Ever since the Abu Dhabi United Group entered the world of English football by buying Manchester City from the supposedly corrupt Thai tyrant Thaksin Shinawatra in August 2008, His Royal Highness Sheikh Mansour has been depicted as the man ruining football. With his immense wealth and the now vast array of talented footballers wearing the sky blue shirt at the Etihad Stadium, thanks to the multi-million pound cash injection, it is easy to see why City are both envied and despised. But mass envy towards City’s riches does not automatically equate to them ruining football, if there is one thing ruining football it is a lack of respect.
When the word ‘respect’ is used within the game it is automatically assumed that it means players being respectful to referees, but it has a much deeper meaning than that. A few years ago the FA’s Respect scheme was introduced whereby players ought to show respect to referees or be punished. In some ways it has worked, referees are, on the whole, not disrespected to the extent they once were but now respect needs to be taken to a whole new level.
Take Carlos Tévez for example; two weeks ago he executed one of the most disrespectful acts that a professional could commit – refusing to play. Not only did he disrespect the manager Roberto Mancini, who had turned to Tévez in his hour of need, but he disrespected the thousands of loyal fans who had travelled to Germany to watch their team in the Champions League. More importantly however, he disrespected his team-mates. Eleven men on the pitch at the Allianz Arena needed Carlos Tévez to introduce a bit of magic, something which could bring them back into a game they seemed all but out of. But he refused to take the field, causing all sorts of problems for Mancini and Manchester City and showing that despite earning in excess of £250,000 per week he has no respect for the club which employs him.
To say Tévez was the only example of a footballer showing a lack of respect to a fellow professional would be wide of the mark. In the modern game diving is commonplace, Paolo Di Canio, currently managing Swindon Town, has even encouraged his players to dive in order to win penalties and try and get an opponent sent off. Having said that, it is not just diving that shows a lack of respect, there are also certain players who wave imaginary cards at the referee in an attempt to get an opponent sent off. Take Liverpool midfielder Lucas for example, in the Merseyside derby a few weeks ago he played a significant part in earning Everton’s Jack Rodwell a straight red card for a tackle that was not even a bookable offence (it has now been overturned). Remarkably, respect doesn’t just lie with the players.
Every week thousands of fans stand on the terraces, cheering on their heroes, supporting their respective clubs. The majority without any problems, yet still even in the latter stages of 2011 there are songs and chants about footballing tragedies such as Munich, Hillsborough and Heysel. There are despicable songs sung about individuals too, such as the two Leeds United fans stabbed in Istanbul in 2000. We have even turned on the professional footballers themselves, most recently the Arsenal fans who have aimed vile and abusive chants at Emmanuel Adebayor ever since his departure from the club in 2009. This must be stopped because it is this that is ruining our game. It’s been described by some as ‘tribalism’, but is that what it really is? When the word ‘tribalism’ is mentioned the first thing that springs to my mind is a sense of community, kinship and family. That is something which we don’t want removed from the game. After all, what is wrong with two sets of fans despising each other for 90 minutes while they support their team? Those fans would more likely than not end up discussing the game in a pub or at work the next day. If we remove the fans’ passion from the game then football will have well and truly died.
It isn’t ‘tribalism’ that is ruining the game, nor is it passion that is ruining the game, it’s a lack of respect. Professional footballers not respecting the fans or their fellow pros, but most importantly fans not respecting one another.