Never have professional footballers been healthier, fitter and more looked after, both on and off the pitch. They seldom, the theory goes, drink, gamble or party all night. They certainly wouldn’t want to consume alcohol, smoke cigarettes or harm their bodies in such a way that compromises their ability especially during the intensity of a footballing season; in the Premier League, in particular, any margin of error will be exploited, meaning every player has to look after their body properly. Indeed, as a clear example, fitness and weight levels are the reasons given by Pep Guardiola as to why he only played Yaya Toure this weekend for the first team in the season. It is also true that the intense media spotlight on professional footballers has never been greater either. Therein lies the real problem with the recent incident regarding Wayne Rooney. England’s record goal scorer, after playing his part in a 3-0 victory over rivals Scotland, was pictured a little worse for wear after apparently staying up until 5am that Saturday morning in a wedding that took place in the team hotel. He was wearing his training kit, and, along with Jordan Henderson and Adam Lallana, formed a group of English players who, for some people, defied their responsibilities as international footballers. Whether or not he was due to play against Spain the following Tuesday night, perhaps only he and interim manager Gareth Southgate know for sure.
The real issue however, is not why Rooney was out that night – unless he did disobey strict orders or was indeed due to play three days later -, but why the press have made such a big deal of it. The fact that Rooney was on the front page of newspapers such as The Sun epitomises some of the attitudes of contemporary media tabloids; that is, they sell newspapers through intruding on the lives of English footballers rather than, say, writing a tactical analysis of how goals from Daniel Sturridge, Adam Lallana and Gary Cahill secured the victory to put The Three Lions in a commanding place at the top of Group F. This harassment of the press is certainly not a recent problem. Rather than concentrating on why England did not qualify for Euro 2008, the Daily Mail ran a picture of Steve McClaren, the then manager, with the famous caption of ‘The Wally with the brolly’, implicitly using him as the sole scapegoat of national failure instead of genuine more in-depth reasons of English footballing failure; the lack of academy resources, lack of home-grown players in the Premier League and the fact that many of the stars of the Premier League are rested during the season instead of representing their country. Clearly, McClaren should have taken some of the blame, the manager always does, but it is not fair that the media exert this extreme pressure on individuals.
Many parts of the press put this extreme pressure on England players; it is little wonder that the players, no matter their fantastic abilities, feel so overwhelmed to perform during international tournaments. The press should go back to giving tactical analyses of the performances, of where it went wrong with particular managers, of which formation suits the English team best, rather than having a paparazzi frenzy with its most talented footballers time and time again. The question should not be whether Rooney is allowed to socialise on a Friday night. Unless Rooney disobeyed strict orders from Southgate, was due to play against Spain or compromised his footballing ability during the middle of the season, this should not have been made a meal of. There were even questions of him losing the English captaincy. The real question however should be this: where is the line drawn? Footballers, after all, are normal human beings.
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