Fomer England goalkeeper David James boasts in tomorrow’s Observer that he’s been doing heavy reading about psychopaths lately, though not “the murderous type”. “Recent research has likened the behaviour of former US presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, JFK and George W Bush to that of psychopaths,” writes James, concluding that psychopaths “can be charismatic, charming, manipulative, ambitious, invested in self-gain and deceptive.” All traits, 24-year professional veteran argues, are consistent with top flight footballers (if not himself).
Think back to the goal celebrations you have witnessed. There’s always one player who runs from the other side of the pitch to congratulate the goalscorer – just in time to look right into the camera. Look back over those photographs, who stands out, the goalscorer? Or the guy leaping on his back and staring straight into the camera, or saluting the fans in the stand. Who is the goal about? The team? Or the individual?
What about those players who have moved from team to team throughout their career (of which, admittedly, I am one). Those players, I know from experience, tend to be more about themselves than any kind of team ethos. They have to be, it’s a kind of self-preservation. One question I often get asked is: “Do you keep in touch with your former team-mates?” Never. When you leave, you move on. Does that make me a psychopath? I did score highly on a test I took but then I would question a test which requires you to answer honestly the question “Are you a pathological liar?”
On which point, are footballers pathological liars? They may not think so, but many habitually lie to further their careers. They routinely lie to the media, hiding behind cliches such as “the lads played well today”, or pledging their loyalty to a club. Perhaps you can’t blame them. Being honest can leave you wide open to criticism. On the occasions when I have given an honest opinion those words have haunted me for years – from admitting to playing too much PlayStation, to confessing to my lack of preparation for an England game. Was I the first player to have committed either of those sins? Of course not, and I won’t be the last. You just probably won’t hear it from anyone else.