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Players disliking football should not be a problem

As long as they do their job well

icon playerdream20 December ~ "I'm not much of a football fan, really. I don't watch games on an evening or anything like that." Normally this comment would not generate attention but as it came from Premier League striker Bobby Zamora, it was a story. Ex-pros lined up in condemnation. Former QPR defender Steve Wicks described the comments as "brainless", Tony Cascarino said: "If your heart's not in it, Bobby, get out of the game". Zamora's manager, Mark Hughes, was supportive: "If there was any issue in terms of his application he wouldn't still be a professional footballer".

Hughes' stance was clear: if players act professionally, it's irrelevant what goes through their heads. Managers are employed to deliver performances, not to worry about players' whims. It's possible to not love football but still be committed to offering your best on the pitch. This idea is encapsulated in Benoit Assou-Ekotto's declaration that "whatever attitude you bring to it, it doesn't matter as long as you are 100 per cent professional".

There is something odd about a crowd of passionate fans roaring support for a player who has admitted he isn't bothered about football. For many supporters the idea of indifference to the sport is incomprehensible. Yet fans of the modern game have learned to live with the gap between the terraces and the dressing room. They struggle to pay rising ticket prices while players agonise over their next sports car. They pledge lifelong loyalty to clubs while players weigh up contract offers. Interestingly, neither Zamora nor Assou-Ekotto suffered a backlash from fans after their respective comments. That fans are willing to accept that being a footballer can be "just a job" suggests they are less idealistic than many pundits.

Given the almost universal blandness of footballer interviews, Assou-Ekotto's words were astonishingly candid. "I knew for a fact that I didn't like school and I also knew that I didn't want to work in an office where I would be paid €1,500-a-month and, at the end of my career, be able to buy a little suburban apartment or something". Is there anything offensive about a young man from a relatively poor background being driven by the desire to make a good living? It is also very hard not to respect such honesty, especially in a sport that can seem entirely devoid of it.

For some players, passion for the game is a resource that can be exhausted. Espen Baardsen, former Spurs and Norwegian international goalkeeper, retired at 25 and is now a partner at an asset management company. "I got bored of it. Once you've played in the Premier League and been to the World Cup, you've seen it and done it." While many players and managers have an insatiable desire to achieve more, Baardsen reached a stage where he was content that he'd got everything he wanted out of the game.

There are other players for whom football has always been one of competing passions. Curtis Woodhouse, an England under-21 international and £1 million signing for Birmingham, quit football to become a professional boxer. He's now the English light-welterweight champion. Woodhouse described his move to boxing as like "coming alive and doing what I always meant to do". Many talented young sportsmen find themselves having to choose between different sports. Even a relatively successful footballing career was not enough to dull Woodhouse's love of boxing. In the end, he has become a success in both sports, an achievement to be admired. Andy Ryan

On the subject...

Comment on 20-12-2012 11:57:03 by Janik #743200
I guess there is a certain confirmation bias amongst pundits. They are almost without exception ex-players, and presumably they are the ones who cannot imagine life without football. So the mindset would be very alien to them.
Those players who think like Zamora or Assou-Ekotto are extremely unlikely to want to get a job talking about something that doesn't really interest them.
Comment on 20-12-2012 13:51:46 by geobra #743263
I think that what these two players are saying has been true for a very long time. I certainly remember reading something very similar in, I think, 'Jimmy Hill's Football Weekly' back in about 1967. And watching the players of top European clubs getting on and off planes almost on a weekly basis, they certainly don't look as if they're having much fun!

It doesn't bother me as long as players are good pros and give their all for 90 minutes (or even 120). That, plus 8-10 hours a week of dedicated training, is all that is required of them in return for their salaries. Much less than, for example, modestly-paid bus drivers who are responsible for the lives and safety of scores of their fellow human beings every day of their working lives. If they were as unprofessional in their job as some footballers, there would be even more daily carnage on the roads than there already is.
Comment on 20-12-2012 15:12:19 by Coral #743295
I don't know his views on football but Walcott fell into football aged 11 as had not really been bothered about it before. Now he has his pick of the second tier of teams in the prem for a wage of around 70k and has been to a world cup. I have played football since I was 5 and went to all sorts of trials and soccer camps until the age of 11 when I decided I wasn't good enough so played for fun. I hate him through nothing more than jealousy. I suspect many pundits have this as they can no longer play the game and earn the sums that BAE and Bobby earn. Unless they are Alan Hansen.
Comment on 20-12-2012 17:06:24 by Cesar Rodriguez #743351
I dig Zamora's comment. Clearly he's someone who gets it - simply, there is more to life than football.
Comment on 20-12-2012 17:26:52 by The Bean Counter #743367
Am I alone in thinking though that those players who don't love the game that much, very often fall short of the top level? When success is about hard work and motivation much more than natural talent alone, is it not the case that those who genuinely love the game will give it that extra 10% of dedication and effort that separates good players like Walcott from great players like Rooney?
Comment on 20-12-2012 19:35:25 by toddashton #743409
Batistuta saw football only as a job, likewise Sidney Govou.

