It has often been said that in comparison to the top leagues in other sports, the English Premier League lacks respect. Some have even gone as far as to state that football in general, has very little respect and that football fans are quite hostile compared to fans of other sports.
With regards to the hostile fans suggestion, that may appear true to those who go to watch other live sports regularly and then visit a football match for the first time. Maybe football fans do swear more in the terraces than those at a rugby match for example and maybe the majority of the swearing is aimed at opposition supporters but so what? Those of us who go to matches often will agree that us football fans aren’t hostile, you might occasionally get the odd hooligan who takes it too far but the majority of us are simply passionate about our sport and more importantly, our team. We swear more because football is far more than just a game to us and when things aren’t going right for our team, it genuinely hurts us. As for chanting at opposition fans, that is just banter. And banter is extremely important to us football fans because it is a great way of consolidating our unique identity as a team and without this banter, football matches would lose a huge part of their atmosphere.
Our famous atmosphere both at Anfield and away from home is what makes Liverpool F.C. special. If we didn’t hear ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone,’ ‘Fields of Anfield Road,’ ‘We won it 5 times’ or ‘We’re not racsist, we only hate Mancs’ etc echoing through the stadium, how else would the world know what team was on the pitch? Our songs and banter chants are our way of letting the world know that we are the one and only Liverpool Football Club.
That’s the fans bit covered, now for the Premiership itself. Unfortunately, I cannot defend some players and managers in our league in the same way I can defend our fans. Premiership players often cheat, attempt to deceive the referee, complain when a decision hasn’t gone their way, continue their complaint to the press after the game and then spill their opinionated guts on Twitter when they get home. True, maybe this does happen more commonly in football than any other sport. But these things happen for a reason.
The reason? Managers. I am not saying it is the managers’ fault every single time a player does something he shouldn’t but I am saying that some managers often fail to lead by example.
I’ll start with the most recent example and in fact, the issue that eventually prompted me to discuss this issue. As us reds fans will know, Liverpool played Tottenham in a preseason friendly last Saturday. During this match, Liverpool midfielder Charlie Adam mistimed a tackle which accidentally resulted in the injury of Tottenham winger Gareth Bale. These things as we all know, happen all the time in football, you just have to get on with it because we all know that nobody intends to go out and deliberately injure another professional, right?
Tell that to Andres Villas Boas, the man who subsequently went on to stir up a storm. The Tottenham manager could have chosen to lead by example and say ‘yes, it was a bad tackle and we are unfortunate to lose Gareth to injury but these things sometimes happen in football.’ Instead, Villas Boas chose to complain about Adam to the media, firstly stating how angry he is with him and then proceeded in a highly cunning fashion as he highlighted the ‘history’ between Adam and Bale. The ‘history,’ what history? So Charlie Adam did a similar thing a couple of seasons ago which landed Bale in hospital with ruptured ankle ligaments. Accidents happen. When someone as fast and gifted as Bale is on the pitch, the opposition will naturally be on high alert and will try their best to close down any threats. Gareth Bale happens to be one of Tottenham’s most dangerous players and is a constant threat to any opposition. As a defensive midfielder, it is Charlie Adam’s job to close him down and tackle him and that’s all Adam tried to do. Everybody knows that Adam’s tackling isn’t the strongest part of his game. His tackles are often clumsy and even a little reckless at times, nobody will deny that. Had Villas Boas stated it was a bad challenge then there wouldn’t have been a problem. But the fact he mentioned the previous ‘history’ suggested he had an ulterior motive; to start a witch hunt against Adam and portray him in a very unfair light.
His plan worked too because the next morning, Gareth Bale himself blasted Charlie Adam to the media, openly claiming that Adam injured him deliberately. “He’s obviously come for me twice now and he’s got me twice,” “From what I’ve seen of him on the pitch, I think he’s a bit of a coward,” “It’s flattering when players try to take you out in a game but when it threatens your career, it becomes more serious than that,” “It’s unsportsmanlike and I don’t think any player should be like that. That’s what kind of person he is like, he’s done it before.” These are a few of the outrageous statements Bale made to the media before childishly stating “I won’t accept his apology.” Bale’s team mate Kyle Walker also decided to add his opinion, claiming that Adam is “jealous of Bale.” Why Walker felt the need to involve himself I do not know.
Maybe the challenge on Bale was a bit aggressive for a preseason friendly but why on Earth would Adam apologise after Bale went on to make vicious accusations about him to the media? You can accuse somebody of not being a great tackler and that would be a fair statement to make about Adam and Adam himself would probably accept that.
But to go 100 steps further and accuse Adam of being a vicious unsportsmanlike thug is unacceptable in my view. Fair enough Adam has injured Bale before but accidents can happen, twice. We can understand that Gareth Bale is highly frustrated at being injured but he has deliberately tried to vilify another professional to the media and who knows what this could mean for Adam now. I’m not Adam’s biggest fan by a long shot but he’s no Roy Keane is he? I don’t think he deserves the vicious labels that AVB and Bale have given him. The press could start to single him out, followed by referees and overall, this could have a damaging impact on Liverpool Football Club.
And who brewed up this storm? Andres Villas Boas.
