If you’re a Manchester City fan who peruses the internet on a regular basis, then it has been a busy couple of weeks. All the paranoia, frustration and anger has resurfaced as fans of rival teams and even media outlets pay scant regards to logic or facts to make the sort of accusations we should be used to by now, but never will be. Never have the names Jack Rodwell and Scott Sinclair been typed on a keyboard as much as the past 14 days, for reasons you’ll know all about.
Naturally the paranoia accusation will be made when alleging bias in media coverage, and whilst I generally do think everyone’s out to get me, we can as fans go over the top sometimes to the most banal of comments in an article or a simple honest opinion.
But that’s not my concern right now. What got me furiously hitting the keys is the other side of the equation, namely the effect all this has on the players themselves.
Now many of us will have a preconceived perception of players as pampered individuals that live in a bubble and operate in a world very separate to ours. There are probably players who can’t operate a toaster – Kolo Toure can’t even fathom out what his dog is for. You cannot group a whole profession in this way of course, but there will be individual players for whom this is largely true, in the same way that there will be many who have remained grounded throughout. For every James Milner, a player I imagine drives a functional car or perhaps a Prius, there will be an 18-year-old driving around in a yellow supercar. It’s probably parked on double yellow lines in a city centre near you right now.
Either way, they are all human beings. Fabian Delph’s partner is pregnant, Raheem Sterling, as you may be aware, is also a parent – these are young family men with children. Even if they weren’t, it wouldn’t change the point much. And the point is that what has happened in recent weeks has been nothing short of incessant bullying of two individuals for making a career choice, like we have all done many times ourselves. They have been mercilessly hounded, insulted and subjected to vile abuse for wishing to further their careers. And have no doubt, their career choices were entirely logical for anyone looking at them without bias or prejudice.
Now I expect this from the great unwashed that resides on social media sites. Sites such as Twitter can be wonderful places, full of breaking news, interesting opinions and endless humour. It is also a breeding ground for life’s detritus, a willing host to racism, xenophobia, crass insults, sexism, knee jerk reactions, resentment and much more. And if you don’t agree with me, then go **** your ****.
But what cannot be tolerated is when the bullying comes from those who should know better – those who write on the game and those that once played it at a high level themselves.
First off let’s state that criticism is fine, freedom of speech is what puts the G in Great Britain (apparently) and I’m not suggesting that opinions should be stifled. We also can’t dictate what individual journalists write if a group say the same thing, then decry the independently written articles as group bullying. What’s more, both Sterling and Delph deserve some level of criticism for how their moves came about. Sterling was probably better off not giving an interview to the BBC during his battle with the club over a new contract, though you can understand how the PR constantly emanating from the club trying to paint him in a bad light had left him feeling there was little option but to put his side of the story across. Otherwise, he’s done little wrong, having explained that he was ill in the week leading up to his transfer to City, and unless you have evidence that he wasn’t, that is that. With all the abuse coming his way, it’s little wonder he got the shits.
As for Delph, stating his intention to stay at Aston Villa was a big mistake, as he clearly hadn’t thought it through. Little surprise therefore that Villa fans are a bit peeved at his 2nd U-turn, but again, he has made a career decision in the end, and neither player handed in a transfer request, went on strike or left the country to play golf for six months. No one died, no one got hurt, it was just a few words that backfired on the player that uttered them within a week.
But at what point does criticism cross a line? You see, when pundits, ex-players and media types stick the knife in, the knife remains in. A steady flow of criticism shapes popular moods, especially those who are not capable of thinking and reasoning for themselves. The treatment of Raheem Sterling is a case in point.
Now we all know that there are certain people at a certain football club that struggle to accept that just maybe their club, a club with a long and illustrious history, is not currently top of the pecking order. They struggle to comprehend that winning lots of trophies in the days of the ZX Spectrum, Jim’ll Fix It & miners strikes does not count for much in the modern money-soaked game. A lack of comprehension that in fact every club has a rich history, founded as they were in the days of Queen Victoria, in an age when no one had even heard of boot rooms, the Kop or Mersey ferries. Ok, there’s been ferries across the Mersey for over 800 years, but you get my point. Even Manche$ter Citeh, the team with no history, happened to win the FA Cup in 1904 against Bolton Wanderers, without the assistance of any oil money at all, at the Crystal Palace, the Daily Mirror reporting that there were several very spirited battles of words on the grassy slopes, though no blows were thrown, and both sets of fans returned north friendly but “not a little fuddled”.
