Harry Redknapp believes that English footballers must stop drinking alcohol and copy the lifestyles of their continental counterparts to help end the succession of scandals that has gripped the domestic game since the World Cup.
Wayne Rooney and Peter Crouch are the latest to feature on a rapidly lengthening list and the Tottenham manager regards alcohol as the root cause of the problem. Redknapp says that players should "dedicate" themselves to the game over the course of what is a relatively short career and cited the example of Paolo Maldini, the former Italy and Milan captain who retired aged 40, as well as the veteran Manchester United trio of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs, as an older generation that the younger players need to try to emulate – as much off the pitch these days as on it.
England's failure in the World Cup finals in South Africa this summer has intensified the spotlight on players and there has been a string of salacious stories about Rooney and Crouch, who plays his club football for Redknapp, over the last few weeks. Jack Wilshere, the Arsenal midfielder who won his first England cap aged 18 in the post-World Cup friendly against Hungary, was left out of the England Under-21 starting line-up by Stuart Pearce last week because he was not considered to be in the right frame of mind following his arrest in the early hours of the morning for a "fracas" outside a club in west London.
"There is one main problem – it's called drink," said Redknapp yesterday. "Ninety per cent of the time these things don't happen unless players have a drink. We've all drunk – I've had a drink all my life, but these lads know that you can't do it any more. It's another world now."
Redknapp was embarrassed last year when it emerged his players had organised a Christmas party against his express wishes. At the time Redknapp said he was "shocked". He has changed his views over the years, acknowledging that he drank as a player, but is now firmly in the anti- camp. Players today, he says, should make sacrifices – and if they do, the rewards are huge if they are prepared to look after themselves and their bodies.
"Yes, now definitely [they should make sacrifices] – they have got to, otherwise we are going to keep seeing these things happening," continued Redknapp. "It is not all down to drink but a lot of it is. They should not put themselves in such positions. If they dedicate themselves for 10 years they are going to come out with so much money they never have to work again. They can live a fantastic life – they should dedicate themselves."
The culture of drink has long been ingrained in English football – and was when Redknapp was a player with West Ham United. But the increasing pace of the game and levels of fitness required from players, as well as the mushrooming attention on Premier League stars and their lifestyles away from the football field – as part of the explosion of a celebrity-driven culture – has seen his attitude change and increasingly harden. When he was manager of West Ham, he ordered that the players' post-match bar be alcohol-free.
The answer, according to Redknapp, is for British players to follow the examples of Italians in particular. "You don't see this happening to too many foreign players," said Redknapp. "I can't think of any.
"They [young players] should also look at the likes of Gary Neville, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. Why is Giggs playing so well at 36? He is still fit and still so fantastic. Also look at some of the Italian players, how fit they are. They are still playing Champions League football at 38, 39, 40. What an example someone like Maldini is – you have never read about him being drunk and disorderly."
Maldini spent 25 seasons at Milan and played in four World Cup finals before retiring last year. Milan have become famous for prolonging players' careers long past their perceived sell-by date – Alessandro Costacurta, too, lasted beyond his 40th birthday at San Siro – with David Beckham the latest ageing star to prosper at Milanello, the club's training ground.
Tottenham yesterday paraded their latest signing, Rafael van der Vaart. The Dutchman is married to Sylvie Meis, a model and TV presenter, and back home they top the celebrity A-list, but Van der Vaart says he has no qualms about moving to London and is certain he will stay out of public eye, off the pitch at any rate. "The only thing that counts is football," said the 27-year-old. "My private life is private and I don't like all the silly stuff. I only want to play football."
Redknapp will be hoping the Van der Vaart ethos can prove to be the dominant one in the White Hart Lane dressing room.Reuse content