A small part of me died when I read this incredible quote from Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri after his team lost to Arsenal: “This group of players are extremely difficult to motivate.” The multimillionaire manager of a squad of overseas multimillionaire footballers saying that his charges lack motivation. It could be that Sarri is using some kind of psychology to rouse his players, by questioning their level of commitment to the football club. Or it could be that his players simply don’t give a toss?
Precious little about modern football, particularly at the top end, makes much sense to me. These days, I work part time in a world in which people have little. I see sick and disabled people struggling by on a pittance, in constant fear that they will be deemed fit to work, regardless of a permanent, debilitating condition and/or a terminal illness. And by and large, they are cared for by workers who earn the minimum wage. Just before Christmas, I met a couple of young women aged 20 who earned £5.90 an hour for providing basic domiciliary care. £5.90 an hour. That might buy you a pint of hipster-friendly craft beer but it won’t stretch much further than that. If that’s what you earned at Chelsea, that new Aston Martin could take a while to save up for. For all that, they were utterly committed to their jobs, regardless of the low value the Great British Public accords them. They were highly motivated.
I can’t understand why someone who earns, say, £300,000k a week cannot get motivated to give 100% at work, yet someone who earns less than £6 an hour is. Perhaps, it is all about hunger? The wealthy footballer does not struggle to put bread on the table, does not have to juggle a myriad of different responsibilities around the school run and rush to work, does not fear they will get the call tomorrow morning that there is no work for them.
I simply cannot imagine what it must be like to earn £30k in a year, never mind £300k in a week. Coming from a background where my mother would wait outside shops at the end of the working day to pick up the unsold offcuts of meat, the unsold and blemished vegetables and, if we were very lucky, fruit, I cannot conceive of not being grateful to getting through to bedtime without feeling hungry. My mother, I discovered many years later, frequently went hungry so I didn’t have to. In Sarri’s world, young men with more money than God struggle to be motivated. I’m not sure of the right word to use but it’s sick.
The astonishing statement by the Chelsea manager is hardly unique, is it? It wasn’t that long ago when the then Leicester City footballer Riyad Mahrez went on strike because he wanted to force a transfer for Manchester City. A care worker on poverty wages would face immediate dismissal if she (or he) went on strike. Mahrez’s tears later when Leicester’s owner was killed in a tragic helicopter accident – well, I won’t go there. He was probably sincere, just like he was sincere when he forced his transfer.
It is at times like these when I despair about the direction of football which is not the same game I grew up with. The people’s game is played by people who apparently need additional motivation in order to their jobs. If Sarri is right, maybe the game really has gone. I’m losing more interest in it by the day.