Comparisons between Olympic Medalists and Premier League Players are unfair




Probably for the first time since its early years, the Premier League enters a new season with a somewhat muted fanfare. For one, the London Olympics have just finished and the UK is still flushed with the success of its medalists. For two, the English game is undergoing a modest period of revisionism after the conduct of Team GB's Olympians throws the behaviour of the Premier League all-stars into sharp focus, both on and off the pitch.

Compare, if you will, the foul mouthed glory hunting antics of Chelsea's John Terry against the shining bright eyes and wholesome image of Jessica Ennis, who didn't need to gate crash her medal celebrations as Terry did at the end of the Champions League Final, a match for which he was suspended. In fact the recent court case in which Terry was forced to defend the charge of racially aggravated assault, successfully, only served to underline the culture of abuse that exists in the game, even at the highest level.

Yes it's fair to say that English football is in the dock with the great and the good crawling out of the floor space calling upon the players to evoke the Olympic spirit, mind their manners, wash their mouths out with soap and generally behave to the standard set by the athletes of Team GB. And while I am sure that professional footballers can learn a lot from the British Olympians, much of the criticism, implied or otherwise smacks of sanctimony and middle class condescension.

Most Olympians, spend four years quietly building up to their big moment and for the most part they are left undisturbed by the media and public at large. They will pop up from time to time to compete in their European and World Championship but will then return to the relative peace of preparation before the eyes of the world turn on them for a couple of days. If they win, they become instantly famous and loved. They get to appear on cereal packets, lucrative sponsorship deals but ultimately, they get to got back to the business of preparing for the next event in six months, a year or even two years hence. Professional footballers have no such luxury.

Your average Premier League footballer enjoys a few weeks of respite during the Summer if he is lucky. Apart from that he must perform to his absolute maximum once or twice a week. Imagine Mo Farah having to race against a field of top class athletes week in week out in front of huge crowds and a global audience of millions. I'm not suggesting that he couldn't if he had to but over a ten month period it's fair to say that the pressure would take its toll, especially as his performance would be under constant scrutiny. It is possible that our perception of him may change over time and who knows, perhaps we will see a side of him that is at odds with the Olympic Spirit.

This is not to excuse the behaviour of Premier League players but it is unfair to compare their actions unfavourably with Olympians. While much is made of the money footballers are paid, it should be remembered that with huge wages comes massive expectation. Wayne Rooney, Theo Wallcott, Robin Van Persie, Carlos Tevez, Steven Gerrard, Andy Carroll, Mario Ballotelli and the multitude of others are under intense pressure to deliver performances and results, not once every four years but every week. I think of myself at 23 and can't imagine myself being able to manage that sort of pressure. Small wonder then that some of them tend to present the appearance of beings from another planet and that some will go off the rails.

So yes, you can expect to see play acting, imaginary cards, referee baiting, dissent, bad tackles, feuds, mind games, aggressive behaviour and the occasional off the pitch scandal. You will also hear tens of thousands of spectators baying for nothing less that 100% total commitment from these players and nine times out of ten that is what they'll get. Every week these guys walk off the pitch with nothing left but skin and bones. That's why people watch top class professional football and thats why it's brilliant. Perhaps if they only had to play once every four years, they might be able to show us their better sides.

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