With all that in mind, there can be little surprise at how certain Liverpool “legends” reacted to the whole Sterling saga. Queues soon formed outside Mirror and Talksport HQs as they delivered their withering criticism. Can you blame the media for this? We all know that clickbait is a premium revenue source in modern journalism (apropos of nothing, RT this article for a chance to win a City 15/16 home kit), and many seem to listen to Talksport simply to get angry. Interviewing aggrieved Liverpool legends is easy hit after easy hit.
Anyway, they all had to have their say. A player that had been trumpeted as a future world star by these same people only months before, had now been downgraded to an OK player with potential but many flaws in his game. Jamie Carragher actually felt sick in his stomach that a 20-year-old could “take on” the Liverpool family in this way – i.e. want to leave. Much better to wait until you’re 24 like Gerrard did eh Jamie? Steve McMahon said he had moved disgracefully and disrespected the core values of Liverpool, whatever they are, which presumably Lovren did to Southampton the year before when forcing a move. Naturally, he thinks Liverpool are better off without him.
Phil Thompson, OBVIOUSLY, thought Liverpool had come out of the deal smelling of roses, whilst Sterling had let himself down. Naturally, he also wondered whether City had spent £44m on a player to the bench him. Yeah, of course they have Phil.
“I just hope City, after seeing what has happened, make certain he follows their rules and discipline because I fear for Manchester City in the years ahead,” he said.
“I’m hoping City get the best out of him. But they have got massive talent in the squad so will he play every week?”
Liverpool legend Steve Nicol wondered if Sterling would become the next Shaun Wright Phillips, having earlier opined that he could be the next Ronaldo if nurtured at Liverpool. Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard suggested Sterling “man up”, Liverpool legend John Aldridge waded in with some laughable drivel, Liverpool legend Ray Houghton had his say via Talksport as always, and Ken Dodd was so distraught he bombed on Celebrity Mastermind (15 points, oh dear). Liverpool legend Graeme Souness was next to warn Sterling against moving away from Anfield, whilst Liverpool legend John Barnes claimed Sterling was not ready for City yet, thus confirming that City have a better team than Liverpool right now.
“We’ve seen it with Scott Sinclair and Jack Rodwell at Manchester City. Where are they now?” he added. You not heard of Google, John?
Naturally too Jordon Ibe is better than Sterling anyway, a point Liverpool legend Dietmar Hamann was quick to make. Liverpool legend Michael Owen also had his say, but I fell asleep. Oh that’s it, just weeks after saying Sterling was better than Mesut Ozil, he proclaimed, naturally, that Sterling was replaceable. Liverpool legend Robbie Fowler said he was making a big mistake moving, and well I could do this for hours really, until I was quoting Rob Jones and John Scales. I didn’t even have time to quote Liverpool legend Mark Lawrenson, more’s the pity. And because of all this, this constant tidal wave of bullshit, Sterling will never walk alone, as he needs two security guards by his side at all times, especially when you add in the top banter of the likes of Paddy Power twitter accounts, calling our signings snakes, as did Talksport, who were more than happy to poll the most hated Premier League player. No prizes for guessing who won that. And every time an ex-Liverpool player called Sterling a disgrace, they made his life that little bit more difficult.
So is this all a part of being a footballer? Is any criticism valid, and it’s just a case of taking it on the chin, and letting “your football do the talking”? Until recently I hadn’t had much sympathy for the footballer’s lot, but seeing the treatment of my club’s two recent signings, one in particular, has made me wonder. Everyone’s entitled to an opinion, as the few readers of my season reviews will know, but we are dealing with human beings, who, amazingly, have feelings. Only recently has the psychological welfare of footballers been given any coverage at all, due to the all-too-common examples of depression that doesn’t avoid those with money in the bank. Perhaps it’s worth considering that the next time you wish death on a footballer for the crime of changing his employment, or if you used to play for Liverpool, perhaps get off your high horse and consider your actions before you open your mouth next time. Chance would be a fine thing.