Of all the cities in the world that I have binged on, Barcelona would have to be in my top five. And I don’t necessarily mean for debauchery and depravity. Barcelona is a bohemian city and as such its cultural offerings run much deeper than Irish bars and replica Messi shirts.
Barcelona has always been willing to tolerate the excesses of its artists. Miro, Dali and Antonio Gaudi are represented and revered in equal measure all over the city and devoted connoisseurs of their work flock to Barcelona to pay homage to their legacy.
And that had led to a problem. The permanent residents of Barcelona have had enough of all these flockers. House prices have gone through the roof as landlords buy up apartment blocks in bulk and rent them to the hoards of tourists descending on the city each year. Tourist numbers in the last four years alone are up an astonishing 25%; the city is at breaking point.
“Els turistes van a casa seva.” Before the start of the week the slogan adopted by anti-tourism Catalans, which roughly translates as ‘Tourists Go Home’, might have seemed a little harsh, not least given the fact that if Catalonia ever does win independence from Spain then it is almost certain that tourism will be the money spinner that underpins its economic stability.
But they didn’t count on the Brits did they?
“We’ll show them that we can behave! Send in Myhill, Livermore, Evans and Barry.”
“But Colonel Pardew, Privates’ Myhill and Livermore have only ever been used as back-ups and human shields, and, between us, everybody thinks that Captain Evans is better than he really is.”
“What about Lieutenant Barry?”
“Colonel Pardew, historically Lieutenant Barry stays so far under the radar that nobody can tell if he’s actually contributing to the cause or not.”
“Exactly! The perfect men for the job, honest, discreet, unassuming…”
“But Colonel Pardew I….”
Look, we’ve all been there. Well, maybe not in the middle of Barcelona at 5:30am having allegedly stolen a taxi, but we have all done stupid things abroad that we regret. My wife thinks that despite all the negative publicity due to their profession, they are in fact lucky to have a club behind them to liaise with the authorities. “If they’d been four normal lads from Birmingham they’d still be in jail,” she sniped.
In one way she’s right. But I think given that she’s married to a footballer my wife is rather missing the point – don’t tell her that though. The wider concern for me is that with West Brom rock bottom of the Premier League and looking odds-on to be playing Championship football next season, what on earth were they doing out with a match to play on Saturday?
I can tell you that in the standard contract version of an agreement that all players have to sign there is a line of text that reads: “No player shall visit licenced premises 48 hours before the day of a game”.
It is alleged that the players drove a taxi from a McDonalds back to their hotel at 5:30am on Thursday. Personally, I’m astonished that Pardew allowed his players to go out - curfew or not – but I’m not in the least bit surprised that the players took the piss. I’ve seen it a million times before.
I’ve played for managers that want to be mates with their players and in some cases, who act as if they still are a player. And each time the players took the piss out of the manager.
I also played for a Premier League manager that kept his players at arm’s length and enforced a zero-tolerance attitude towards anything other than training hard and winning football matches. If a player stepped out of line then he wasn’t just fined, he never played again. That manager wasn’t overly liked but he never had to deal with a single negative headline. It isn’t always the manager that commands the respect from his players; it is the consequences that the players respect. Fining millionaires is generally not a huge deterrent.
Even so, the little kid inside me laughs when I see headlines like the ones that appeared on Thursday morning. But the footballer in me gets frustrated at another bunch of players setting the ‘we’re not all thick footballers’ movement back another five years.
And I also despise the reputation that Brits have as being shameless abroad too, especially in places like Barcelona, which is full of so much more than cheap booze and Happy Meals. I mean… McDonalds? In Barcelona? It makes me shudder. That alone should be a club fine as a matter of principle.
Traditionally, this week every year affords an opportunity for clubs to go away and refresh their batteries. Those clubs that are out of the FA Cup can find themselves at the mercy of a free week in which refreshing the batteries is seen as no bad thing. There are lots of players right now enjoying that feeling of the sun on their backs as they train in foreign climes and, believe me, a change of scenery can really work.
But West Brom should never have been away this week, much less have been afforded a night out, and that is the misjudgement of only one man: Alan Pardew.
“Colonel Pardew, I bring bad news…. the mission to boost Anglo-Catalan relations has been neutralised.”
“My God, I’m shocked man. What happened?”
“It appears the men became distracted from the brief, got pissed up, went to a McDonalds and stole a taxi…”
“McDonalds!? This is a disaster!”
“Colonel Pardew, don’t worry… we still have Salomon Rondon.”
“Rondon you say? See if we have any cyanide left….”
Our man inside the game has seen plenty of midweek trips to the sun backfire