Professionalism in football (or cheating as it used to be called)


One of the proudest moments of coaching my sons football team was after he scored a screamer, and then told the referee that he handled it in order to get it under control. Pride was bursting out of me, and my enthusiastic approval of that moment sparked a behaviour that sees my U’9s regularly offer the referee help in coming to a decision against our team. Honesty, integrity. Some might say old fashioned values, but they are values I want my own kids to grow up with and values I try to display in my own life. One opposing manager said to me ‘have you got the nicest bunch of lads in the world playing for you, or what?”. I am sure he was semi-mocking our ‘niceness’ but I was proud.

I am a Liverpool fan, and I was disgusted yesterday as my team won all three points at Crystal Palace thanks to Benteke cheating. Lets not dress it up as ‘doing the professional thing’ its cheating. I have watched and re-watched and I still can’t even see the minimal contact that apparently ‘definitely’ happened. This is not rose-tinted glasses, I am a Liverpool fan!

On the same weekend, I saw Michael Owen, a great player from Liverpool’s past interview the Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino on BT Sport. That is Michael Owen, who lets remember went over like an old lady on an icy morning when playing for England versus Argentina in the 2012 world cup. Pochettino was the player who stuck out a leg, and Michael didn’t need a second invitation. There was no contact that day either, none. Michael Owen cheated. England were awarded the penalty which David Beckham converted. Some blame Pochettino for being naive in sticking out a leg, Some say Michael Owen was being professional. Too few, in my opinion, call it cheating.

In this interview on BT Sport this weekend Pochettino called Michael Owen ‘clever’ for cheating and Owen seemed to admit that there was no contact in his laughing and mannerisms. CLEVER!? If this is what we are teaching our kids then we can’t complain when ‘the youth of today’ appear to lack a moral compass.

I saw a tweet from @whitehouseaddress today that said ‘Deceit is fundamental to football. The high “morality” of the English is holding the nation back from succeeding’ and to be honest, it made me angry and sad in equal measure. It seems to say that if they are all at it, we should do it as well. If you can’t beat them, join them. With morality and ethics the things we are willing to leave as we cross the white line in order to win at all costs.

What sort of message does that send our young about life? If you can’t win by fair means win by foul? The problem is that football has allowed the cheats to prosper for far too long, and now cheating has the new, more socially acceptable title of professionalism. It needs FIFA to stamp it out. Don’t bemoan the English and their morality – that is the easy way out.

Would you teach your kids to cheat in school? “Don’t bother working hard to earn an education son, just copy everything off the bright kid, yeah?” What about when they leave school? “Don’t work hard for a living son, just become a benefit cheat, or a thief, everyone else is at it so why not?” Cheating is cheating. When is it OK to cheat?

Stamp out the cheats, one red card and one big fine at a time, and then little by little we can get back a game that we can be proud of … and please, stop calling players who simulate a foul professional. Call them a cheat, because that is what they are.

I will no doubt be accused of being naive, and told that I don’t understand how football works. I do understand how I think life should work however, and as football has such a huge influence on our kids, we need to be careful what lessons football teaches them.



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