Graham Kelly: Football's stellar cast must learn to live in real world

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The Independent Football

I had to consult Morrie Schwarz again last week. Morrie is the central character in the wonderful book Tuesdays with Morrie, by the award-winning American sports writer Mitch Albom, which was given to me by the Liverpool manager, Gérard Houllier, after his brush with death.

Albom rediscovered Morrie, his former college professor, by way of a nationwide television show and, knowing the old man was dying from the distressing and incurable wasting disease, ALS, met him in his study every Tuesday just as they used to 20 years earlier. Their rekindled friendship turned into one final class: lessons in how to live in this modern life.

I needed some help because I was due to visit an old friend, Chris Muir, a director of Blackpool and formerly Manchester City, who is staring at a similarly bleak prognosis having been diagnosed with cancer of the kidney. Chris survived the vicissitudes of life at Maine Road as Peter Swales' chief lieutenant until Swales turned against him, and the Muir contacts book was placed at the disposal of the Oyston family down the road at Blackpool.

He can verify Swales' inexplicable aversion to Sir Bobby Robson, for Robson was interested in taking the City job when Tony Book was sacked, but Swales declined to pursue the matter and disastrously took Malcolm Allison back.

Muir's record on youth development bears comparison with most in the game and, in his role as the Football Association's council representative for the Manchester FA, he is still not averse to making robust recommendations for change to the FA chief executive, Mark Palios.

When Houllier gave me the book that had made such an impact on him, I asked him about his guiding philosophies and how he viewed his managerial responsibilities. When he replied one aspect shone through, the respect he was endeavouring to instil into his young charges: he was developing them not only as footballers but as respectful young men. I thought of that again when I read the dreadful allegations against the Premiership players last week.

At the end of the week, the feud - for what else can we call it? - between our two greatest clubs continued with yet more inflammatory words between Arsène Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson, and we witnessed the utter disrespect shown to Peter Reid by a professor of an entirely different kind, Professor John McKenzie. It is too late to restore any respect at Elland Road, but somebody in authority must take the initiative to restore friendly relations between Highbury and Old Trafford before Arsenal and Manchester United meet again, since otherwise the atmosphere will become impossibly fraught.

Ruud van Nistelrooy was dropped from the Dutch squad by the coach, Dick Advocaat, for Saturday's match with Moldova, allegedly because he threw a tantrum on being substituted in the 3-2 defeat by the Czech Republic last month. This sort of conduct at substitutions is just the kind of behaviour that Houllier made it absolutely clear he would not tolerate when he took over at Anfield, as he regarded it as disrespectful to the player who was coming on.

The subject of respect was also touched upon by Sven Goran Eriksson at the business convention a week ago when his comments about returning to club football commanded media attention. In response to a question about how he motivated players on fantastic salaries, the England coach said that the players did not think about money when they were playing. They were expected to show equal respect to every member in their party, the coach driver and kit manager included.

I have to say that the audience of over a thousand were considerably more impressed than they were by Max Clifford's subsequent assertion that in the publicity business the ends justified the means. The fact that his services have been engaged by the girl involved in the aforesaid allegations depresses me, though I am cheered by the news that one chairman who is said to be involved will, if the allegations are proven, throw the players out summarily.

I am glad that, at the start of an important week for our game, I have been compelled to examine Morrie again, if not glad about the reason why. England should be led in Istanbul by a captain in David Beckham who, by his example, has shown that a young father can be a role model for decent family values.

It is to be hoped, for the sake of our game, that they will avoid defeat, but a play-off place need not signify shame and disgrace. It would merely mean that our stellar players are not quite as good as we, and they, are sometimes led to believe. More importantly, I hope we will see - on and off the pitch - mutual respect, chivalry and honour.

grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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