The Premier League returns this weekend with Richarlison thinking more mental resilience than scoring goals, Harry Maguire braced to hear ‘mummy’s boy’ added to the list of insults he can expect to have ringing in his ears, and Jadon Sancho catching up with all the not-so-nice things anonymous sources have been saying to journalists about his time-keeping and manners.
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It all seems a long time since we fell over ourselves to support Dele Alli with a virtual embrace of love and understanding.
Maguire is the punchline we can’t stop delivering, a target who makes himself easy to hit with his occasional mistakes, regrettable career choices, and hangdog demeanour. He’s Phil Jones-light but in a much brighter spotlight.
The Manchester United defender made convincingly light of being forced back into the role of pantomime villain by Scotland fans during England’s 3-1 win at Hampden Park in midweek but, as his own mother felt forced to say yesterday: ‘Me seeing him go through what he’s going through is not okay. I would hate to have to see any other parents or players go through this.’
Maguire, by all accounts, is coping very well and Mrs Maguire says ‘it’s a good job he’s mentally strong’ – but we will never know the real toll on the man’s emotional well-being and we have no right to.
Over in Brazil, Spurs striker Richarlison – himself no stranger to terrace catcalls and social media abuse – was seen crying on the bench after being subbed off in the win over Bolivia. Despondent at going another game without a goal, clearly.
Not so. ‘That sad moment wasn’t even because I played poorly, in my opinion I didn’t, it was more of an outburst about things happening off the field, which got out of control not on my part, but on the part of people who were close to me,’ he felt obliged to explain.
‘I’m going to go back to England, I’ll seek psychological help, to work on my mind. Come back stronger.’
Sancho, meanwhile, has spent the international break in the cross-hairs of anonymous briefings seeking to give context to why a £73million signing can’t even make United’s matchday squad. A decision which led the winger to accuse manager Erik ten Hag of making him a scapegoat.
Poor time-keeping, impolite behaviour to staff and difficult relationships with team-mates have all been labels attached to the 23-year-old by people who would rather remain nameless.
Who knows, they may all be true. But this is also a young man who was given several months away from the club because Ten Hag felt he had to work on his ‘mental fitness’. Might we pause to consider there is more to this than surly greetings and half-arsed shuttle runs?
Let’s be clear, being booed might not damage someone’s mental health. Equally, high-level success does not necessarily maintain it.
We all have loves and lives, highs and lows away from the workplace and footballers are obviously no different.
But after a summer in which Dele Alli granted us a brutal, searingly honest glimpse into just what has contributed to the derailment of his career, it seems the game is still woefully lacking when it comes to compassion and understanding.
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