by Jamie Whitehead

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. Three young males, who have never met before, and may never meet, fire up the Playstations about to engage in online game of FIFA.

The first boy, as the game is loading, looks up at the poster of Wayne Rooney on his wall, closes his eyes and imagines the feeling of scoring an overhead kick winning goal in the Manchester derby.

As the game fires up, we cut to a CGI deception of the players stood in the tunnel. The second boy glances down the line, and looks for his own likeness in the tunnel. One last game before training in the morning. This promising young midfielder imagines the moment when he hits that last minute winner against his side’s local rivals. Ten years of discipline, training and determination will one day boil down to that moment. Not tonight. Not tomorrow. But one day. Everything he has worked for will boil down to that moment.

Like the second boy, the third boy looks along the tunnel for his own likeness. This year, it’s not there. Last year, it was. Eleven years of hard work, dedication, training and discipline all thrown away due to one stupid, drunken argument with his girlfriend. For the second boy, it’s another early start and a strict diet regime. For the third boy, it’s another call to his agent’s PA on the lookout for another club. The calls never get returned. The first boy just wishes he had been given half the chances the second two had.

The 1994/95 Premier League season is widely remarried as The Season of Sleaze. Drink and drug problems tearing the Arsenal dressing room apart, the Bruce Grobbelar match fixing scandal and of course Manchester United’s Eric Cantona’s king fu kick on a Crystal Palace supporter at Selhurst Park. Off field problems have always existed in football, and are often exemplified due to the high profile nature of the protagonist. With the country still basking in the glow of the London Olympics, it felt like the right time to paraphrase Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli- Why always them?

Saturday, August 4th 2012. Usain Bolt has qualified for the final of the men’s 100m final at the Olympic Games. Earlier in the day, South African Oscar Perstorius has made Olympic history by becoming the first amputee to appear in the games. Later on in the day, Great Britain will be given a night to remember with gold medals for both Mo Farrah and Jessica Ennis. The country had two new role models. Following Ennis’ heptathlon winning performance, the true measure of the woman was shown as she individually hugged all of her competitors. The most impressive aspect of Jessica’s win was not only the manner in which she achieved it, but being so gracious in victory at the same time.

Following Super Saturday in London’s Olympic Stadium, the BBC’s Gary Lineker took us to Cardiff, where Team GB were currently tied 1-1 in a penalty shootout with South Korea in the quarter finals. The decisive penalty fell to Chelsea’s Daniel Sturridge. He ran, stopped, ran again. And then missed. Another British side knocked out of an international competition on penalties.

In stark contrast to what we had seen twenty minutes previously with Jessica Ennis. Sturridge sulked off the pitch, refusing to be comforted by his team mates and staff, even pushing Manchester United’s Tom Cleverly away. His petulance only enhanced by what went before him.

So far this season, we have seen youth players from both Manchester City and Stoke City charged with some very serious offences, as well as the ridiculous and embarrassing behaviour on Twitter of some bloke called Leon who claims to have played for Chelsea. No, mate. Gianfranco Zola played for Chelsea. You’re an unemployed twenty nine year old using Twitter to get pictures of naked girls. The case of Knight is the latest in a long of footballing misdemeanours in 2012 alone. John Terry, Luis Suarez, Rio Ferdinand, Ashley Cole, Mario Balotelli, Ched Evans and Ryan Giggs are just a few who have attempted to bring the game and themselves into disrepute over the last few years.

Prior to his signing with Manchester United, Wayne Rooney got caught with an older Lady of the Night in a Merseyside brothel, and even under Ferguson’s guidance, still managed to cause a stir in the tabloids with several extra marital affairs. In the nineties, Ferguson was renowned for keeping his young stars feet on the ground. He says himself in his autobiography “Never did I think that I would have to deal with so many young millionaires” The money bought into English football over the last twenty years has obviously put these players in the public eye more than they ever have been before. The Fledglings of the mid 90s had restrictions placed upon them that they weren’t allowed a company car until they had made thirty first team starts for the club, and even then weren’t allowed a sports car until they had reached the age of twenty one. It’s a policy which obviously worked as it is rare(er) that you see Manchester United players in the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Barely a week goes by these days without you hearing of a footballer cheating on his wife, or acting disrespectfully in front of supporters. But where does this come from?

Even the seventeen and eighteen year old players are getting paid extortionate amounts of money these days. Boot deals are signed with thirteen year olds, and a basic wage for a YTS player being around a thousand pounds a week, nothing in comparison to that of Ronaldo and Messi, but still higher than the mean national wage in this country of £25,000 per annum. You hear many stories from older players of how different it was for them when they were trainees, there is no cleaning of the boots or collecting balls after training anymore.

Excessive salaries with a lot of free time and a high proportion of boys relocating to different towns and cities to pursue their careers will send a few off the rails. Give a youngster an extended run in the first team and suddenly he his a local, perhaps national, hero. Unlike athletics, football is everywhere you go. Jessica Ennis and Mo Farrah get the opportunity to showcase their talents on a global scale once every four years. Daniel Sturridge gets the opportunity to do the same once every seven days. Had Ennis tripped on the final hurdle, the Daily Mail would have called for sympathy for this ‘Brave, British lady’ When Ashley Young misses his next penalty for England, The S*n will call him a national disgrace, slightly rich considering their history.

Careers have been curtailed due to misbehaviour. Both from the player and as a result of other player’s actions. Jamie Tandy, who had the misfortune of having a lit cigar put into his eye when he was a youth player, must ask himself why he is no longer playing while the man who committed the heinous act – Joey Barton – still finds himself living a life of luxury at the highest level of the game.

Footballers, like you and I are human. And it is probably worth clubs looking not only at the player, but the man when making a signing. Everyone is capable of making a mistake or a stupid, drunken decision. It’s the mental pressures of the game which are bringing these individuals down. This coming from the media, supporters and the high level of personal competition which must exist in dressing rooms up and down the country. It is surely down to the clubs to install more discipline into their young, exceptionally talented stars, before we find ourselves with yet another national team being defeated on penalties as Ennis stands in Rio, smiling and embracing her competitors. The Nation’s Sweetheart once again towering over the Nation’s Brats.

Sometimes you need to be grateful for what you have. Sometimes all you need is a little bit of guidance.

Jamie Whitehead hosts list based podcast 3for3 and wishes at times that footballers would just f*****g behave themselves at times.