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15 November 2015

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.

By Hunter Davies

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.

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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. 

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This article appears in the 11 Nov 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the threat to Britain