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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

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Hopes of an anti-Brexit party are illusory, but Remainers have a new plan to stay in the EU

Stopping Brexit may prove an impossible task. Remainers are looking to the "Article 49 strategy": reapplying for EU membership. 

The Remain campaign lost in the country, but it won by a landslide in parliament. On 23 June 2016, more than two-thirds of MPs voted for EU membership. Ever since the referendum, the possibility that parliament could thwart withdrawal, or at least soften it, has loomed.

Theresa May called an early general election in the hope of securing a majority large enough to neutralise revanchist Remainers. When she was denied a mandate, many proclaimed that “hard Brexit” had been defeated. Yet two months after the Conservatives’ electoral humbling, it appears, as May once remarked, that “nothing has changed”. The government remains committed not merely to leaving the EU but to leaving the single market and the customs union. Even a promise to mimic the arrangements of the customs union during a transition period is consistent with May’s pre-election Lancaster House speech.

EU supporters once drew consolation from the disunity of their opponents. While Leavers have united around several defining aims, however, the Remainers are split. Those who campaigned reluctantly for EU membership, such as May and Jeremy Corbyn, have become de facto Brexiteers. Others are demanding a “soft Brexit” – defined as continued single market membership – or at least a soft transition.

Still more propose a second referendum, perhaps championed by a new centrist party (“the Democrats” is the name suggested by James Chapman, an energetic former aide to George Osborne and the Brexit Secretary, David Davis). Others predict that an economic cataclysm will force the government to rethink.

Faced with this increasingly bewildering menu of options, the average voter still chooses Brexit as their main course. Though Leave’s referendum victory was narrow (52-48), its support base has since widened. Polling has consistently shown that around two-thirds of voters believe that the UK has a duty to leave the EU, regardless of their original preference.

A majority of Remain supporters, as a recent London School of Economics study confirmed, favour greater controls over EU immigration. The opposition of a significant number of Labour and Tory MPs to “soft Brexit” largely rests on this.

Remainers usually retort – as the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, put it – “No one voted to become poorer.” Polls show that, as well as immigration control, voters want to retain the economic benefits of EU membership. The problem is not merely that some politicians wish to have their cake and eat it, but that most of the public does, too.

For Remainers, the imperative now is to avoid an economic catastrophe. This begins by preventing a “cliff-edge” Brexit, under which the UK crashes out on 29 March 2019 without a deal. Though the Leave vote did not trigger a swift recession, a reversion to World Trade Organisation trading terms almost certainly would. Although David Davis publicly maintains that a new EU trade deal could swiftly be agreed, he is said to have privately forecast a time span of five years (the 2016 EU-Canada agreement took seven). A transition period of three years – concluded in time for the 2022 general election – would leave the UK with two further years in the wilderness without a deal.

A coalition of Labour MPs who dislike free movement and those who dislike free markets has prevented the party endorsing “soft Brexit”. Yet the Remainers in the party, backed by 80 per cent of grass-roots members, are encouraged by a recent shift in the leadership’s position. Although Corbyn, a Bennite Eurosceptic, vowed that the UK would leave the single market, the shadow Brexit secretary, Keir Starmer, and the shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, have refused to rule out continued membership.

A group of Remainers from all parties met in the Labour MP Chuka Umunna’s office before recess, and they are hopeful that parliament will force the government to commit to a meaningful transition period, including single market membership. But they have no intention of dissolving tribal loyalties and uniting under one banner. A year after George Osborne first pitched the idea of a new party to Labour MPs, it has gained little traction. “All it would do is weaken Labour,” the former cabinet minister Andrew Adonis, a past Social Democratic Party member, told me. “The only way we can defeat hard Brexit is to have a strong Labour Party.”

In this febrile era, few Remainers dismiss the possibility of a second referendum. Yet most are wary of running ahead of public opinion. “It would simply be too risky,” a senior Labour MP told me, citing one definition of insanity: doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

Thoughtful Remainers, however, are discussing an alternative strategy. Rather than staging a premature referendum in 2018-19, they advocate waiting until the UK has concluded a trade deal with the EU. At this point, voters would be offered a choice between the new agreement and re-entry under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty. By the mid-2020s, Remainers calculate, the risks of Brexit will be clearer and the original referendum will be history. The proviso is that the EU would have to allow the UK re-entry on its existing membership terms, rather than the standard ones (ending its opt-outs from the euro and the border-free Schengen Area). Some MPs suggest agreeing a ten-year “grace period” in which Britain can achieve this deal – a formidable challenge, but not an impossible one.

First, though, the Remainers must secure a soft transition. If the UK rips itself from the EU’s institutions in 2019, there will be no life raft back to safe territory. The initial aim is one of damage limitation. But like the Leavers before them, the wise Remainers are playing a long game.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear