Correct us if we’re wrong here, but isn’t football’s silly season supposed to peter out once the season actually starts? Not so, it seems. Here we are with three games gone in the Premier League and the fluff is still overshadowing the important stuff. It’s almost as if a media that had to rely on the mad and mundane for the off-season finds itself unable to kick the habit.
Unfortunately, sideshows are a built-in add-on to all sport now and have been for some time. The transfer window and the expanding cottage industry it has spawned is enough in itself to make that apparent with more than one manager wondering in recent weeks just why exactly it should spill so far over into the season having been open for so long over the summer.
John Stones to Chelsea? Neymar to Manchester United? Excuse us while we giggle at that second one, though for laughs you would be hard-pressed to find a better example of humour than the advert placed by Sunderland striker Jermaine Defoe for a personal assistant who should be au fait at everything from launching his global brand to stocking his fridge.
The general reaction to that has been all too predictable, though there was hardly less mirth when it emerged a day later that AC Milan had written some eyebrow-raising clauses into the contract they had signed with Mario Balotelli on the unpredictable striker’s return to the club after his ill-fated stint with Liverpool.
No far-out haircuts, no ridiculous clothes and no smoking were three edicts from a list of regulations supposedly based on those for recruits to the Italian Air Force. Another one on the absolute requirement for generally good behaviour, suggesting that their old/new employee should refrain from smoking, nightclubs, limit his consumption of alcohol and turn up for training on time.
There are a few things to be said on this: The first and most obvious is that if you feel the need to write all that down on paper on a legal document and make the player sign it then surely someone in Milan should have raised the question as to whether this is the sort of guy you should be forking out sizeable sums on and adding to your dressing-room.
This is someone who fired a cap gun from a car in a public piazza, drove into a women’s prison for a look around, threw darts at a youth team player in training and saw part of his house set on fire with a firework. If history tells us anything it is that Balotelli is impossible to keep on the straight and narrow.
Jose Mourninho, let’s not forget, called him “unmanageable”.
But then, Balotelli is merely the latest poster boy for a long line of rebels in football who have refused to abide by ‘The Man’s’ rules and the eternal conundrum is if the high risk of strife is worth their input on the park. Because the uncomfortable truth for those who seek to hem their employees in with such rigid parameters is that some people just aren’t meant to be corralled that way.
You could write dozens of columns on the game’s legion of bad boys, but we’ll limit this to two of our favourites. First up is Brazilian striker Romario who, in 1997, responded to reports in Spain that his then employers at Valencia were looking to restrict his extra-curricular activities by saying: “In my private life I do what I like. The night is my friend. If I don’t go out I don’t score.” Indeed.
Paul Gascoigne was another to flaunt his less than faultless lifestyle as a player, most notably in 1996 when he was pictured having alcohol poured into him while sat on the infamous ‘Dentist’s Chair’ in the weeks before England began their Euro ’96 campaign: An act he duly simulated in celebration on the pitch at Wembley after scoring against Scotland.
The latter was a country he knew well, of course, given he spent three years playing for Rangers and during which time he incurred the wrath of Celtic fans and the game’s authorities for playing a mock flute during one Old Firm game at Celtic Park in January of 1998, yet he enjoyed plenty of success on the field in Glasgow, too.
Two league titles, a Scottish Cup and a Scottish league Cup were bagged in his relatively short stint, some of which he leaned on as a defence approaching the summer of 1998 when his diet was being criticised in the run-up to a World Cup that he would ultimately miss when then manager Glenn Hoddle omitted him from his squad.
“I can’t see how one kebab can be the difference between beating one or three men or running from box to box or scoring a goal,” Gascoigne said before Hoddle’s decision and not long before he would enter the Priory for the first time to deal with his spiralling issues with alcohol.
“Bloody hell, in Scotland I had haggis and won the double.”
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