Being a football player isn’t like any other job. Football, in general, isn’t like any other vocation. It is, after all, a public pursuit that forms a central part of the lives of millions across the country, and the world. There aren’t many chants about city planners or junior marketing executives.
As a consequence, there is an expectation that those involved in the game must hold the same passion for it as the fans in the stands. This is why Ben White’s recent comments were so notable. Despite being an elite level footballer for Arsenal and England, the 24-year-old has admitted to not really being that interested in football as a fan.
“Football is so intense,” White told Sky Sports. “You come in every day giving 100%. All I want to do is go home and not think about it, then come in in the morning fresh and ready to give 100% again. I watch myself for analytical reasons. I watch England, maybe, but I’m always busy doing something. I wouldn’t just sit down and watch a game.”
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Asked about what it means to him to wear Patrick Viera’s former shirt number for the Gunners, White continued to go against the grain by confessing to not knowing much about the French midfielder. “I didn’t ever watch football when I was younger,” he said. “I still don’t now. I just loved the game, I was always playing it, never watching. So I don’t know too much about the older generations, but I know Vieira was a very good player. But I don’t know the details.”
Unsurprisingly, White’s remarks prompted a backlash on social media. Some fans argued that the former Brighton defender’s apparent disinterest in the game will make it harder for him to improve his own game, the logic being that White isn’t exposing himself to new ideas in different countries and different leagues.
To the contrary, though, White’s detachment from the sport could help him fulfil his potential as a player. The Arsenal centre back is still analysing his own game and that of opponents, as modern professionals are expected to, so how much is he really losing out on by not spending his spare time watching even more football?
It has never been more important for footballers to have time to rest and recuperate, not just physically, but mentally too. The ever-present spectre of social media has made it almost impossible for players to switch off from the game. If White has found a way to do this, he should be applauded for it, not criticised.
White isn’t the first top level player to have voiced such views on the sport. Former Tottenham Hotspur defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto took it one step further by essentially admitting to being a mercenary. “Yes, it’s a good, good job and I don’t say that I hate football but it’s not my passion,” he explained in an interview.
Ben White in training for Arsenal
Image credit: Getty Images
Is such honesty really so bad? Would supporters prefer the sort of performative disingenuity that saw Robbie Keane claim he’d been a childhood fan of pretty much every club he represented over his career? If anything, White treated Arsenal fans with respect by not spinning a line about Vieira.
Of course, the truest judgement of White will be made on the back of his performances on the pitch. If the 24-year-old is a success at Arsenal, his ability to compartmentalise his professional life will appear a real skill. If, however, the £50m man flops in North London, his comments will have given critics easy ammunition to use against him.
Fans may struggle to accept that players who find themselves at the heart of their passion don’t feel the same way they do about football, but fans don’t always make the best players. Those on the pitch require a different mindset to those in the stands and White’s comments prove this.
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