John Terry will presumably accept support from wherever he can get it at the moment but it might surprise Chelsea fans to learn that the most eloquent defence of the former England captain came from Arsenal’s Andrei Arshavin.
Asked about press interest in footballers’ private lives in the Times on Saturday he said: “Of course, it’s normal that people are interested, but in England you are killing the national team with the level of intrusion. You are doing this to the team [he stamps his foot on the floor]. Everyone wants England to become world champions, but you are destroying them at the same time. Give it a few more weeks and they will put a camera in a footballer’s pants in order to get a story. I think you should leave your stars alone and give them the freedom to be human.”
The Arsenal striker is clearly a thoughtful and eloquent footballer. Putting the lie to those who waffle about footballers’ responsibilities he said: “All through my career I have heard people say, ‘You must set an example. Don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t swear, otherwise the children will copy you. They want you to be like a monk. But this is impossible. Everybody has a right to live in the way they want to. That is what it is to be human.”
“Of course, I understand we have responsibilities. But it is no good doing something because you are scared of what people will say. You should do it because that is what you want to do. The problem is not fame and money, because if you have a good education and good parents, these things will not corrupt you. It is about having the right values.”
Arshavin grew up in St Petersburg when it was still Leningrad and, like Michael Ballack, his grounded behaviour and opinions might stem from his experience of a different regime. Until the mid 80s sport in soviet states was encouraged for the benefit of the community and footballers were regarded far less as superstars and far more as ordinary workers. It encouraged the same feeling of connection that many here complain has been missing since the days when players got the same bus to the ground as the fans and earned the same wage.
Clearly things have changed but Arshavin appears to have a sensible and balanced view of the current situation he said that there is nothing to be ashamed of in earning money from their sport: “If you are not involved in professional football, it is easy to say it is crazy that we get paid so much for just kicking a ball around a pitch. But I say to the critics, ‘Put on some boots, take a shot and show us something.’ If you think it is easy, come and have a go.”
“It is not our fault we earn big money. We should not be made to feel like criminals. If the clubs pay us, it is because they know that they will earn more money because we are there. Sometimes I get it in the neck from other sportsmen. You know, an Olympic champion skier will complain that he is earning half as much as a footballer who is only rated 30th in the world.”
“But what can we do? Football is the best and most competitive sport in the world. Sometimes it is better to be the tenth best player in the biggest sport than the very best in a smaller sport. Football pays well because everyone is interested in our game.”
Arshavin is probably pissing in the wind because many will continue to criticise the perceived excess in footballers’ lives without really understanding them as people. Footballers will always be fair game for opposition supporters, you wouldn’t have it any other way. John Terry will have to live with boos for a while and put up with songs about his private life, Beckham put up with chants about his wife’s anal predilections for years with barely a murmur, but as fans and especially as consumers of newspapers perhaps we should stand up for footballers’ rights a little more.
As someone once wrote in the Chelsea Independent: “if 42,000 people turned up to watch you at your work, you’d expect a cut of the gate.” Underneath footballers are all people just like me and you and a handful of West Ham supporters.