The problems at Chelsea in recent weeks with John Terry and Ashley Cole’s off-the-field indiscretions are symptomatic of the modern footballer. Rich beyond belief when barely out of their teens, contemporary Premier League footballers surround themselves with a plethora of advisers, agents and hangers-on.
It’s a culture upon which Sir Alex Ferguson is leading a one-man fight-back.
News emerged this week that Ferguson, always wary of young footballers adopting a celebrity lifestyle too early, has not only banned the academy side from wearing coloured boots but curtailed any interviews with the players by the in-house TV channel MUTV.
An extraordinary move it is but one squarely out of the Sir Alex’ school of coaching. And who can argue with the man who has helped to develop more world-class talent than almost any coach alive?
The Scot, who famously fell out with David Beckham over the players’ perceived lack of focus on football, detests a culture in which footballers enjoy lionisation to a degree that is more than healthy.
“They’re less ready to hold their hands up,” Ferguson said pointedly late last year.
“If you go back several years you had a player with a certain pride and responsibility for their own performance. They were less protected, so they could come in and say, ‘Hands up, it was my fault’. That was good.
“But today they’re very protected, fragile, more fragile than ever, and that’s a lot to do with the type of people who protect them. Agents and even, to a degree, the press do protect them a bit, the stars, whereas a few years ago they didn’t have that protection.”
It’s an attitude that Ferguson sees as not only endemic but tied up with a celebrity lifestyle that seemingly begins with coloured boots and ends with a sarong at a fashion show.
Ferguson’s tough stance is nothing new of course. The Scot shrouded the early part of Ryan Giggs’ career in secrecy, with little to no media access allowed and the Welshman’s every move closely monitored by Ferguson’s coaching staff. Stories that the Scot himself turned up at the winger’s house in the early hours are not beyond the mark.
Indeed, among the Scot’s many strengths as a manger is his microscopic attention to detail, which goes as far knowing the names of every single player of United’s books. It can run to hundreds of boys.
And while the number of coaching sessions taken by the manger in the last decade are minimal, the rule over his players’ lifestyle is total. Given the behaviour of some modern footballers, Ferguson is right.
It is perhaps why United’s manager has such admiration for Wayne Rooney, who is not only the complete footballer but a consummate professional. The former Everton player is a happy family man whose immaturity it a thing of the very distant past.
Ferguson spoke with warmth this week of Rooney’s professionalism on the training pitch and the time the striker finds for the fans.
“He’s a one-off in terms of the modern type of fragile player we’re getting today, cocooned by their agents, mothers and fathers, psychologists, welfare officers,” Ferguson told the Observer.
“Rooney’s a cut to the old days. His attitude is: ‘Give me the ball, I’ll tell you how good I am.’ He’s a throwback. I don’t think he has any inhibitions about that. He knows what he is.
“What we’re seeing now is a terror of a player. What he’s got that he can’t lose is an in-built hunger, in-built energy, in‑built desire. Some people are born with these things. We’ve seen many players like that, by the way, and they’ve all been great players. Some really ordinary players have made great careers because they’ve got this drive inside them.”
It’s a lesson the manager is keen to hand down to the academy players now wearing very black boots at Carrington.