Villas Boas’ next move as manager should be to have a quiet word with Bale and encourage him to keep his thoughts to himself in future to avoid the situation becoming any worse. He should also have a word with Walker and tell him that his comments were unnecessary too. Will he? I very much doubt it because if he was a proper leader, he wouldn’t have brought the ‘history’ up in the first place. If he was a proper leader, he might have also spent the time informing Bale that representing his country at the Olympics is an honour and a once in a lifetime opportunity that he should not have rejected. If Bale had chosen not to turn his back on team GB at the Olympics, he would not have picked up the injury in the friendly against Liverpool in the first place. I know this is largely irrelevant to the point I was making regarding Charlie Adam but I am mentioning it to highlight the fact that Bale is in fact not as innocent and professional as he likes to portray himself and therefore, neither is AVB for allowing Bale to feign injury, so they should take a look at themselves before criticizing the morals of one of our players.
Villas Boas isn’t the only manager guilty of stirring up trouble either. This sort of thing happens week in, week out. Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is also a persistent perpetrator of stirring up trouble; in fact, the so called ‘great ambassador’ loves to stir up a storm and thrives off them. Whenever we hear of a ‘War of words’ between managers, Ferguson is usually involved. Ferguson v Wenger, Ferguson v Mourinho, Ferguson v Benitez, Ferguson v Mancini and Ferguson v Dalglish are just a few of the verbal battles Ferguson has been involved in during the last ten years or so. As I said earlier, there is nothing wrong with a little harmless banter between fans but when a manager does the same, he has to tread carefully. Everything the manager says is scrutinised by the press, the FA and fans worldwide. But more importantly, everything a manager says is gold to his players. So what kind of example does Ferguson’s constant playground bitching set to his players? Not a very good one as we found out on Sunday 6th March 2011.
Liverpool v Manchester United is always a very heated affair as we all know. Our fans hate United and their fans and vice versa, it’s tradition. So when the 22 players walk out onto that pitch, bearing in mind the passion in the stands, they all want to win at any cost. Both teams will put the extra effort in everything they do on that pitch, including tackles. This is natural in a game of high importance. What wasn’t natural was the reaction of United winger Luis Nani, after Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher accidentally injured him in a 50/50 challenge at Anfield. He rolled theatrically on the Anfield turf until Jamie Carragher was shown a yellow card. Furious that he wasn’t shown red, Nani miraculously managed to get on to his feet and run to the referee to protest. At this point, most of us probably thought Nani’s childish antics couldn’t get any worse, until seconds later, after realising his protests were falling on deaf ears, Nani threw himself back down on the floor, rolled around theatrically once more and started to cry. Yes, actual tears. Like a baby. And when Jamie Carragher tried to apologise to Nani after the game, he was refused entry to the Manchester United dressing room.
At this time, Kenny Dalglish was our manager and I’m pretty sure that if one of our players reacted in that way, Dalglish wouldn’t be happy. He might not have criticized his own player publically but he would definitely have had words in private. One might be forgiven for expecting Ferguson to do the same. Not a chance though. He ranted to the media afterwards about Jamie Carragher and branded him a ‘disgrace.’ Nani’s reactions that day spoke volumes about the attitude Ferguson instils into his squad. Not a brilliant example in my eyes and with all his experience, his attitude should really be highly professional and second to none by now.
Ferguson again, along with Manchester United defender Patrice Evra, played a massive part in the witch hunt on Luis Suarez that has been ongoing since October 2011 and still going strong. Yes, Suarez was found guilty of racism and was subsequently given an 8 match ban. I’m not going to comment on the incident itself or the resulting charge because the fact is, it has happened and we can’t change anything. However, I am going to point out Ferguson’s role in the aftermath, which has led to Suarez being vilified all over the country. Ferguson, even after the punishment was announced and had passed, still couldn’t drop the issue. First he branded Suarez ‘a disgrace’ who isn’t ‘fit to wear the Liverpool shirt’ before saying that Liverpool ‘should sell him.’ While condemning Suarez for ‘apparently’ ignoring the hand of Patrice Evra, he did not criticize Rio Ferdinand for doing the same to Suarez. How ironic that ‘anti-racist’ Ferdinand has now been charged over racist comments himself by the way (smells of Ferguson stained hypocrisy, if you ask me).
Months pass, Dalglish leaves Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers comes in and Ferguson should be focusing on United’s preseason campaign, as Rodgers is on ours. But still, he couldn’t resist another snipe, this time at Dalglish losing his job, stating that “it was his handling of the Suarez racism case that lost him his job.” Why feel the need to bring the issue up again? The season ended a while ago, maybe he got upset because he hasn’t heard Suarez being vilified for a while and is worried people might forget what a ‘disgrace’ he is. And obviously, this is more important than preparing his own squad for the coming season…
Some managers, in my opinion, need to learn when to keep their opinions to themselves, particularly when it comes to criticizing opposition players or managers because if the managers can’t set a good example to his players, how do we expect the players to start behaving in a sportsmanlike manner? I know I’ve singled out Ferguson and AVB here but there are a few more out there too.
It is a managers’ job to enforce policies on his players during training; ones which stamp out cheating, deceit and whinging to the referees and the media. If the players fail to comply during games, the manager should drop them; I’m sure the players’ attitude would soon change. It is obvious though, that some managers prefer to play the playground bully and encourage their players to engage in such traits rather than tackle them. Ferguson has put 101% effort into making sure Suarez’s reputation is in the mud and would love nothing more than to see him driven out of the Premiership. Now AVB and Gareth Bale have threatened to ruin Charlie Adam’s reputation too.
These playground bully managers who roam and operate within the Premiership week in, week out need to grow up and set a professional, dignified example to their players because while things carry on as they are, reputations are going to continually be threatened and more often than not, in an unfair manner.