It's a day of the week, so Mario Balotelli is being publicly scolded for something. But Balotelli isn't the only footballer who too often finds himself being taken to task by strangers and superiors alike because of perceived offenses that don't violate any laws, contract clauses or usual standards of human decency.
There are a number of unwritten rules that professional footballers must follow in order to stay on the good side of the most hardline bosses, fans and members of the press. And in the interest of helping them navigate this minefield, we've compiled some of the biggest ones here.
Don't swap shirts at halftime
This was Balotelli's latest mortal sin. Real Madrid defender Pepe asked Balotelli to trade shirts as they were heading for the tunnel at halftime and the Italian striker obliged. This instantly became the biggest talking point of the match even though Liverpool spent the previous 45 minutes not defending as Real Madrid scored three goals for fun. After the match, Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers made it clear that he doesn't like it one bit.
I've seen it happen in other leagues and other countries but it's certainly something that doesn't happen here and shouldn't happen," Rodgers said, apparently forgetting that two of his other players, Mamadou Sakho and Coutinho, prompted his creepy, unblinking denouncement of the practice last season.
Meanwhile, the Liverpool Echo's backpage headline demanded that Balotelli "must say sorry for his halftime shirt swap."
Though an acceptable display of sportsmanship after the final whistle, concerned parties (especially those in England) see the halftime shirt swap as a treasonous act akin to spitting in the eyes of every supporter with the misfortune of bearing witness to it. Sky Sports ran a poll on the subject the day after Balotelli's violation and 62 percent of people who cared enough to respond said that halftime shirt swaps should not happen.
— Sky Sports News HQ (@SkySportsNewsHQ) October 23, 2014
The message is clear: Even some adults can't handle it when the mall Santa Claus takes off his beard as he heads for the back room for his lunch break.
Refunds should be offered after a big loss
This isn't an absolute, but it's becoming increasingly common and, thus, more expected than in the past. Sunderland lost 8-0 at Southampton last weekend and the shamed players took it upon themselves to pool £60,000 of their own money to give refunds to the 2,500 away fans who traveled to see the match.
As Richard Whittall writes for Fusion, "it's a great PR gesture," but it "sends a terrible message."
"It negates the inherent risk that comes with buying a ticket to a soccer match," he says. But in an age where a large segment of fans harbor intense resentment towards the athletes that they've helped make into millionaires, disappointment is no longer acceptable and "fair" means that only good things are ever allowed to happen.
This gesture reinforces that an 8-0 loss isn't just a bad day that can happen from time to time in a competitive endeavor, it's another flagrant insult to the fans that needs to be rectified. It breeds entitlement. But at least we haven't reached the point where an individual player who puts in a poor performance is required to refund an eleventh of each fan's ticket price. If they did, Balotelli probably would have already gone broke this season.
Don't celebrate against your former club
Even when a player is no longer a member of a given club, they must still demonstrate their unwavering #RESPECT for their old side in ways that undermine the emotions of their current affiliation.
Again, this is another example of twisting a benign occurrence into an elaborate show of contempt. Celebrating a goal against one's former club isn't seen as the natural and reflexive expression of joy after completing the positive achievement that it is, but an ex-lover knocking on your window and humping their new significant other on your front lawn. It's a declaration of war. It's a reminder that happiness can be achieved without you and that if you're not happy, then no one should be. Ever.
You must kiss the badge of your new club
This is more of a thing in Spain. When a new player is unveiled to the fans, it's become expected that the player will kiss the badge on their new shirt at some point during the festivities. If they don't, they're a snake.
Alvaro Negredo didn't kiss the badge when he was unveiled by Valencia last summer and he was booed. For not kissing a piece of fabric immediately after putting it on his body for the first time. But if you kiss the badge after scoring against your old club, you will probably nuclear war. Or prompt a bunch of people on the Internet to type really irrational things in very large letters.
Always applaud your fans after an away match
Here's another one that Mario Balotelli ran afoul of this season. As soon as the final whistle sounds and the properly timed shirt swaps are completed, the visiting team must applaud the traveling supporters in an obligatory show of appreciation.
Of course, if the visiting team loses by eight or more goals this should be done before the players start handing out refunds. If there is a refund but no applause, a special applause refund should also be given in addition to the original refund. And if that sounds confusing, just keep clapping and handing out cash until the people in the stands stop yelling at you.
Don't leave your house after a loss
By now it should be clear that some people have a hard time accepting that half of the teams in every match that doesn't end in a draw will lose. For these people, players must treat losses like the death of a family member they actually liked. Players spotted in public within 12 hours after a loss for any reason other than emergency treatment of a severed limb will be subjected to scorn, derision and even fines from their club.
It doesn't matter if the player is partying until three a.m. or simply going out for a quiet dinner with friends like Luke Shaw did, the papers will splash this across the backpage and it will be interpreted by some as a clear show of how little they care about the result in particular and their profession in general. To avoid this silly assumption, players should tweet hourly pictures of themselves wearing a T-shirt that says "I have shamed everyone I love" and crying in a dark, windowless room until they must report to the next training session. Listening to Death Cab for Cutie during this period is optional, but strongly advised.
Never admit that money is an important part of a job offer
Nevermind the fact that in any other profession, taking a new job solely for improved pay is an instantly acceptable reason. Footballers who change clubs for a pay increase during their incredibly short and terrifyingly fragile careers within a profession they have devoted their entire lives to pursuing will be labeled "mercenaries" and considered roughly equivalent to someone who sells faulty aluminum siding to babies.
The only decent reasons for a footballer to change clubs are: to play for the club (or clubs, if you're Robbie Keane) they supported as a child, to fulfill the last wish of a dying relative, or if their current club simply don't want to pay them any longer.
Never say that you're tired
As Raheem Sterling recently learned, footballers have it too good to be considered human beings capable of feeling fatigued. Constantly running around for a living shouldn't make you tired when you have a lot of money. That's just science. And if it does, keep your mouth shut about it and keep playing until your body completely breaks down. Because, as all of these rule show, true commitment is measured in stupidity.
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