Why do footballers act the way they do?

Italy forward Mario Balotelli

We mere mortals can only imagine the cost of fame and fortune. Football’s finest watch their life being portrayed through newspaper print, often with an apparent disregard for the truth. Yet in spite of this, there is a relentless expectation for these individuals to act as the nation’s role models. Actors, politicians and members of royalty are all prone to severe errors of misjudgement, so why do we expect football players to be any different?

The stereotypical view of a professional athlete depicts an unsavoury blend of arrogance and ignorance, with little consideration for the morals, ethics and rules that the rest of us abide by. The constant scrutiny of the media spotlight means it is incredibly easy to blow the smallest of misdemeanours out of proportion. However, you can’t help but feel footballers have an uncanny ability to put their foot firmly in their mouth.

As more money is pumped into the beautiful game, making it swell like greedy cash cow, a large percentage will eventually make its way into the player’s bank accounts. This gifts them to the freedom to be reckless and enhance an already lavish lifestyle, which will inevitably evoke a sense of resentment from the public. While many supporters will cheer and chant their heroes for 90-minutes each week, it could be argued they spend the rest of the time doing the exact opposite.

Deep down I think we all love the ‘showboaters’ or the ‘ball hoggers’ because they provide such a vast amount of entertainment. However, such a selfish playing style will inevitably spill over into other aspects of their private life and this is where antipathy is born. Is it fair to say that footballers are loved on the pitch and hated off it?

It’s worth considering the sacrifice potential athletes have to make at such an early age. How often are we told the story of the player who spent every hour of sunlight with the ball at his feet, it’s hardly surprising that these individuals dedicated more time outside on the football pitch than inside with their head buried in a school book. I am not saying footballers are stupid, but I dread to think of the number of brain cells lost thanks to repeatedly heading the ball.

It’s easy to forget that players live a somewhat sheltered life, as their childhood and teenage years are spent in a controlled academy environment. The traditional life lessons that are an essential process of growing up are perhaps discovered further down the line, this becomes obvious when you consider it took Ashley Cole thirty years to understand the perils of using an air rifle.

Mario Balotelli is another character who usually decorates the tabloids for all the wrong reasons, but many were surprised or rather dismayed to learn that almost all of his antics were a complete fabrication. Even if the majority of the stories were true, the Manchester City forward is just like any other 22-year-old on the planet, except he has the finances to bring his childish fantasies into reality. Whether you consider it right or wrong, the media are on a ruthless quest to tear down the thin veil that guards the games stars from the glaring public eye. There is certainly a case to be argued for the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’.

England manager Roy Hodgson recently suffered the consequences of travelling by London transport, but I am not referring to the never-ending suspensions on the underground. Although it was slightly inappropriate, Hodgson was simply being polite and trying to further improve his relations with supporters. Instead the conversation becomes victim to sensationalist reporting and he is branded as some sort of traitor. Personally, I wouldn’t blame Hodgson if he never uttered a word to the public again.

The Secret Footballer has discussed at length the perils of constant media attention and seems to epitomise the phrase ‘once bitten twice shy’. Is it any wonder that footballers lash out or revert into a social recluse when friends, family and even strangers view them as a walking cash point? There is also a growing realisation that an increasing number of professionals view football solely as a source of income. I fear there will come a point when the only fans of football, will be the fans themselves.

It seems that we as a nation are somewhat fickle in our attempts to place individuals on a lofty pedestal, only to commence bringing them down the moment they’ve got comfortable. We constantly chip away at their cold exterior, without fully understanding the consequences of what will happen when we break through. Yes, footballers should know better but the fact is most of them don’t and the sooner we realise that, the better.

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