James Shield's Sheffield United Column: If you go on strike, make sure you're good at football
A couple of years ago, when members of the National Union of Teachers went on strike in protest against the under-funding of schools, it sparked a furore in Middle England.
“It’s a disgrace, they get more holiday than virtually anyone,” one disgruntled reader told a national newspaper having, deliberately or otherwise, completely missed the point. “Join the real world.”
Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells is unlikely to encounter any footballers there because, as Riyad Mahrez has demonstrated, they are judged by an entirely different set of rules. How else do you explain the fact that, having initially refused to work when a move to Manchester City collapsed, he was applauded back onto the pitch by some away supporters when Leicester visited the Etihad Stadium last week? Clearly, if folk concerned about our children’s education want a more sympathetic hearing, they should ditch the dog-eared textbooks and practise their dribbling skills. Or, better still, earn £100,000 a week and drive a BMW i8.
Chris Wilder, the Sheffield United manager, dexterously sidestepped questions about Mahrez’s actions when the subject arose during Thursday’s media briefing.
“I’ve got enough to think about preparing my team,” he said, ahead of tonight’s FA Cup tie with Claude Puyel’s side at the King Power Stadium. “It’s not for me to talk about and, in any case, you don’t know what the lad was told or promised. What’s reported isn’t always the full story.”
In that case, I’ll gladly fill in the gaps. Mahrez, less than two seasons after signing a new long-term contract which contained a significant pay rise, had his head turned by Pep Guardiola’s flirting and petulantly downed tools when Leicester refused to acquiesce. Be disappointed by all means. Even sue if they breached a written agreement. But sit at home in your pants playing FIFA on the sofa? Don’t make me laugh.
I should point out, in the interests of fairness, that not all of Mahrez’s peers would respond in such a fashion if they failed to get their own way. Nor would Wilder, whose squad boast a better grasp of concepts such as comradeship and team spirit, be as understanding as Claude Puyel if someone on United’s books acted in similar fashion. The Frenchman left Mahrez in absolutely no doubt his behaviour was unacceptable by naming him in the team which travelled to the North-West 48 hours after he dragged himself off the couch.
Premier League and increasingly Championship players, through ticket prices or television subscriptions, earn astronomical sums because of the fans. When the very same people who line their well-appointed pockets are so forgiving when they are being treated like mugs, is there any wonder the game is so mercenary?