Why do footballers behave like children?

Liverpool’s Luis Suarez bit Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic on Sunday – the latest incident in a long-line of behavioral issues to plague the two Premier League clubs.

As any nursery school worker would tell you, every class has its problem child – the nose-picker, the pant-wetter, and, yes, the biter.

It would seem as though top-flight football clubs are no different. Whether it’s Ashley Cole ‘allegedly’ shooting a work experience student with a pellet gun, John Terry ‘reportedly’ urinating into class in a nightclub, or Luis Suarez’ biting habit, there’s always one.

But where the parallels end is that most children eventually grow up and learn to modify their behavior to fit socially acceptable norms. This seems not to be the case when it comes to adult professional footballers.

Whether they dabble in sexual deviance, substance abuse, driving offenses, or acts of violence is of their choosing, it would appear. Their antisocial behavior of choice is seldom consequential to their careers.

It’s not just footballers, I might add – golfers, basketball players, cyclists, it matters not – and it is by no means isolated to sport. This behaviour can be extended to high-profile professions all across the entertainment industry as well as the financial sector and, I suspect, the world over.

I’m not going to judge others for their behavior, but I am going to question where this behavior may come from. Isolated to professional footballers, I suspect, like most behavioural issues, they stem from early childhood experiences.

I have no claim to understand Sigmund Freud’s work any more than the next person but it does strike me as interesting that these young men, most in their twenties, have been sheltered, protected, and developed within football academies across the globe since they were six or seven years old.

Most top-level professional footballers have spent the majority of their formative years playing, eating, and sleeping only football. They are sent off to training camps and clubs and tournaments pretty much as soon as they can walk and talk. They are encouraged to think only about football.

As time goes by and they enter their teens, they continue to spend the best part of their lives with other young boys, predominantly under the strict supervision of elder men, withstanding the pressure of competition and physical, mental and emotional endurance test year after year.

They rarely have time to socialize – they accept their sacrifice for the rewards that come to those who succeed: riches, fame, and perhaps even a place in history; immortality.

As a consequence of their often isolated upbringing – the pressures and the preoccupations that come with it – and the effects of becoming a an expensive commodity, top professional footballers often seem to lack basic social skills, realistic world-views, and emotional maturity. They’ve never really needed any of those qualities to succeed nor to survive like the rest of the population.

If I bit a co-worker, I would expect to be fired, if not arrested and if I urinated in glass in a nightclub I would expect to be shamed by my peers and shunned as a social pariah. That would be the reasonable response to incidents of that nature.

However, professional footballers rarely face the consequences of their actions – they can assault their wives and girlfriends, members of the general public, commit marital infidelity, racially abuse one another, and break the law in any number of ways and face the very minimum if any repercussions.

Subsequently, they are under the impression perhaps that they are above the law, exception to the common rule, and, ultimately, irresponsible for their behaviour.

Nursery school workers know full well if a child’s behaviour needs to be corrected, the child must be made aware that their behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated. Footballers must be made aware of the very same. I think, for Luis Suarez, however, it may be too little too late for the naughty step.

image: © dannymol

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