Talented Argentinian striker Carlos Tévez last week handed in a written request for a transfer from Manchester City, citing a breakdown in relationship with certain executives and individuals at the club and family reasons – not least of which was the language barrier and the fact that his family remains in Argentina, including his daughter, Katia, who was prematurely born in February.
The average UK premier league football club is a melting pot of different cultures, with players from Eastern Europe, the Southern hemisphere and African Nations, thrown together with only a passion for football in common.
Whilst behind the Tevez story some raise questions about his agent, Kia Joorabchian, (although as one of football’s highest paid players, I question the veracity of this), time and again we see stories of players who have had enough or whose relationships break down. I question whether the football clubs are doing enough to ensure that their players – and their families – can settle.
Money and a job you love are undoubtedly great assets, not be underrated, and there’s no question that top level footballers are a highly privileged bunch. But when times get tough (and in any match, there’s usually only one winning team), it’s family and friends who put things into perspective. In bringing footballers with families to the UK – or to any other international environment – it is essential that they have solid support.
The most basic essential in anyone’s essential ‘living abroad’ toolkit is language training – for the players AND their immediate families. Rumours abound that Tévez’ English is limited to football, and his family have stayed in Argentina because of the language barrier.
Whilst I acknowledge that immersive language training is time and money intensive, the benefits of having a team with the ability to communicate with each other must pay huge dividends, and compared to the transfer fees changing hands, is small beer. (I note here that English speaking players have an advantage, as here are more English speaking communities and schools worldwide.)
Whilst many will doubtless murmur that for £286,000-a-week, tax free, they’d put up with a little loneliness, the reality is that language is often at the root of inability to cope with living in a different culture.
Secondly, and element of cross cultural training is essential. Things as basic as time keeping, group interaction, involvement of family and even table manners are vastly different between cultures. By understanding those difference, learning to respect them and coming to a point of acceptability for all, we take a step towards people finding their new environments easier to deal with.
According to the Japanese Red Cross, schizophrenia is called ‘Syuttatsu-no-Yamai’ in Japanese: the disease caused by traveling (including the journey from childhood to adulthood). Whilst this may be an extreme suggestion in the case of footballers coming into clubs, culture shock is very real.
In the first six months in a new place, the honeymoon period has a holiday-like quality, learning about a new place and new culture whilst still retaining the goodwill and ties of home. But at ‘home’, life carries on without the person who’s moved, news frequency lessens, and the different ways of doing things can start to pall. (One of our team laughs at the memory of having stood in a supermarket in tears because they couldn’t purchase Marmite whilst living abroad.) For the families of players, who don’t have the weekly routines of training and matches, and missing the backup and support of their own families, this can be really tough.
I really question whether football clubs have truly embraced these difficulties, and am surprised that managers like Roberto Mancini haven’t had more of a voice in ensuring that players are better briefed.
Early in his stay in the UK, Tévez was stopped by traffic officers and his £140 thousand Bentley was impounded because he didn’t have a full UK driving license and the cars windows were too dark. Setting aside, for a moment, the fact that someone sold him the car in the first place, licensing rules are different across the world. This, along with information about power supplies, water supplies, postal systems and policing is information that the average holiday rep gives people visiting a new place for just two weeks.
It’s hugely remiss of the football clubs if they aren’t offering this kind of basic information to their newly arrived players AND their families. A massive opportunity for cultural assimilation – and thence loyalty to their clubs – is being miseed.
Our ‘Life in a Matrix’ podcast on cross cultural skills development may also interest readers.