Once upon a time, I used to love football. It was back in the early 1970s when I was a wide-eyed kid whose days were spent kicking a ball against the garage door and whose nights rushed by in a wash of dreams where I scored Tottenham’s winning goal in the FA Cup final or even against the mighty Ajax in the European Cup.
Martin Chivers was my early hero – he of the false teeth and terrifying smile – although I had a soft spot for the balding Scotsman Alan Gilzean who was his perfect and underrated foil up front.
Throw in Pat Jennings, Cyril Knowles, Martin Peters, Alan Mullery, Mike England, Steve Perryman and Roger Morgan and you had a half-decent side. Bill Nicholson, who had led Spurs to the league and cup double in 1960-1, was the boss and between them they could do no wrong.
Then came the first semblance that they didn’t all play the game just for the love of it. As an 11 year-old, I heard the first talk of player power as Chivers and his cohorts demanded more money, forcing Nicholson to resign. There was certainly more to Billy Nick’s departure but at the time it all appeared to be about the money
It was a key moment for me, a realisation that for the most part – and there are some very noble exceptions, Matt le Tissier take a bow – professional footballers don’t give a toss about which shirt they wear so long as the price is right.
A couple of years later I read my first proper sports book, The Glory Game by Hunter Davies, which is a brilliant account of a season he spent with that Spurs side. It was a devastating read which turned me on to sports writing but off football. Cricket suddenly seemed much more interesting.
Since then I have followed football at arm’s length; each year the arm gets longer.
Perhaps this is because the game has become submerged in a tsunami of cash which has washed away any semblance of balance and common sense. The people’s game has been removed from the people.
Money rather than football seems to be at the centre of the game; whether that is players’ stupid wages, television companies fiddling the fixture lists to suit their schedules, get-rich-quick harpies who try to bag and bang a player and then sell their stories to the tabloids who, in turn, kneel down and pray at the altar of dumb footballers – their every comment treated with the reverence once reserved for the likes of Confucius, Socrates and Eric Cantona.
The latest episode concerning Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo is simply laughable. The Portuguese made the headlines on Sunday, when he refused to celebrate his two goals in Real Madrid’s win over Granada in la Liga.
Apparently the poor flower is “sad” and evidently wants us all to know it.
If this was a personal sadness – an illness in the family, for example – then it is understandable but Ronaldo has said he is sad for “professional” reasons.
If he wants a transfer it is bad timing because although Manchester City have apparently registered their interest – and perhaps a bid of 95 million euros – the transfer window closed last week. Unless he wants to go to France or Turkey, which is unlikely, he isn’t going anywhere until January at the earliest.
If it is about money – and he has said that it isn’t – then how greedy can he possibly be? According to The Richest website, Ronaldo is the third highest paid footballer in the world behind Lionel Messi and David Beckham, his income this year estimated at 29.2 million euros.
The comments have not gone down well in a country that is in economic freefall with almost five million people out of work.
Ronaldo, of course, has form on this kind of thing.
In 2008, when he was earning over 100,000 pounds a week, complained that he was being treated like a slave because he wasn’t being allowed to leave Manchester United to go and play for Madrid.
Some are suggesting that he is sad because he missed out to Andres Iniesta for UEFA’s player of the year – perhaps the most feeble excuse yet.
Ronaldo is a highly talented player but he also comes across as a manipulative self-serving young man. Whether he is at fault for that or whether that is just symptomatic of being a product of one of the greediest, most self-satisfied industries in the world is another matter.
In either case, it makes me sad. In a professional sense, you understand.