A lot is made about how modern football has been ruined by mercenaries. The incredibly talented athletes we love to watch are supposedly just doing their jobs for the astronomical sums of money we conspire to afford them. It’s said that they have no passion for the game to which they’ve devoted their lives and sacrificed their futures and hold no loyalty to the employers who demonstrate the same or the fans who are all too eager to turn on them with the weather. This is reason enough to despise and admonish them every chance we get.
If only these footballers truly cared, we say. If only they demonstrated the same passion that we do. Then they would be doing it right.
But as the current fog of idiocy that has surrounded Gerard Pique demonstrates, that’s not true either. In the minds of too many fans and pundits, footballers must live up to impossible and illogical standards and are only allowed to be wrong.
As Barcelona celebrated winning the treble last season, Gerard Pique jokingly thanked singer Kevin Roldan, who performed at Cristiano Ronaldo’s birthday party immediately after Real Madrid’s 4–0 loss to Atletico that captured the attention of a moralizing press and angered Madrid fans who once again felt their players weren’t showing the “proper” reverence for the game, setting a tone of resentfulness that saddled the club through a disappointing season. And Pique credited Roldan for this.
Since a great many football fans can’t take a bit of gentle ribbing, this made Pique enemy №1 amongst Madrid supporters and has transcended club level differences to once again cause bitter divisions for the Spanish national team.
So, Pique felt compelled to call a press conference in order to defend a truly harmless joke made several months ago.
From the Guardian:
At a press conference called to respond to the backlash, Piqué said: “I don’t regret my comments at all, I’d do it 1,000 times over because I’m like that. I’ll always want things to go badly for Madrid and this is the rivalry which has always existed.
“I am not going to change my ways and I have nothing to apologise for. Quitting the national team is the last thing I would do. That would be giving in to those who whistle me for the wrong reasons.
“I’ve always had the utmost commitment to the Spanish national team. As for the Barça-Madrid rivalry, I won’t change. I feel very good, on both a personal and sporting level. Yesterday I went mushroom picking. I am a happy man.”
First of all, the use of mushroom picking to express one’s contentment is a gift Pique has given us all. That needs to be appreciated and probably deserves its own space. But that aside, here’s a player telling us that he loves his club. That he cares about their rivalries and takes them to heart himself. And he expressed this in a perfectly healthy way. He didn’t punch a Madrid fan or insult their mothers. He made a benign joke that was as much about the press as it was about his rival club.
But instead of appreciating this passion that we claim to crave from footballers and showing Pique an adversarial respect, it’s thrown back in his face and used as a reason to express an inordinate amount of hate.
This doesn’t prove the theory that the players are the problem with the modern game, though. It proves that the people in the stands are the problem. Not all, obviously. Just the large swathes who have adopted an infantile narcissism and demand constant pantomime shows of respect.
The players are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. If they don’t act like fans, they’re heartless mercenaries and if they do act like fans, they’re disrespectful buffoons.
Of course, to hope for widespread introspection is futile. Players will continue to be blamed for not contorting themselves to fit into distinctly separate boxes of acceptability and those getting offended by what they claim to desire will continue to not be held accountable for the supposed ruinedness of the modern game. Maybe we should all just go pick some mushrooms.