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Never have football's top players earned so much money – and enjoyed it less

The discipline now is brutal. All the staff at Man United will probably have to sign a form saying they’ll never talk to van Gaal unless he speaks first.

Oh no, it’s another weekend without any decent football, no Prem or Championship games, ’cos boring old England are having two friendlies against – oh, I can’t even be bothered to look them up, though I’ll watch them, obviously. But bang goes my lovely Saturday and Sunday routine, watching wall-to-wall Prem football, with breaks to stuff my face and sleep. I can now manage a kip of exactly 45 minutes on a Saturday afternoon between games. All it takes is practice.

I wonder if I can sue? BT advertised all the wonderful Euro Championship games they’re going to show us – but unless all four Prem teams progress, which seems unlikely, I think they’re guilty of getting money out of us on shaky grounds. Both BT and Sky put the price up all the time, yet we seem to get more empty weekends. Any road up, what am I going to do with myself this weekend? Then a thought struck me. What about the players?

Who cares, most fans will say – they have their millions to comfort them. But they, too, must hate this sort of weekend. Trailing across the world, often on their own, if they come from a small country, to play in some potty friendly, against another small country, where they might get injured and lose their Prem place.

And what do the ones who are not international players do? Stay in bed or pop over to Florida to look at their luxury apartment they’ve never seen? No chance. They’ll be getting whipped on the training ground till they bleed.

This is one of the lovely ironies about present-day football. The top players have never before earned such money – and enjoyed it less. The discipline now is brutal. All the staff at Man United will probably have to sign a form saying they’ll never talk to van Gaal unless he speaks first. That includes coaches who sit on the bench beside him. Mourinho, of course, issues death threats to staff who cross him.

Even that nice, calm Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs has as good as brought Andros Townsend’s Spurs career to an end, all for saying boo to a fitness coach. Steve McClaren at Newcastle is insisting all his players say please and thank you, wear club blazers in the showers, never chew gum and be hanged if they’re late for training.

Prem players live under continual fear and stress, restrictions and restraints. No wonder they have little time to enjoy their wealth. It’s not just their limbs that get knackered, but their teeth. A report last week said that 7 per cent of players felt their dental problems were affecting their play. It’s those stupid sugary so-called health drinks they swig all the time.

I did feel sorry for Jermain Defoe at Sunderland, having to advertise for a PA on £60k a year to stock his fridge and collect his dry-cleaning. He simply hasn’t the time. And what about poor old Raheem Sterling of Man City? He is too famous to go out and get his hair cut, so he’s had to instal a barber’s shop in his mansion. Did you see that TV prog about Wayne Rooney? He only has two little kids but their play area in the garden is about the size of Disneyland. They can’t play in the street like he did.

And when it comes to investing money, so many of them give the odd spare £10m to some wideboy financial adviser to put in a dodgy tax scheme – and never see it again.

Two weeks ago there was a news story about Arsenal’s reserve goalie, David Ospina, doomed probably never to get another game since Petr Cech arrived. I didn’t even know he was the reserve goalie, yet I go to Arsenal games, now and again. The amazing bit about the story was that he lives in a £16m house – a player I wouldn’t recognise if I met him in my porridge.

While he was away playing for Colombia against Peru, thieves broke in and stole one of his cars – a £100k Mercedes – had a joy ride, then dumped it.

So, this weekend, if you find yourself moaning about the lack of any decent footer, think about our elite footballers, wherever they are, either being shouted at or feeling worried sick. Remember them in your prayers. 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 12 November 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the threat to Britain

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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