Mesut Özil having a cigarette and a glass of wine on a yacht just outside Ibiza had the internet forums, Twitter and Facebook go mad a while ago(While the German media were surprisingly rather silent about the matter). ”A bad role model” and ”The reason for Özil’s bad stamina” were amongst the most uttered phrases.
To give some perspective to the matter: Smoking and playing professional football is not an entirely new combination. Johan Cruyff smoked two packs a day, Brazil captain Socrates one pack a day. Sure, the days of smoking during training sessions have come to an end, but even after Cruyff and Socrates there have been smoking football pros. Amongst them also a number of German professional. No Schalke fan would doubt that Yves Eigenrauch gave his all for the club, despite his habit of lighting up the place in the nastiest way possible(he rolled his cigarettes himself).
Özil is far from alone when it comes to smoking and playing professional football. Former Stuttgart player Murat Yakin was caught by Swiss tabloid Blick with a cigarette in his mouth. And Serbian professional Goran Obradović told the same paper that he was worsening his sperm quality and the air quality for the people around him 20 times a day. Obradović wasn’t too worried about his habit, and told the paper: ”Every fourth footballer I have met is in fact a smoker.”
Our place to judge?
I have in the past always judged footballers according to their performance on the pitch, and not their private life. I didn’t care that Ryan Giggs’s penis acted like a British tourist on a holiday on Mallorca, or that Wayne Rooney did use the F-word in front of a camera. At the end of the day those guys do get paid to perform on the pitch. Both Rooney and Giggs have a number of trophies they can boast about, and their figures would suggest that Manchester United have gotten their money’s worth when paying their wages. The same can be said about Mesut Özil and Real Madrid. Özil has played 63 matches for club and country this season, and he has been amongst the hardest working Madrid players according to his performance stats. Furthermore, Özil has done what he was bought for, and then some, the amount of assists Özil has produced is staggering.
So, the numbers would suggest that Real fans have gotten their money worth. And, if clubs want to reassure that there players aren’t smoking, what is stopping them from prohibiting this habit in the players contracts, or in the club rules? I’m sure that Özil and a number of other players wouldn’t smoke if it would cost them a lot of money getting caught with a cigarette in their mouth.
Think about the children, oh the children…
In an age of hysterical organisations that are fronted by even more hysterical leaders ”the role model” argument is made every time when a footballer, an actor or another type of celebrity gets caught doing something unhealthy or something that is considered to be morally wrong. Their status as role models for children is often highlighted by the media and politicians, and given as the reason for the public outrage that is sure to follow.
However, ask yourself this before you join in: Is it our right to encroach on these footballers private decisions? We as a society have already disapproved of this habit by taxing cigarettes, outlawing them in pubs and nightclubs, and we have placed a warning label on the pack. And furthermore: Do footballers really have a bigger influence on the decisions a child makes then said child’s parents?
Going by myself, and my childhood memories I remember that I wanted to be like my favorite Werder Bremen player back when I was 8 years old. Mario Basler could place free kicks like nobody else, and his vision of the game was outstanding. Basler was a smoker back then(still is to my knowledge), and the public and I were well aware of his habit. The important point here is that I wanted to be like Basler was on the pitch, not off the pitch! I didn’t pick up smoking then, and it still is my mobile phone that I carry in my pocket which is in charge of worsening my sperm, not cigarettes…
What do you think? Should footballers be allowed to smoke? Do footballers have such an immense effect on children’s choices as the public thinks they do? Discuss below, and leave a comment!
Huge thanks to Daniel Nyari who created the illustration of Mesut Özil. If you aren’t doing so already, follow the lovely man on Twitter.