Ben Burgess column - the ugly side of football

Ben Burgess

Ben Burgess

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THIS week Ben talks about squad sizes, Luis Suarez and broken noses.

The Numbers Game

A lot has been made recently of Blackpool’s huge squad and how do you keep all players happy.

Simple answer: you can’t. Even at Manchester United and Manchester City there will be unhappy players because they are used sparingly.

Adam Johnson is a good example. He just left Eastlands for regular football at Sunderland. You often hear fans saying, “How can he be unhappy on £60k a week.”

The truth is, the majority of players are in this wonderful game to play week-in week-out, and money is irrelevant. You can identify these players because they will be kicking up a fuss and frequently demanding moves, e.g. Craig Bellamy, Robbie Keane and to a certain extent Mario Balotelli. They don’t do this because they are ‘bad eggs’, they do it because they care and they are winners.

Early in my career I was a nightmare because I was so impatient, and could never accept being substituted, let alone not making the team at all.

Reflecting on my younger days now, I do cringe at how I acted, but people understood why.

I signed for Stockport County and Carlton Palmer for £450,000 when I was 21. The six months I spent there were some of the most frustrating of my career.

For the uninformed, Carlton Palmer didn’t quite reach the managerial highs of José Mourinho… or even Steve Keane for that matter.

That season he spent big money on me and Ricky Lambert. He treated us both like dirt and barely played either of us.

After every game (which we inevitably lost), he would say, “If any of you are unhappy then speak up now and you can leave.”

Every time I would put my hand up and say I’d like to leave.

He did eventually let me go but it took a while. As I got older and my knees got worse I began to realise I could only really play 30 games a season, but it would still hurt when the team was read out and I wasn’t in it.

With regards to the Blackpool squad, it would benefit from a trim, but with the way Ollie rotates his team, there will be 20-25 players who get plenty of game time.

I think their strength in depth will actually turn out to be their trump card by the end of the season.

Teams in all the divisions who start the season well, often begin to fall away by Christmas simply because their best players get injured, suspended or are just generally exhausted from carrying the team.

They have no back up plan or strength in depth (a bit like England at every major tournament they play in).

Blackpool have so many match winners that they (hopefully) can’t be stopped.

Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know my predictions are not the most accurate, but I’m confident the Pool will find themselves in the top 6 in May.

Dive me mad

Another ugly side of football has reared its head again this week, and in the case of Luis Suarez it’s very ugly. This is a man who if judged on football talent alone would be revered all over the world.

His dazzling dribbling skills and goals are a pleasure to watch but as a man I don’t think he has too many supporters outside of Liverpool.

I wont delve into his ‘spat’ with Patrice Evra because that was done to the death.

Instead I’ll concentrate on his penchant for rolling on the floor. We can argue that because the game is so quick nowadays that a slight touch is enough to send you spiralling swan like to the ground.

I’m afraid I’m not buying that. Players have a choice and the sad fact is some will always choose to dive.

Luis Suarez looks pretty strong to me when he’s holding the ball up or tackling back, but goes weaker than a Lance Armstrong denial at certain times.

Foreign players have always used the excuse of cultural differences, and I know in lots of countries players are told to go down if they feel a slight touch (just watch Barcelona play).

So coming to England, the land of ‘fair play’, it must be hard for them to adjust. Actually, as I write this, I see Michael Owen has just ruined my theory of divers being foreign.

Owen has not admitted to diving (oh no, that would be disgraceful), instead he has justified his ‘falling over’ as, going to ground when he could have stayed on his feet.

In my opinion if you can stay on your feet then do.

My experience of diving in football has been a bit limited due to playing in the lower leagues, where most players try to stay on their feet, even if one of them is broken!

My game, especially towards the end of my career didn’t really involve too much dribbling so I wasn’t in the situation to win many penalties.

Although whenever I was fouled, it seemed to take me so long to hit the ground that either play had moved on, or as my wife always used to say, I looked like I had dived.

In fact I often found my own teammates laughing at me in training after I’d hit the deck.

Witnessing my teammate dive was pretty rare.

Occasionally a young kid on loan from a Premier League team, might would do an ‘Owen’ and hit the floor at the slightest touch. They soon learned though that if they did it in a game, then an opposition player would pick them up and have a few choice words in their ear, and they’d spend the rest of the match on the end of a few real tackles.

Referees tend to be a bit more tolerant of challenges in the bottom two divisions.

I broke my nose against Southend last season from a clear elbow. I turned to the ref and said, “Are you not going to do anything about that?”

“Get on with it, there’s nothing wrong you,” he responded.

I would have accepted that if I didn’t look like Steve Bruce and I was the only player on the pitch wearing a blood red shirt.

In fact I probably could have taken a sample of blood from the defenders elbow as evidence!

Oh and I think this may be the first football article on diving not to mention Tom Daley… oops.