After weeks of making appearances from the bench, Lucas Torreira finally arrived as an Arsenal player. Pictures of him sitting on the Uruguay bench with his leg wrapped in ice packs brought back memories of wincing every time a tackle was made in a match. Horse placentas, as well.
It’s been a while but welcome back international break, we’ve missed you. Not.
That said, his injury looked nowhere near as severe as that suffered by Luke Shaw, and I wish him a full and speedy recovery.
So, Nations League? The idea that it was supposed to make friendlies more competitive didn’t reach Iceland as they lost 6 – 0 to Xhaka-inspired Switzerland. Yes, I know; “Xhaka-inspired” isn’t a phrase I expected to use this season. I was thinking of giving a double-barrelled name in the team line-ups: Xhaka-booked. It saves myself the trouble of typing a sentence the following day if we all accept his as read.
Like Ramsey, he plays differently for his country, in a role for the side which is designed to bring out the best in his abilities. It was noticeable yesterday that he had a purely defensive-minded midfielder alongside him. That helped for when he lunged for the ball and missed, someone was there to pick up the pieces. Of his opponent’s leg and then mop up the loose ball.
Danny Welbeck was almost England’s hero until the referee blew for a non-existent foul on De Gea. After the match, Harry Kane drooled. Nothing else, he just drooled everywhere in his gormless way. Which was more than he did on the pitch.
Gareth Southgate challenged his team to become World Number One. After a bright start, they were number two. Spain who gave them a footballing lesson: you can’t play if you don’t have the ball.
And What, Pray Tell, Is Normal?
One man whose international ambitions stalled in recent years is Hector Bellerin. The Catalan Cockney Geezer isn’t so chirpy anymore. In fact, he seems at times to be worn down by the whole football thing. It’s a point he makes in a Times interview (paywalled).
I’m not surprised. Footballers tend to leave their social media to PR firms; Bellerin doesn’t and runs the gauntlet of abuse which any right-minded person finds repulsive:
“Some of it can get very abusive.
“Most of the abuse is online, but you hear it in the stadium too. People have called me ‘lesbian’ for growing my hair. There are other kinds of homophobic insults.”
He makes no bones that it gets to him at times:
“I have learnt to grow a thick skin but it can affect you. Every now and again, you get a bit of self-doubt.”
He wouldn’t be ‘normal’ – whatever that is – if it didn’t. The astounding thing about it is that these aren’t kids most of the time. They are adults who can do things like drive, drink, and vote; no wonder we’re in the state we are.
People complain footballers are distant and nowhere near as approachable as they were back in the day. Little wonder when they run the gauntlet on the occasions they do interact with supporters. As I discussed in yesterday’s post, the ills of society are caused by football but the game is bedevilled by them as well.
Bellerin sums up his social media experience as “a blessing and a curse”. Read reactions after a defeat and you understand Bellerin’s account. He notes the worst of it came around the time of the capitulation at Crystal Palace. He was a lightning rod for the disaffection with the team’s performances and deleted the apps.
A lot of the grief is reminiscent of that directed at Graeme Le Saux. Like Bellerin, he didn’t fit the stereotype of a footballer, making the mistake of admitting to being a Guardian reader when footballers only cared about Wot The Sun Sed. Well, the Sun probably carried the rumours of him being gay despite knowing they weren’t true. It was the ‘culture’ then and Bellerin believes football still isn’t ready for an openly gay player:
“It is impossible that anybody could be openly gay in football.
“Some fans are not ready. When it happened in rugby with the Welsh player [Gareth Thomas], people respected the situation. The fans respected his decision. In football, the culture is different. It can be very personal, very nasty, particularly for players from the opposition team.”
Robbie Fowler was the chief culprit with Le Saux. His defence for his actions? “There was no malice meant,” which made everything alright.
Thomas didn’t have the mythical ‘easy ride’ after coming out but Bellerin’s hunch that football would be more intense, abusive, is not wrong. You only have to look at social media reactions to initiatives such as Rainbow Laces and posts by Arsenal’s LGBT community to see how much work remains in eradicating homophobia. Alas, it is the same in life as well.
Bellerin hopes for a ‘live and let live’ attitude to prevail.
“People should be able to express themselves without feeling threatened. That is true in football, but also in life.
“I don’t know why people are so angry when someone wants to be a bit different. So long as nobody is being harmed, what is the problem?”
It’s a utopian dream given the febrile society we live in. Anything or anyone who doesn’t conform must be cast out. And we call ourselves civilised.