Pampered players should be more grateful
14 June ~ I can wholeheartedly identify with Cesc Fabregas, who said after Spain's Euro 2012 draw with Italy: "It's shameful that we still have to play on pitches like that." The day before, my team had gone 2-0 down inside ten minutes when our centre-back slipped and sprained his ankle on a treacherous bog of a field that degenerated into a swamp in one corner. Our brave fightback was thwarted by an incompetent loon of a referee who barely spoke English, and we lost 3-2 in a spiteful affair.
Afterwards there was a good deal of beer-fuelled grumbling about the ref and how the pitch had, to borrow the words of Xavi Hernandez, "hampered our dynamic and fluid play". Just as Andres Iniesta said, it was "a disaster for football as a spectacle".
Actually, it wasn't – or at least no more of a disaster for football as a spectacle than our matches always are. Dynamic and fluid play is a rare visitor to division five of the suburban over-35s league. And it's logical that the best players should expect the best pitches, just as they expect the best referees, the best playing equipment, stadiums, gymnasiums, swimming pools, hotels and aircraft seating arrangements. Isn't it? Well, perhaps. It would certainly look odd if the pitches for Euro 2012 were deliberately prepared to look like mudheaps from the 1970s.
But on the other hand, shouldn't the best players in the world be more able to adapt to a slightly untrustworthy surface than some of the worst? Shouldn't they be able to adapt to all kinds of pitches, like a top-class batsman? Maybe even play in the rain occasionally? If Spain need bowling-green conditions to show off their passing to its best advantage, it is clearly a more limited approach than some would have you believe.
Fabregas prefaced his pitch complaints by saying: "I can't complain, but we deserved more." Clearly his inability to complain did not extend even to the end of the sentence. Constant whinging is not an endearing habit, even at my team's level. But from players and managers possessing every possible advantage, it's embarrassing to reduce yourself to moaning about pitches, referees, the weather, the swerviness of each competition's ball, the lack of goalline video technology, the intrusion of the African Nations Cup into the Premier League season or any other relatively predictable factor that is roughly the same for everyone.
Players who withdraw from international tournaments unless they are guaranteed a place in the starting line-up fall into the same category. If they are too precious to show up, there are millions of us who would happily take their place. We might not be very good, but at least we wouldn't be rushing to blame mild imperfections underfoot. Mike Ticher