Més Que Un Column

It’s been a week full of personal criticism for Premier League players and managers alike. Then again, so was last week, and the week before, and the week before…

With the shallowness of much of the tabloid press and the anonymity of social media continuing to make the lives of footballers increasingly scrutinised, it begs the question: Why are those involved in football treated so differently to the ordinary citizen?

Last Wednesday, Jose Mourinho made me fall in love with him even more, something he’s continued to do over the last six months. This is coming from a Liverpool fan who grew up watching the Portuguese coach dominate in England at Chelsea, shush tens of thousands of Reds at the 2005 League Cup Final, gouge the late Tito Vilanova in the eye, stop our title dreams of 2014 dead in the tracks, before heading to our biggest rivals where he’s inevitably going to win the Champions League this season. Yeah, them lot.

United being eighth in the league helps of course, but for some reason, I’m still in the minority. Everyone else still sees him as the petulant spiteful character that he for so long portrayed, rather than the sole hope of the only man left in the league who couldn’t give a shit about mainstream rational thinking.

Just imagine being in that bus when he gets off and walks to the ground three weeks ago. The stuff of dreams.

Following family insults, spitting and ninety minutes of verbal abuse from the Italians, Mourinho’s cupping of the ear to the Juve fans last Wednesday was a thing of beauty. Yet, of course, he was labelled as the wrongdoer, as the sore loser and as a man ‘losing it’ by many in the media and nine-year-olds using a fake date of birth in order to create a social media account.

On Sunday, Kyle Walker took to Twitter and goaded United players and fans following their 3-1 victory at the Etihad. Although it was right to have been taken down for its desperate cringe-worthiness alone, if you were one of the lucky ones to have seen the tweet before it was deleted, you would have known the post was guaranteed to be ephemeral, burning up as quickly as every other sides’ title hopes following the derby.

You would have known that within minutes, if not seconds, that public reaction, demands from Guardiola and City’s club captain, as well as Walker’s agent, PR officer and family amongst others would be on to him to take it down. Mainly for its controversy rather than its immaturity. You would have known that the Tweet was a rare burst of reality in a world full of bland media-trained statements.

In the same game, Juan Mata and Alexis Sanchez were the unlucky ones who were spotted having a joke and a laugh (probably about City’s fans’ weird obsession with Liverpool) while their side were one-nil down.

Those who believe that footballers shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy themselves unless they’re holding a silver pot above their head in May had a field day.

Fuckin’ hell mate, bet you’re a laugh at parties.

Just zoom out and get some perspective on this for a moment. Two lads, one of whom does arguably more charity work than any other footballer in the league, have a brief chuckle while sitting on the bench watching their team lose a football match one-nil to a side who’ve lost twice in their last 58 league outings. Yet it’s deemed sacrilege due to the money they earn. They have full responsibility to sit there for the full ninety minutes looking grim and depressed over a football match just in case the camera pans on to their faces for a second or two, in order to convey that they have the same passion as the supporters around them.

COPA90 did a really good interview with Dejan Lovren two weeks back. In it, the discussion turned towards fans and their lofty expectations of footballers.

“But you don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, everyone’s a human being and sometimes maybe he had a bad week, maybe he was sick. Nobody was writing if he was sick, his kids are sick or something like that, or he had many problems at home or abroad.”

I think it’s something people who have never seen their side play in the flesh struggle to understand, and this is coming from someone who has only been to a handful of Premier League matches in his life.

But when you’re there, you pass through an odd barrier in between the virtual world and reality. After seeing these men on television, newspapers and phones on a daily basis for years, there’s a strange almost underwhelming effect when you see them in real life.

You realise they are just humans. They have two ears, a mouth, a nose and two eyes. When they’re given a water bottle at full-time, they drink it in the same way you would. When they get substituted, they put on their jacket the same way anybody else would. When there are no dramatic slow-motion shots of them making a last-ditch tackle, and you see everything as it really is, they become surprisingly human.

It does make you realise that these men aren’t superhuman, nor does their status as millionaires render other people’s opinions as meaningless to them. They are like you and I, just much better at footie.

Imagine being Trent Alexander-Arnold. Since the age of eighteen, he’s not been able to go out with his mates and get smashed in his home city, nor will he be able to for the next ten or fifteen years for fear of ending up on the front page of The Express or The Sun, as Wayne Rooney did two years ago this week.

Yet what has he done to deserve this? Was he meant to turn down a contract with Liverpool because he’d like the occasional beer?

Charlie Austin is an example of what a footballer should be able to be. His rant at the weekend was akin to that of someone off a football fan channel on YouTube.

But for once, an incident involving a footballer being human hasn’t resulted in a load of nine-year-olds berating that said footballer on Twitter. Both the mainstream and social media have largely seen Austin losing his rag as a positive, while it’s also produced a really good Blur cover.

But the big deal that’s been made around the interview is just another sign of how seldom footballers feel free of the fear to express themselves.

Lay off them, they’re only humans. Let Trent Alexander-Arnold have a pint.

Oh, and don’t buy The Sun.

All the best.