It’s 6am. I am at my desk and I’m tired. As I write this, following an exhausting week of travelling and negotiation, I’m knackered. I could do with taking to my bed. Just for a few days. But I cannot.
Unlike those in salaried jobs, us self employed folk have to work even when we feel like crap. I cannot throw a sickie, even if I wanted to.
I have read with interest the differing opinions surrounding the ‘too tired to play for England’ stance of Liverpool striker Raheem Sterling.
On one hand you have Alan Shearer telling us the bleeding obvious (as always): The former Newcastle and England striker said: “‘I genuinely have never heard something like that in my career. Certainly not in a squad I was involved in. If I had, as either captain of Newcastle or England, I’d have gone straight up to the player and said “are you sure?” and that’s putting it mildly.”
Shearer droans on: “The working man who is up at 6am and home at 8pm does not want to hear about how tired a 19-year-old professional footballer is. And no, that is not just some cliché, it is what many people are thinking this morning.”
True Alan, it is what many people are thinking. But it is also a terribly tired cliché.
I happen to think Raheem Sterling should be thanked for his honesty. For not attempting to play when he wasn’t fit enough to do so. For not “doing a Michael Owen.”
Club and country flogged Owen to death. Or rather into an injury riddled career. Michael was a fine footballer who had one failing. He could not say ‘No.’ He allowed himself to be played when his body was screaming ‘no more.’ As a consequence, one of the finest English footballers of my lifetime was on the scrapheap sooner than he should have been.
It’s an old habit. For too long England managers have played our best players in matches for which they were surplus to requirements. Steven Gerard looked like a worn out dishcloth at the 2014 World Cup. Why was he played in the friendlies in November of 2013? He didn’t need to be.
Sterling is not workshy. He has proved that by playing in numerous positions (often those not suited to him). He has not thrown his toys out of the pram. He has turned up to play for his country. He wants to. That cannot be said of many who have gone before him, and even some who are in the current England squad.
Alan Shearer can be tired when uttering twaddle on ‘Match of the Day.’ Indeed, he looks like he is half asleep. It must be exhausting watching football matches on a TV screen all Saturday long. My heart bleeds for you Alan. By the way, how much are you paid by the BBC?
I’d rather take on board the more considered view of those who know plenty about fitness. I would treat those opinions more seriously than anything Shearer has to say.
Experienced Dutch coach Raymond Verheijen is Director of the World Football Academy. He is outspoken when it comes to coaching, player fitness and how certain countries, including England, treat their footballers.
He says: “Young players who develop more fatigue during the game need longer time to get rid of this fatigue otherwise they accumulate fatigue in body. Secondly, Sterling is not only a young, but also an explosive player. They have many fast muscle fibres compared to less explosive players.
“Fast muscle fibres recover slower compared to slow muscle fibres because less blood & oxygen is running through these fast muscle fibres. This is why explosive players like Sterling need longer recovery time after a game to get rid of fatigue compared to less explosive player. If explosive players do not get extra recovery time and are treated in the same way as other players, they accumulate fatigue in their body.
“Thirdly, accumulation of fatigue due to insufficient recovery makes the nervous system slower. The signal from brain to muscles travel slower. If the signal from the brain arrives later in the muscles this means the brain has less control over body during explosive football actions. So there’s much evidence that insufficient recovery, accumulation of fatigue & slower nervous system are dramatically increasing injury risk.”
Verheijen adds: “England manager Roy Hodgson once again made himself look extremely stupid. He is the perfect example of a typical uneducated English coach. Roy Hodgson’s incompetence must be frustrating for educated managers like Brendan Rodgers, who travelled the world. (It was) Embarrassing to see dinosaur Hodgson questioning the fitness regime of the forward thinking manager Brendan Rodgers.”
So it is clear where Raymond Verheijen is coming from. I have personally spoken with Dutch coaches who agree with what he says, albeit they don’t always agree with the way he says it.
Back home in England the former striker Steve Claridge, who suffered the hard knocks of professional football for 23 years, says: “People need to remember that it’s not just about the physical. Players can be mentally tired. Some managers would not look upon what Sterling has said as kindly as Hodgson. But he’s a super player who faces up to opponents, but I’m not sure he’s being played in the right position for England.”
