Advertisement

Voices: Why do we treat Kyle Walker and other ‘bad boy’ footballers like gods, when they’re really just inadequate men?

Manchester City’s Kyle Walker has apologised (Bradley Collyer/PA) (PA Wire)
Manchester City’s Kyle Walker has apologised (Bradley Collyer/PA) (PA Wire)

Watching England defender and Man City star Kyle Walker publicly admit to obliterating his own marriage on camera is a pretty uncomfortable viewing experience.

What makes it even worse is that he doesn’t seem to be able to explain himself. Because, let’s be honest, that’s all we – and presumably his wife – want to know: why did you do it, Kyle?

At the ripe old age of 33, Walker has fathered six children by two different women. Nothing particularly wrong with that. It’s just his wife didn’t know about some of them. And you really should be honest about this stuff when you’re married, shouldn’t you?

Turns out, though, that he wasn’t being honest with any of us, actually. Least of all, his family.

And sorry as I feel for his wife, Annie Kilner – who’s currently pregnant with the couple’s fourth child – to state the obvious, it’s Walker’s kids that matter in all this. It’s not their fault they were born to a father that I can only describe as a narcissistic, entitled, Premier League footballer.

Walker certainly isn’t the first player to make “idiot choices and idiot decisions”, and he won’t be the last. Which, to me, begs the question: Why do we continue to give these foolish footballers a free pass? And why do we treat men like Walker and other “bad boy” players like gods, when they’re really just terrible men?

Reading the broader story about Walker’s downfall reminded me of other occasions when players at his level have really messed up. Hearing from those who have rallied to support Walker – Pep Guardiola, his manager at Manchester City, and England manager, Gareth Southgate – echoes other public misdemeanours we no doubt all remember: Wayne Rooney’s escapades with prostitutes and John Terry’s alleged affair with a team mate’s wife come to mind.

What’s left behind in those sorry episodes are the women, the wives. Colleen Rooney, Toni Terry. Loyal to the last.

So, what do these selfish men all appear to have in common? Well, to state the obvious, they’re pretty good at kicking a ball around. Add to that: extremely healthy bank balances, the admiration of hundreds of thousands of football fans, a smattering of narcissism, plus seemingly very little recourse for their actions – and you’ve got a pretty perfect catalyst for exceptionally bad behaviour to play out.

These men are paid truly inconceivable amounts of money. Walker’s weekly wage packet is currently around £160,000. That’s significantly more than the (still eye-watering) average Premier League salary of £60k per week. I mean, what do you even do with all that money? Doesn’t it just simply lose its worth when you have so much of it that you can effectively live a lottery-winners lifestyle before the age of 35? And what impact does it have on how you live your life?

Eye-watering salaries aren’t unique to the world of football. Look no further than City of London trading floors and you’ll find men of a similar age earning similar amounts of money. I have no doubt some, perhaps many, of them have fathered children in similar circumstances, had affairs and been forced to leave their partners. Some may have been found out and paid dearly for it.

But there’s one big difference which, to me, makes Walker’s mess all the more reprehensible: fame.

Kyle Walker is one of the most successful English football players of his generation. He’s often seen wearing the captain’s armband for Manchester City, and last November he was given the honour of leading out his country as England captain for the first time.

When you are bestowed with that level of responsibility, duty and public exposure, you are also bestowed with the weight of influence. You automatically become a role model for the younger players in your club, and for young men and boys all over the world. The example Walker sets through his behaviour on and off the pitch is exactly what younger boys will want to emulate.

It is the acknowledgment of this sense of responsibility and the recognition that his behaviour – good or bad – has a direct impact on those who trust and respect him that is the key to staying on the right side of the track.

In addition, it strikes me that lack of recourse is a major problem in this situation. Who does Walker have to answer to? Nobody. Not his wife, not the mother of his other children, and clearly not his club manager Pep Guardiola who has in fact come out in full support of his defender. A somewhat unsurprising move in a sport which has a long and established patriarchal culture.

Is it too much to ask for all this to be constantly drilled home to players by their seniors? Aren’t they told to make sure they keep their house in order? That young boys around the world look to them daily as examples of how to live their lives? Walker and his teammates should be reminded every single day of their careers as Premier League footballers that they carry this responsibility with them.

Once they leave football, I couldn’t care less what they get up to. Once they’re out of that spotlight and no longer exerting an influence on my 11-year-old son, it’s up to them to decide how they behave and how they choose to treat others.

Until that point – and while they are on the payroll of club and country, people like Guardiola shouldn’t be publicly supporting Walker. Instead, I think he should be shaking his head in shame that on his watch, one of his star players has behaved in such a foolish and reprehensible way.