My reaction to a recent incident on a Premier League pitch might seem out of step to some of you, but hear me out before dismissing my take on an incident that seemed to gain universal sympathy for a recent recruit to the Watford cause.
Nathaniel Chalobah found himself described as naive in some quarters, chiefly by himself, while, generally speaking, the football-watching world appeared to turn on Harry Arter for having shouted “leave it”, an act which evidently led Chalobah to do just that and decide not to shoot at the Vitality Stadium.
Chalobah later claimed he had assumed that the call had instead come from Tom Cleverley, a team-mate, and the lack of punishment for Arter, Bournemouth’s experienced international midfielder, turned out to be a feature of the coverage of the match.
If you ask me, it is up to every individual player to show sufficient awareness as to the location of players around them, and if you are going to let people’s words overrule that essential obligation to your team during a game, you have only yourself to blame.
Let me tell you now, it’s a ruthless world out there. Mothers, misdemeanours, your missus, kids and
whatever happens to be going around the rumour mill that weekend are all fair game for those determined to put you off. You simply have to have the strength to rise above it, in my opinion.
Where do you draw the line in the tunnel, for example or with a player who makes it his business to get to you, either to begin with or as soon as he senses weakness?
I actually used to end up ignoring Craig Bellamy, because it seemed to me he put himself off more than anything else, but he was far from the only one!
In a previous column I mentioned a kind of brush with this sort of thing, when Joe Hart succeeded in getting in my head in a vital game for Fulham at the Etihad. He was less successful in keeping out the rebound as it turned out, but even if we had dropped points and gone down, believe you me I would not have been squealing about ungentlemanly conduct.
You might be interested to know it has actually come up in charity games I have played this year, when I have indeed been punished for not giving a name, and that was when I was shouting at one of my own players! If you ask me, trying to get a free kick for such things really is clutching, but then I can see the argument about the spirit of the game.
And cleaning up the actual industrial language used in these exchanges is missing the point, too; you can get the message across as many ways as you like once you know a player is susceptible.
So believe me when I say I’m not being contentious for the sake of it, I just think there are far nastier, more sinister things to be weeded out before attempting to ‘clean up’ something which has been a part of the game for as long as I can remember.
Of course, they say it’s important that the same Laws should apply across all levels of the game and that Arter would have been in more trouble doing what he did out on a park on any given Sunday morning. But let’s be realistic, that’s far too fussy when what every player really needs to learn to do is turn the other cheek.