Ex Everton and Manchester United player Phil Neville says: “I don’t see a problem with what has gone on. Maybe Brendan Rodgers needs to look after Sterling better. Raheem was playing in the World Cup, has not had much rest since his return and has played in every Liverpool game, including in the Capital Cup. He could have been rested for those games. Rodgers needs to protect him more.”
Neville, speaking on Monday, went on: “I do have a problem with some of what I have seen via social media today. People saying things like: ‘How can he be tired when he earns all that money and is so young? Teenagers do get tired. Kids get tired. My 10 year old girl gets tired. I look at the bigger picture. Club managers will put pressure on their players to pull out of the England squad for games played in a group that England will stroll through.”
For my part, while I don’t understand why Sterling joined up with the squad in the first place if he was ‘cream crackered,’ I would not be rushing to criticise him simply because he is a well paid footballer. That would be akin to responding as certain managers still living in a bygone era do when a player claims they are suffering from clinical depression.
Having millions of pounds in your bank account does not prevent you from feeling tired or, much worse, suffering from clinical depression.
The argument that says Sterling is too rich to be tired is a specious one. Tiredness is a physical condition we all suffer from in our lives. Footballers are not exempt from it. Indeed, Raheem Sterling will exert more energy in one match than office workers will in a week sat behind a desk.
The glaring error is how this story was handled by the manager. Roy Hodgson could have simply said he was choosing to play Adam Lallana. He didn’t have to mention Sterling and his tired legs. But Roy Hodgson is an honest man and is approching his dealings with the press as Graham Taylor once did. He is speaking openly and honestly to them. Big mistake.
Hodgson was naive in making public how Sterling is feeling right now. He has done the player no favours by highlighting the fatigue issue. A younger manager would have known that there would be a social media outcry over the words “too tired” and would have avoided using them.
Of course there is history between Hodgson and Liverpool FC. There is no love lost between the two. There are people in positions of power at Anfield who dislike their former club manager and have in the past gone out of their way to ridicule him.
Hodgson was wrong to cast aspersions upon the current manager, Brendan Rodgers. He shouldn’t have stooped to that level. Rodgers may indeed be protecting Sterling and colleague Daniel Sturridge, ahead of the Champions League tie against Real Madrid. But Rodgers is entitled to do that. He is the Liverpool manager. His priority is with his club, not England. Just like the vast majority of football fans!
There are many differences between myself and Raheem Sterling. Most of which are obvious.
But we do have one thing in common. We are currently knackered. Running on empty. We will bounce back, but we need rest.
There the similarity ends. My body is telling me I need my first holiday since 2003. It is screaming at me that I cannot go on working seven days of the week for much longer. That, failing all else, I should take to my bed for a week and do, as they would say in Ireland, feck all.
Sterling, however, has more than one advantage over me. He is young. His body will recover that much sooner. He will, I presume, be looked after by Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers and he will receive the very best of medical attention.
Me? I plod on. I drink too much coffee first thing in the morning. Not because, as someone alleged last weekend, “You’re a workaholic.” That’s far from the truth. Long ago, when working in the high pressured world of live television, I learned that working to live was far more desirable than living to work.
But then I was an employee. I was salaried. I got paid regardless of whether I was tired, or firing on all cylinders. I could take a day off and not feel too guilty.
Were Raheem Sterling self employed he’d probably do what all freelancers do. Get up, throw some water on his face, get dressed and get on with it. That’s life in the real world. The world he and other footballers blessed with such skills will never occupy.
But I don’t envy him. I have age and wisdom on my side. I don’t have his wealth but, to be honest, I wouldn’t want it. I would, though, love to have been born with his footballing talent.
But, until such time as I lose my marbles, I will always have the memory of the great John Charles watching me play in a charity football match between Yorkshire Television and Leeds United old boys.
Charles, who late in his life went on to become a treasured friend of mine, said in the pub, post match: “You have a deft left foot there, Vernon.”
No matter how tired I feel, those words will always give me a lift. And, no, you’re wrong. He did NOT say daft. He DID say deft!