2 December 2009 ~ Thanks to blanket media coverage and image-conscious employers, the modern-day footballer can usually be relied upon to offer apologies for his misdemeanours and shortcomings. No sooner is a luxury car drunkenly pranged, a nightclub fracas instigated or a training session missed than the sheepish perpetrator is wheeled out by his club to voice his remorse. At various times over the last few months the likes of David Bentley, Ledley King, Roman Bednar and serial apologiser Ashley Cole have all gone public with their regrets for indiscretions ranging from being drunk and disorderly to scoring cocaine.
In the current climate of accountability there is no transgression too small for a public act of contrition, as Wolves defender George Elokobi found out when he failed to appear on time for a team meeting before the September defeat at Blackburn. Fined for the late show along with team-mate Ronald Zubar, the left-back then issued an unreserved apology for his shoddy timekeeping. "I've said sorry to the gaffer and the rest of the boys and would also like to apologise to the fans as well, because I've let everyone down at the club," said the chastened Cameroonian, showing a masterful command of English football-speak. "I've taken the gaffer's decision and all I can do is hold my hands up."
Given the current vogue for self-reproach, Hull City's Jozy Altidore could consider himself unlucky to be fined for tweeting a mea culpa for some match-day tardiness. "Apologize to all of you. I showed up late. Made a big mistake. I'm very, very sorry," he wrote online after being dropped for arriving late for a home game with Portsmouth. Though commendable, the networking American's admission earned him a second ticking-off from an irate Phil Brown: "That, for me, is information that stays in house."
Yet, as an example of the game's double standards, while clubs and managers are keen to ensure codes of conduct are met off the pitch, they are far less willing to demand high standards of behaviour on it, particularly where cheating is concerned. Rangers manager Walter Smith and his assistant Ally McCoist bucked the trend by publicly condemning Kyle Lafferty for his play-acting in a league meeting with Aberdeen last season. "We have spoken to Kyle at great length," said McCoist after Lafferty had forced Charlie Mulgrew's sending-off by collapsing to the ground when the pair squared up. "Obviously, it's something he deeply regrets… the actions are not those expected from a Rangers player."
Self-policing is a rarity, though. The norm is the kind of obfuscation peddled by Rafael Benítez in the wake of David Ngog's recent simulation against Birmingham City. Having initially conceded that his player had taken a tumble, Benítez was reverting to type within a couple of days, placing Ngog's malpractice in full context.
"There are bad tackles every week which are more dangerous for the integrity of the players than this situation," he argued, adopting a disingenuous line of defence that Arsène Wenger has also used with tiresome frequency. "To try that tackle is a foul with the rules. After watching the replay I could see a player going to ground, trying to tackle one of our players and our player jumping, diving, but at the time it was a penalty."
With coaches happy to play the role of apologists and accomplices, it is little wonder that divers, play-actors and handballers are rarely prodded by their pangs of conscience. A belated Thierry Henry-style self-reproach on Twitter is about as much as we can expect in that respect and the next time a player comes clean in public you can be pretty sure it won't be for cheating an opposing team out of two points or denying them a World Cup place. I, for one, won't be reading though. James Calder