In Defence Of Professional FootballersSports
If you try to look at it objectively, you'd have to say that professional footballers – especially those at the elite end of the sport – have it made. They are adored by fans, they are paid well, they are often offered product endorsement deals and they usually have fairly luxurious lifestyles. You could say that the average top flight professional soccer player has been on a run of good luck like winning game after game playing online blackjack or having their lottery numbers come up. However, are we really being fair? After all, most elite footballers in La Liga, Serie A or the Premiership have worked hard to get where they are. Many young players don't make it or miss out due to injury. Furthermore, the careers of soccer players are relatively short. Shouldn't fans go a little easier on players, after all?
The Long-Established Habit of Criticising Players
The thing about football players is that they are in such a privileged position that it really is tough to be objective about them. Most soccer fans would give anything to have just one chance to turn out for their favourite team and to represent them with passion. Of course, some professionals simply don't have the passion for their club or country that fans do. This does not mean that they don't try as hard as they can or remain competitive, of course. The thing is that players just feel differently about teams. They could be dropped, transferred or even sacked so it is a very different kind of relationship supporting a club as it is playing for one.
Of course, few of us mere fans will ever know what the pressure to perform well is like in the top flight of the sport. However, because most fans desperately want their team to win, they can become overtly critical of players they think don't have their hearts in it. Many of us like to see players working hard to get back from forward positions to help out in defence once possession is lost, for example. If you don't see that, then you are likely to be critical of a player. You might - if you are honest about it - call them lazy or even unprofessional. And yet, it might be that certain players remain up-field on their manager's tactical instructions. They might even be making the right decision on their own because they are better off reserving their strength for the next attack.
The trouble is that most fans begin to criticise before they give due consideration to all of the factors. Even a temporary run of bad form can generate unwarranted criticism from some fans which might even extend it for longer rather than help a player through a bad patch. Even worse, it is not just fans. TV pundits, sports journalists, former players and even coaches can all get in on the act. Yes, sometimes players deserve to be criticised but ask yourself whether such criticism is always fairly apportioned?
The Case of Real Madrid's B-Team Youth Coach
Recently, a relatively lowly coach for Real Madrid was shown the door by his employers for being too critical of the first team, a side which he really had no place speaking publicly about. Álvaro Benito, coach of the club's B-youth team, made comments on the radio about the senior side which were unfavourable, to say the least. They followed Real Madrid's defeat in this seaon's Copa Del Rey semi-final against arch rivals, FC Barcelona. You could say that passions were running understandably high and that Benito was merely expressing the same views as many fans would have held following the loss. However, the junior coach chose to name certain players who he thought were letting the club down, in particular singling out the likes of Carlos Henrique Casimiro and Toni Kroos, both overseas internationals.
The way in which the senior management at Real Madrid reacted was unusual. Rather than taking it on the chin and accepting that people will always be critical when performances and results don't go your way, they chose to sack Benito. In something of a warning to other employees at the club, the powers-that-be decided to take a zero tolerance attitude to his criticism. Benito has already been replaced in his role by the legendary former player Raúl González Blanco so perhaps the club was looking for a reason to show Benito the door? That said, it sets something of a precedent that other clubs may want to take note of.
Wouldn't It Be Nice If More Clubs Took Action On Criticism?
When you think about it, much of the criticism players get is not constructive. It tends to focus on negativity - about what players cannot do rather than highlighting areas for improvement. As such, perhaps Real Madrid's move might become to be viewed as something of a turning point whereby pundits, fans and coaches all take a more positive approach to their appraisals. After all, few of us get criticised in the workplace in the manner that soccer stars do. And football is supposed to be about entertainment and fun, right? Time will tell whether the example shown by Real Madrid will become the new norm. Certainly, there must be many current soccer stars playing right now who hope so!
A Reality Check
Before we get too carried away about creating a more positive vibe in football that accepts players will respond better to affirmative appraisals of their play rather than out-and-out sideswipes, we should remember one thing: football is a competitive pursuit. Don't we expect players to compete hard even if their lack of technical skill or form lets them down? Anyone can play with commitment even if they are not performing to the highest level, after all. As such, aren't fans and pundits entitled to call out players who are not being sufficiently competitive?
The fact is that no matter how much better it might be for the sport to embrace some more positivity with players and lay off the critiques once in a while, fans are fans and they are likely to continue to criticise even when things are going well. It may not be completely fair on professional players but this is the way things are. Hopefully, over time, fans will be able to take a more rounded view and steer clear of unwarranted barracking of players but that day still looks a long way off from today's perspective. In the meantime, perhaps we can all make an effort to see the good side of football stars even when they are not at the top of their game and avoid the sort of knee-jerk reactions that are in no one's interests to express so uncompromisingly.