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Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship

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Opinion: “Can you truly understand football without ever having played the game?”

Is a career within the game a prerequisite to airing opinions on football, or should all views be respected, regardless of background? Kevin Barker looks at both sides of the argument

| Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Following Wednesday evening’s game, during which we gave a great account of ourselves at Bramall Lane, I started to think about fan opinions, and particularly some of the overreaction to Dan Neil’s red card.

To briefly touch on the game itself, for me, we made a top six side look average for thirty minutes and then showed great character after going two goals down.

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images

Sheffield United’s team had two £20+ million players in the starting eleven, and they were able to bring on a £17.5m striker late in the game. On the flip side, we had few options that would have enabled us to change the game, and our squad is threadbare in comparison.

We could easily have gone there, lost 3-0, and the consensus would have been, ‘it’s a tough place to go, the Championship is a step up’, and we would have moved on.

As it was, we showed a lot of promise, and I’m very much on board the ‘Neil Warnock train’ and dreaming of the top six. If the board and the recruitment team don’t back Alex Neil, it will be a missed opportunity as the league is wide open this season.

Going back to my initial point, can you truly appreciate how good a finish it was by Lynden Gooch on Wednesday if you haven’t tried to do it yourself?

Sheffield United v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

In any sport, I do believe that it helps to have played it, even just once, to appreciate the skill level required, and to understand the game better - be it football, golf or tiddlywinks.

On a personal level, I didn’t play football at a high level. My career started out at Lambton Sports U13s before I went onto the North Biddick pub in Sunday league, and then on to a slightly better level in the West Yorkshire Premier League, but I never got paid to play.

I just feel that if you haven’t played the game, how can you fully appreciate how hard it is to play an accurate through ball, or to time a tackle perfectly before the striker is able to shoot?

There are lots of instances of managers who did not play at a high level, but made a name for themselves regardless. Arsene Wenger and Roy Hodgson are prime examples, and both have enjoyed massive success in the dugout.

Arsene Wenger AS Monaco Coach Photo by Pascal Rondeau/Allsport/Getty Images

Having played as a left-back, I have been involved in plenty of situations where I have pulled back an attacker, mistimed a tackle, or handled the ball. The split-second decisions are sometimes so automatic that it is instinctive, rather than a conscious or thought-out reaction.

When you factor in the atmosphere, the pressure of playing professional football and the experience level of the player in question, it is easy to see how mistakes are made.

I am sure that there are fans out there who have never kicked a ball who have a great grasp of the game, and equally, there are some analysts who have played professionally who talk utter rubbish - Alan Smith and Andy Hinchcliffe spring to mind here.

It is no coincidence that the majority of airtime on Sky Sports and the BBC is given to ex-pros who can dissect games and certain situations with confidence, having been there and done it themselves.

Anyway, I’m off to slag off the England cricket team, even though I’ve never played professionally!


Reader’s Corner: Letting go of being cynical about Sunderland


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Talking Tactics - Sheffield Wednesday (A)

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