who has played in a European final, turned out for his country at Wembley and whom earns an estimated £70,000 for the privilege of doing what any of us would do for free, it seems almost condescending.

And if you’re a QPR fan, you’ve certainly got room to possibly evoke a sense of real worry. If Zamora doesn’t even enjoy watching football, how on earth could he put in 100 per cent to try and keep his side in the Premier League this season?

It might not mean much to Zamora, who also admitted to not even watching the games in the evening, but to supporters it represents the be all and end all. Zamora may not like what he does, but it’s those going to Loftus Road every week that are bankrolling his lavish lifestyle. How can he care about the club if he doesn’t even give much thought to the sport as a whole?

For some within the game, Zamora’s comments represent the footballing endgame. Former Millwall and Chelsea star Tony Cascarino wrote in his column for The Times that the QPR star should ‘hang up his boots’.

“I assure you, players like him are few and far between,” he said.

“If your heart’s not in it Bobby, get out of the game.”

Cascarino’s sentiments certainly hold an element of gravitas, in that Zamora doesn’t have to be playing the game professionally. On his reported £70,000 a week contract, you would imagine he’s hardly lacking in a bit of capital to start a business venture that he might enjoy doing. The game of football is unrelenting; the interest from supporters and media alike is 24/7, the pressures involved and what it means to people can be incalculable. This is surely not a business you can survive in unless you genuinely love what you do?

But there are of course, two sides to every story. While Cascarino was quick to portray Zamora as something of a footballing anomaly, it seemed telling that the former West Ham and Tottenham striker emphasised in the same interview, that: “Quite a lot more players than let on, are the same [not massive football fans].”

Bobby Zamora isn’t the first person to turn a blind eye to football away from a matchday, either. Writing in his book The Secret Footballer: Lifting the Lid on the Beautiful Game, The Guardian’s anonymous, resident professional footballer blogger would seem to suggest that supporters would be naïve to listen to Cascarino’s generalisations.

To use an extract from The Secret Footballer’s book:

“Some players see football purely in financial terms, exactly as people do in other professions. They play the game simply because it’s a well-paid job.

I have lost count of the number of times I have heard: ‘If I could get the same money doing something else, I’d be gone in a flash.’”

Whether or not you choose to take The Secret Footballer’s comments at any more than face value is a matter of subjectivity, but it certainly gives an interesting counter-argument to the nonchalant assumptions of Tony Cascarino. Just because someone excels at a sport or a skill, it doesn’t mean they necessarily have to love it to the point of fandom. Would the law of averages not suggest that out of the several thousand of professional footballers that exist within the game, not all of them would necessarily enjoy it?

Maybe the tipping point in the argument is how much a perceived lack of interest for the sport could affect their desire to fight for their team on the pitch. Take Tottenham Hotspur’s eccentric left back in Benoit Assou-Ekotto, for example. The Cameroon international has stated on several occasions that he plays for the money, not the passion.

Although far from being a figure of suspicion, Assou-Ekotto resembles something of a cult figure in N17. His desire to help the team has never been any doubt. Just because he may be motivated to put in a good performance for the sake of earning a financially secure lifestyle, it’s no different from doing it simply for the love of the game. As long as he does, that’s all that fans care about.

And maybe that’s the most important element of the Zamora debate. The QPR striker may not be alone in viewing professional football as anything more than a job. It may upset the romantics, but as long as it doesn’t show on the pitch, that’s all that matters. His performances this season however, suggest that he could do a lot worse than heed Tony Cascarino’s advice.

Do you agree with Cascarino that it’s time for Zamora to call it a day? Join me on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me what you think.