What is the sport worth if the best players refuse to participate?
This year’s World Cup got everybody excited about the beautiful game. For many, the excitement and awe still has yet to fade. But despite how much we are enjoying international football right now, some of the best players in the world clearly aren’t.
Gerard Piqué is one of the best defenders in the world right now. He helped Spain to glory during the 2010 World Cup and 2012 Euro campaign. He plays alongside Messi, Jordi Alba, Busquets and some of the greatest players in the world at Barcelona and regularly competes in the top level of the game. He’s got several years still ahead of him, and perhaps longer given the ever lengthening careers of footballers. Yet, he’s retired from international football. He wants his peace. This is a tragedy for Spanish football but it is also a disgrace. Piqué has faced constant criticism and even jeers from fans largely because of his support for Catalonia’s independence. He’s given so much to Spain for little respect in return. He’s also not the only one.
A few years younger than Piqué, Mesut Özil really would be expecting to only be starting to get into his prime right about now. He’s a genius in his craft and consistently wins applause across the world for his game. Yet, he’s retired too. He’s had enough. Özil claims that inside and outside of German football he’s only respected and treated as German if the team wins, and called an immigrant if they lose.
“Mesut Özil really would be expecting to just start to get into his prime right about now”
How can we really get behind international football when the best talents are being driven out of it? Why isn’t more being done? It isn’t just about the internal workings of football, although they certainly need addressing, but our fan culture isn’t based upon supporting people as much as it is tearing down the ones we don’t like. Criticism is easier to come by than respect.
We talk about toxic fandoms with gaming, TV shows and even comics but football was the original toxic fandom. From fans trashing bars and pubs, to the constant trolling of footballers who underperform, it’s an absolute mess. It can’t be any surprise that such attitudes have begun to have an impact on the players.
We can’t celebrate international football if it’s not truly a showcase of the best players from around the world. The players haven’t failed their teams. The fans have let them down.