Aug 21, 2015
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Soldado, Di Maria, De Bruyne: In defence of the modern footballer

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After leaving his home country of Spain for the bright lights of the Premier League for a fee around £26m, not many would’ve predicted that the once-goal machine of Roberto Soldado would’ve ended up back in Iberia just two years later.

Plundering 81 goals in 141 appearances for a Valencia side having to sell the furniture to keep the financial wolves from the door, Spurs fans heralded the signing of the Spanish international, only for him to be a figure of fun not even a year later.

Flop. Failure. Not cut out for the Premier League.

But what Soldado said after joining Villarreal last week, for £19m less than what it took to prise him from the Mestalla in 2013, is the most telling part of the story.

“I’ve been away for two years in which I haven’t been able to give my best. I’ve spent two very difficult years in England where I lost my confidence.?I want to return to play at a good level and score lots of goals. I want to go back to being the player I used to be.”

Think about for a second. This is a man who came over to England unable to speak English, in a completely different culture both on and off the pitch, with a family who may not have been able to speak English themselves. That’s before you even get to the reported miscarriage his wife suffered.

Is it any wonder that he didn’t set the Premier League alight, when off the pitch he went through a horrendous time?

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The same could be said for Angel Di Maria too; putting aside all the normal acclimatisation that comes with football transfers, this is a guy who was in a similar boat to Soldado, and had the trauma of a break-in in a house that couldn’t have felt like home.

You could argue that he gave off the impression he didn’t want to be at Manchester United with all the quotes about him preferring PSG, but the fact remains that he was unhappy off the pitch and performances dropped with it.

But the sad part is that he nor Soldado will get any sympathy for their sadness. Why? Because they have earned, and will earn, a lot of money by being footballers.

Fans are common to stress how the gap between the supporters and the players they support has widened so much, but it surely cannot be a surprise when footballers are expected to behave like robots; they will have good games every time they step on the pitch. They will live up to the price tag.

It simply doesn’t work like that, because they are human.

The absurdity that comes from constant expectation is crazy, especially in transfers. We’re living in a generation where football is constantly available 24/7, but that comes with it a hell of a lot of perils.

A player is hyped up on opinions solely based on Youtube clips and fleeting glimpses; the second they play, they are watched like hawks, and the second they don’t live up to those expectations they are ridiculed and tantrums occur because those fans don’t get exactly what they were looking for.

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An ex-footballer I had met recently told me he wasn’t jealous at all of the sums of money that players nowadays were earning, because he was able to live in a time where he could walk down the pub and have a drink with supporters.

Forward that a few generations, and you get instances like the story about David Moyes last year. A man who had lost his job recently, being barracked by people who didn’t know him, in the hope of winding him up, and being surprised when a scuffle broke out because of it, before being splashed all over the front pages in hours.

Is that right?

Just because footballers at the top level earn money beyond what many who watch them earn does not mean that people should be abused. Many players are branded money-grabbers nowadays without any context at all.

Take Luke Shaw. A starlet at Southampton who rose to the limelight very quickly, who attracts attention from Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United, with the latter buying him for around £30m, on a wage upwards of £100k a week.

A 19 year old has a contract placed in front of him that, even after tax, has an extortionate salary attached to it that would not only set him up for life if managed carefully, but most likely his family too.

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If you put yourself in those shoes, would you say no?

Not at all. Of course you hear stories about players being arrogant or unfriendly, but you get that with people earning a fraction of that anyway, because they have personalities themselves.

It just seems to me that football matches, once something that people used to go to so that they could have a laugh with friends and family, are now a lot of the time almost arenas so that frustrations over work and home life can be expelled, because those on the receiving end can’t react back.

It was summed up when Kevin De Bruyne said after a fine received for swearing at a ball boy last season, that ‘they can call me a son of a b***h, and I have to pay €20,000”. That is a rare case of a footballer being allowed to say what he truly thinks, which is another case altogether.

But footballers will be continued to be viewed as robots, who must perform to our every whim and command, because they are paid to do it. Football may have changed for the good in many respects, but the fact they’re no longer seen as human isn’t good at all. Just ask Soldado.

Featured image: All rights reserved by chao1989 
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