Stolen from Tim Vickery's blog on the BBC Home comforts strain ties with clubs
Tim Vickery | 11:52 UK time, Monday, 4 January 2010
Jo's one-man introduction of a winter break into the English calendar by returning to South America without permission over the Christmas period is not a good sign at all. It sends out a bad message - that Everton's Brazilian striker has fallen off the tightrope.
It's arguable that we are seeing more such acts of inconsistency from players than ever before at the top level of the game, and I am convinced this is no coincidence. On the one hand, football's athletic development and the crowded fixture list mean that the physical and, probably, mental demands are greater than ever.
But on the other hand, so are the rewards. After two years with a major club, a player need never work again. He is surrounded by temptations. Doors open which he never even knew existed when he was a kid. Why bother with all those sacrifices?
Perhaps Ronaldinho is the most glaring recent example. Though there are signs of a recovery this season, he has been a shadow of himself for three years. The talent has all been there but not the acceleration that gave him space to use it. It points to off-the-field excesses and the fact that he, perhaps, is reaching an age at which his body needs more recovery time.
The difference, of course, is that Ronaldinho was on fire for three or four years. He has scaled the mountain. Jo is still gaining a foothold. He's a 22-year-old striker of undoubted promise. But leaving his club in the lurch would seem to indicate that he is happy with what he has achieved and is not prepared to pay the price needed to move up to the next level.
A decade ago, when Premier League clubs started importing South Americans, they were frequently guilty of buying the player and forgetting the human being. Outside training time, they would leave their expensive acquisition entirely to his own devices, in an alien culture, with no idea of how to solve day-to-day problems.
A few months back, I interviewed Colombian striker Juan Pablo Angel on this very subject. He was proud to see himself as a pioneer. Aston Villa signed him and then left him on his own to sort out a problem with his wife's health. But during the course of his spell in the West Midlands, things became much more professional, with welfare officers appointed to help the players. English clubs are clearly doing something right in this regard. Wigan, for example, have managed to get excellent performances from players from Ecuador and Honduras, countries with little tradition of exporting to Europe.
I wonder, though - and this is speculation rather than criticism - if there is one area where more could still be done: that of forging an emotional link between the player and the club.
It is sometimes said that some Brazilians play for their European club for money and represent their national team for love. There is something in this. Players who may have disappointed English supporters with their attitude, such as Elano and Robinho, are quite happy to knuckle down and make a useful contribution when they pull on the yellow shirt.
But if they can do it for their country, then why not for their club? There are obstacles to be overcome here. When they play for Brazil, they have a very clear idea of who they are representing. But with their clubs, this is more complicated.
I read recently Sir Bobby Charlton's autobiography 'My Manchester United Years' and was struck by the strong sense he had, drilled into the team by Matt Busby, that United were representing the people of the world's first industrial city. This was part of the entire ethos of the club.
So much has changed. Previously, a city's identity was tied up with what it produced. This has weakened with the loss of so much manufacturing. In fact, I would argue that part of the explanation for the extraordinary popularity of football in the United Kingdom is that it offers people a chance, in a sanitised environment, to maintain contact with the collective values of the industrial age. But the factories have closed and the clubs have become global brands. United, for example, have more fans in Asia than in all the other continents combined. So the question of who the clubs represent is not so clear.
And, of course, the players have changed since Charlton's day. The amount they earn limits their contact with ordinary fans, and nowadays the players come from all over the world. The advance of technology means that, for example, a Brazilian can play for an English club but watch nothing but Brazilian TV and keep in constant contact with his mates back home. He can be in one place physically yet his mind be in another. As recently as 15 years ago, a player was almost obliged to integrate. Now he can exist in his own little Brazil.
This is what the clubs are up against - players who earn so much that motivation is not guaranteed and who are increasingly likely to feel no emotional connection to the institution they belong.
I recently saw Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz give a lecture to Brazilian coaches on the demands of working in different continents. He stressed the importance of a coach immersing himself in the history of his club and told the story of his time in charge of Sporting Lisbon when he took the squad to the club museum. They regarded it as a punishment, he said, but they had to go.
This kind of initiative is increasingly important. Manchester United twins Fabio and Rafael da Silva were recently on Brazilian TV saying that Manchester is a terrible place for going out. Do they really not know anything of the city's giant contribution to global popular culture? The club should be telling them. They should know who and what they are representing.
Making players aware of the cultural context can be almost as important as work on the training ground. Jo should be so immersed in Everton culture that he'll be sick at the sight of another toffee. Because by jumping ship in search of some sunshine during the festive period, he has not just let down his manager, team-mates and the fans. He has let down everyone who has helped build the institution since 1878.