28th January 2013
In this day and age, it is trendy to dismiss the professional footballer as a spoilt prima donna, an over sized child who has no concept of the value of money, let alone how fortunate he is to have so much of it. This idea will gain currency in the wake of Eden Hazard’s moment of perceived petulance in South Wales last Wednesday night.
Before the Belgian’s inadvertent kick on a ball boy in the closing stages of his Chelsea side’s aggregate defeat to Swansea City is blown out of all proportion, however, the circumstances of this supposed assault should be revisited. As some spectators have pointed out, 17 year old Charlie Morgan was deliberately shielding the ball in a clear attempt to while away precious seconds for his hometown club, which numbers Morgan’s dad Martin among its directors. Anyone under the impression that he had merely fallen on the ball in the moments before the scuffle need only glance at his Twitter page, on which he bragged before the game that ‘the king of all ball boys is back’ and ‘needed for time wasting’. It would be misleading, then, to cast the teenager as an innocent who was attacked while going about his job.
That said, even this line of enquiry misses the point. A close look at the alleged blow to Morgan’s ribs reveals that Hazard was actually the guileless victim of the sort of play acting of which Rivaldo would have been proud and numerous modern footballers are routinely accused. Appearing to make contact with the ball and certainly not displaying any malicious intent, Hazard tries to slide the ball out from underneath his antagonist’s body in order to restart play, prompting a shameless overreaction that landed the summer signing from Lille with a red card and a lengthy ban to boot.
If proof was needed of how far footballers’ stock has fallen since the days of Sir Stanley Matthews, this was it. The finger of blame is instinctively brandished in their direction after any such altercation, to the extent that the public is blind to the possibility of Hazard and his cronies getting a rough deal. In recent years, the beautiful game’s leading lights have shown themselves to be capable of insensitivity, extravagance and, on more than one occasion, downright idiocy but, on the evidence of the latest PR disaster, they are not the only ones.