It dawned on me earlier this summer that this season will see the 30th anniversary of my first ever attendance at a football match. That means two things: I’m older than I’d like to think and I’ve seen the sport change a lot over the years.
Most of those changes have been positive. This is no ‘it was so much better in my day, you know’ rant. I’m saving those for when I’m really old, for when that small pleasure and annoying people by pretending to be deaf are the only real avenues of joy that remain open to me.
All things considered, nothing really upsets me about the game anymore. Until yesterday, that is, when I saw this absolutely appalling comment from Chelsea boss Antonio Conte.
“Tottenham is a really good squad if they are able to keep all the players.”
Just look at it. Read it again. Soak it in. Allow the rage and unadulterated fury to wash over you. Don’t ignore it, confront it. You’ll need that fury pulsing through your veins if you’re to get through the rest.
“For me,” continued the despicable Conte, “[Harry] Kane, now, is one of the best strikers in the world.
“If I had to buy one striker I would go to Kane. He is a complete striker. He is strong physically, with the ball, without the ball, he fights and he’s strong in the air and acrobatic on the right and the left.”
Oh, but there’s more: “He’s a complete player. He’s one of the top strikers in the world. If you go to buy Kane now it would be at least £100m. At least. For me, if I see this price for a striker I know for sure he’s a big striker.”
I imagine you are seething with rage right now, struggling to think straight or carve through your sense of personal revulsion at Conte’s ferociously fiendish assault on poor, victimised Tottenham.
So allow me to recap: Spurs are really good, they’ve got loads of class players that other clubs would love to have, and Harry Kane is a complete striker. Is Conte mad? How dare he? How dare he?!
Fear not, though, for we have a champion. Mauricio Pochettino has donned his shining armour and come out fighting the honourable fight
“That makes me laugh, because I don’t know why people are so focused on our players and our club,” he roared back.
“At the moment, so far we know him best. Our ambition is not the same as a lot of clubs that sign and spend a lot of money.
“I respect every single philosophy and, for me, the most important thing is to show more respect.
“I like to show respect to another way and the people that behave in another way, only I expect the same from the people that compete with us.”
And well he might show this nonsense from Conte the disdain it deserves. The Italian’s comments were, after all, just dripping with disrespect, doused in derision.
Perhaps Pochettino was displaying about as much seriousness and sincerity as the previous 12 paragraphs. The more likely scenario is that this was the Tottenham manager frustrated that his club is the subject of an increasing number of conversations.
I get that Tottenham and Chelsea are rivals, both geographically and in terms of their realistic ambitions for the upcoming season, but this? This is a storm even the most dramatic teacup would wince at in embarrassment.
When did football get so pathetically precious? When did it become so quick and eager to take offence at the most innocuous things or, in this case, expressions of total, unreserved admiration?
Pochettino may be the latest to demonstrate this bizarre modern trend, but he’s by no means the only one.
We’ve had Nigel Pearson calling people an ostrich and insulting journalists for asking him a question, Arsene Wenger snapping at just about everything for three years now, and David Moyes threatening to ‘slap’ a journalist who asked him a question he took offence to.
“If you don’t know football, you shouldn’t have a microphone,” are words that Jose Mourinho used to degrade a reporter for asking him a simple question last season.
The desperation to take offence has long been part of the fabric of the game itself.
Just a week ago Jurgen Klopp was apoplectic about Leicester fouling Philippe Coutinho in a pre-season friendly. “What can I do? Write a letter?” he said after the game, disappointed in referee Bobby Madley’s inability to ‘protect’ the player.
Surely football can be better than this?
I remember, in the 1990s, once watching a player scythed down by an absolutely awful tackle. He broke his leg. It was a genuine career-ender. There was no drama or vendettas. The player simply sat up on his stretcher and pretended to row himself off the pitch as if he was sat in a canoe. Such soul and humour is a distant memory.
There is greater scrutiny in the game now, but that doesn’t mean greater offence has to be taken. There can be a happy medium.
There has to be, because for all of football’s positive changes, one negative stands out: a sport so simple and straightforward sure does have a habit of taking itself too seriously.