Thursday 12th October
By: Karel Tshimanga
Cars, girls, money. All words associated with footballers. The “dream” job, playing football every day and getting paid for it. Nothing could be better. Depending on how good you are you could be idolised by a city, a country and if you’re blessed, the world. Sounds all good doesn’t it? But what if I told you it was all an image, a facade painted for you to see when Sky Sports and BT have the cameras rolling. The men you hail as God’s at times can be reduced to being less than human, the insane amounts of wealth only prove to pacify the lack of freedom they have and make sure they can’t complain about the hardships and pressures of life.
Footballers may seemingly be in the dream job but when I analyse it first hand they are at times prisoners of the title. From a young age, they aren’t afforded the same freedoms that other children are. They are thrown into a world of rejection with kids being released as young as 11 years old, the “fun” aspect of the game is robbed of them before they become a teenager. They play “friendlies” but it’s not quite that. Every game they are under strict observation; every touch, every decision and every movement under the microscope of the managers and pitchside cameras. What was once fun becomes an examination knowing that as young as 13 they are seeing if they could be good enough by 18 and beyond. Young boys being put under pressure at a time where life is just fun for other kids. Little do they know it’s the most amount of unmitigated fun they’ll have in their careers.
Do you really believe it’s fun to have to move town, possibly even country and be taken away from your friends at a young age all for the sake of football? It’s only the end goal that soothes the pain of being taken away from all you know.
It seems as though the perception of footballer’s being rich means that they are all going to be happy go lucky characters because they have all the material goods that they could have wished for. They are seen to be smiling when giving an autograph or taking pictures with fans, but that’s all part of the image they have to upkeep. Fans don’t seem to believe they can be depressed or upset unless they have lost a cup final, forgetting that those long injury layoffs being lonely in the physio’s room and training on their own away from their teammates for months at a time can take it’s toll mentally, questioning if they’re still going to be able to perform at the same level and regain their place in the squad or even worse in this current climate of the “managerial merry go round” will the new manager give him an opportunity.
The game is a lottery in all aspects of the game. The uncertainty can be a killer, leaving players on edge at all times. Building feelings of anxiety, not something you’d associate with footballers.
But it’s real like that.
Their quality can be there but they could be on their 3rd knee surgery at 24. Now what? Retirement becomes an ever more realistic prospect: something they didn’t anticipate considering for another 10 years or so. It dawns on them that they don’t know anything else because unlike those who went to college between 16-18 they were already full time. Almost being denied a proper education because their clubs didn’t prioritise them and put them on a sports course that just about fit with the FA guidelines. They never were told about the “next step” because it’s a tunnel vision world and when reality strikes it becomes overwhelming as one door closes before another has opened.
Do you now see it’s easy for depression and negative thoughts to creep in? The feeling of the life you know coming to an end without being prepared. It could break anyone, footballer’s being no different.
Being pigeon-holed in a career is one thing but also being pigeon-holed in life is another. They are told because they are “footballers” they cannot do the things other people in their age group do. I once saw a picture of Jack Grealish (Aston Villa) lay flat out drunk on the floor of one of those “lads” holiday destination and because it was him, a footballer, of course, it went viral. The negative backlash he received for doing something that anyone else his age was doing that summer was incredible. People questioned his character and mentality all for off-season minor antics that were probably a result of letting off steam during the short holiday players receive after a grueling season. The old saying goes “Boys will be boys” but they were never allowed to be, nor will they ever be once they sign on the dotted line to enter this career path.
Can you imagine going Napa with your friends after a long year studying, coming back to the Uni chastising you then student finance cut some of your maintenance just for having youthful fun?
How can you expect an 18-21-year-old to have to be so grown when they haven’t even learned about themselves professionally let alone personally. “Well, we pay them X amount a week” that sounds all well and good until at 18 they tell you that once this contract is signed you can’t party, drink, or even hang out with your friends at times when at that age it’s all you want to do.
Money doesn’t replace experiences. Believe me on that.
It even goes as far as telling them they can’t tweet things, believe me when there have been times my friends have told me I can’t @ them in stuff because they’re not allowed to be associated with it or they just lost a game and the club said they can’t tweet. How many times on a Saturday evening do you see endless tweets from players saying “Happy/Disappointed with the result today? Fans were great once again. We go again next week” Do you really believe that’s what they think every week? I really don’t but they can’t say “The fans were crap today” because 1. they’ll probably be fined for it and 2. because they recognise that although you may have abused them personally for 90 minutes you pay your hard earned money to watch them so they gotta show appreciation. They realise that whilst they are a part of your club that they had no affiliation to prior to being signed they must play the part of being a “die-hard” player, performing for a badge that meant nothing to them before. Keeping their mouth shut even when the club does them dirty, all to please the fans. Not to come off as ungrateful for the opportunity and privilege they have been given.
We have truly made footballers an emotionless robotic species. But you wonder why there’s no passion in the game anymore, passion gets you in trouble.
As a fan of the game, I once had the image of the players that most people do but seeing what the game has done to my friends and acquaintances in football, it’s tough for me to view it as the dream job. All the politics and drama at times really isn’t worth the high wages. Fast cars, nice houses and jewellery don’t match up to being the product of a system that doesn’t allow you to have an open and free childhood and adolescence or the freedom to express yourself unless it’s physical. It’s just not for me. I hope that whatever level you play at whether it’s Premier League or Conference you enjoy it and come away as unscathed as possible.
Thank You for taking the time to read this,
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