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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
Harry Redknapp has always had a slightly jaundiced take on modern football. He doesn't care much for vitamin supplements and sports psychology, he'd rather talk old fashioned motivation than 'visualisation' and he doesn't feel bad about swearing at his players. Earlier this season I saw him laugh off suggestions that he'd be changing the menu at the Spurs canteen, illustrating his point by telling one journalist that there was no amount of pasta that would make him any good at football. So, when someone as old school as him says that there's a booze problem in football, it's worth sitting up and paying attention.

Redknapp was deeply disturbed by the actions of his captain, Ledley King, caught on camera in a drunken incident outside a nightclub. It upset him so much that he is now considering a total ban on alcohol during the season, a suggestion that can't have made King very popular in the Spurs dressing room. Redknapp told reporters that footballers are like racing cars. "You shouldn't put diesel in a Ferrari," he raged.

It is traditional at this stage in a football drinking debate to raise the point that the great Liverpool sides of the 1980s sank enough grog to bring an elephant down and still dominated the domestic scene. The Jan Molby generation had a simple motto. Win or lose, we're on the booze. That's all well and good, but have you watched a Liverpool game from the 80s recently? It's like watching a slow motion replay. Simple possession football played at walking pace, repeatedly knocking the ball back for Bruce Grobbelaar to pick up. Compare that with the frenetic madness of the 4-4 draw with Arsenal at Anfield. Molby would have been subbed off long before the break. Today's footballer is an athlete, used to running between 10-15km every game. The new generation of full-back is expected to push up to support the midfield, effectively playing in two positions at once. Lone strikers are required to run the channels to drag defenders out of position. The game has changed.

Not that anyone seems to have actually told today's footballers. You don't need to rely on press-box gossip, of which there is much, to know that every team has their problems. Look at the amount of high profile players who have spent time in police custody this season. No amount of money seems to be able to convince some of them to look after their bodies. But this isn't strictly football's problem. Binge drinking is as British as bad teeth and innate snobbery. The primary objective of the weekend for many in the UK is not to sort out the garden, go see that film or finally read that book, but to, "get plastered." It's what we do.

Fighting against institutionalised drunkenness is futile and Redknapp's plan to ban the booze is almost certainly doomed to failure. Boys will be boys and they'll only find a way round it. There is a middle ground though and that's down to the players themselves, particularly the senior ones like King, to implement. You don't have to drink to get drunk. It's perfectly acceptable to stop before your teeth go numb and you start considering buying waxy sausages from a man whose kitchen is in the street. In an industry where physical fitness is everything, a night on the sauce is only going to damage career prospects, especially with so many youngsters coming through at every club. Redknapp can't stop the booze culture, but the sight of former internationals being phased out of top flight football should do the trick. In such a lucrative walk of life, their inability to moderate will only end up hurting themselves.