Infer what you will.
Comment on 20-12-2012 19:47:25 by Liffrok #743416
I agree with Zamora. I'm a professional classical musician, but I can't think of anything I'd rather do less than listen to Radio 3 or go to watch a concert in the evening. Busman's holiday isn't it?
Comment on 21-12-2012 04:25:05 by Amor de Cosmos #743548
There's nothing at all wrong with considering football as a practice, but not particularly caring for it beyond that. Stan Bowles was another QPR player with no interest in the game off the pitch. In Zamora's case however it was accompanied by reports that he doesn't attend team meals. This, potentially at least, is more of an issue as could negatively affect team unity. In a team sport collective belief is as important as self belief, and rituals like eating together are one way to build that. It can also be argued that Mark Hughes failure to realise the importance of such things contributed to his appalling record as QPR's manager.
Comment on 21-12-2012 06:51:58 by Sundeporino #743563
Why is Hughes defending Zamora? Do they have the same agent?
Comment on 21-12-2012 07:24:08 by geobra #743565
Liffrok is right. Zamora and others like him are merely saying that they do not spend their spare time watching other people doing the same job as they do. Who does?

It is quite possible, in fact, to adore playing football without having any interest in watching it. The two experiences are very different, and a professional player who 'knows' what's going on could easily find watching very boring.

On another point, a team that consisted entirely of players who saw football only as a job would surely not win much. For that you need a nucleus of players with passion and a love of playing the game for its own sake. And if you have two players of equal ability competing for the same position, it's obvious that the one with more passion must play. Which is probably why Balotelli isn't playing much these days.
Comment on 21-12-2012 11:48:13 by Cesar Rodriguez #743626
geobra wrote:
It is quite possible, in fact, to adore playing football without having any interest in watching it.

Excellent point. I've a friend who is a very, very good amateur footballer, plays multiple times a week and has a real passion for playing but he cannot stand to watch it. He's told me in the past he finds it "boring" and since he has no emotional attachment to a team he has no interest - put him on a pitch and its an entirely different story, he's a fierce competitor.

Now that I think about it I remember a guy I played Rugby with who said the same thing about watching that sport. I'm sure these two guys are in the minority but I don't think you can say with any certainty that their viewing habits have a negative impact on their playing abilities.
Comment on 21-12-2012 13:37:51 by Reed John #743663
I think any player interested in developing their own game should want to study the play of other players, especially the best. But of course, I suppose that serious players watch so much game film (when will we stop calling it film or tape?) to prepare for their own games that they want to spend their other time doing something else.

But I don't understand how an athlete can make it to a high level without loving their game. I just don't see how one would manage to stay motivated. Making it out of poverty may be a motivation for some, I guess, but poor kids must at least get some joy in being really good at something. I can't imagine one could maintain the focus necessary to develop as a player if every moment were drudgery. Or maybe the dream of making it big is, by itself, enough to make it enjoyable.

But I do understand that the love of the game that carries an athlete through their youth days may start to wane when it becomes a business. They may even become bitter and resentful of it. And if injuries start to take their toll, the game may just become too frustrating to tolerate. And players who have had serious injuries have to consider their long-term health and their family.

And I can certainly understand the desire of athletes to do something else after years of doing almost nothing but their sport since childhood.
Comment on 21-12-2012 14:03:11 by eighteen85 #743676
Like some of the others commenting above, I can understand where he's coming from. I played to a (very) modest standard of Saturday football, but there were lads even at that level who had not the slightest interest in watching the game, and would studiously ignore our post match Final Score ritual.
Comment on 21-12-2012 14:06:59 by imp #743678
Not that I'm one to endlessly plug my own work, but the narrator of The Chairman's Daughter has a similarly ambivalent attitude towards the game. I'd be surprised if more players don't feel the same at times, but just don't think it's judicious to express their doubts for fear of being called spoiled. After all, it's a job most of us fans spent our childhoods idly fantasising about, so what right do they have to complain, earning all that cash etc. If I was in that position, I'd probably keep quiet too, especially if I knew my doubts only came in phases.
Comment on 21-12-2012 15:46:55 by biziclop #743708
I still think there's something fundamentally wrong with this situation.

Not that I condemn Zamora, far from it.

I just feel there is something very absurd in seeing that a sport with millions and millions of passionate supporters who'd give so much for just one minute on that pitch cheer someone who couldn't give a monkey's. And not just about the club or country but the sport itself.

Mind you, the opposite is weird too, wasn't it Ferguson who was shocked to learn that Wenger literally had no other hobby in his life, just football?
Comment on 21-12-2012 16:09:07 by geobra #743719
So when my team loses, who is more gutted, me or the players? The answer to that question, which I don't know, could be the key to what this discussion is all about.
Comment on 21-12-2012 20:19:05 by dennis #743827
It's perfectly reasonable for footballers to have little interest in the game outside of their working week. I'd argue that virtually any job role is better accomplished by someone with a healthy range of extra-curricular interests than by a complete obsessive with no life outside of their work. The only caveat is that such outside interests shouldn't impinge on their capacity to do that job i.e. impair their judgment or, in the case of football, their fitness, coordination and general health.
Comment on 22-12-2012 18:40:45 by geobra #744010
Perhaps we now know why some players are happy to warm the bench. They're being paid for not doing something they don't like doing anyway!
Comment on 24-12-2012 11:38:21 by Satchmo Distel #744364
I remember reading an interview with Pat Jennings upon his retirement where he said that playing football had given him no joy at all.
Comment on 24-12-2012 12:23:03 by Stumpy Pepys #744372
Reed John wrote:
But I don't understand how an athlete can make it to a high level without loving their game. I just don't see how one would manage to stay motivated.

I'd recommend reading Andre Agassi's autobiography (which, by the way, is one of the best sport bios I've read).

Agassi was essentially bullied into playing tennis by his overbearing father and spent most of his career hating tennis with a passion. But he'd got to the point where he was not only exceptionally good, but he couldn't do anything else.

There's a fascinating section where he plucks up courage to admit to Steffi Graf that he's always hated the game, to which she replies nonchalantly: "Well, don't we all?"

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