x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Footballers in English Premier League need to mind their language

Learning the language is vital for integrating with Premier League fans and teammates in England, but even then there are no guarantees.

English should be the spoken language in the dressing room at English clubs. It usually is. I played with countless foreign players and all were told to learn English.

The Scandinavians and Dutch already knew it - they tend to learn a new language each morning after breakfast. It is one reason why – Thomas Brolin aside – Scandinavians have done well in England. The African lads often have a good grasp of English, too, but it is harder for players coming from South America.

Learning English is vital for integrating if you play in England, but even then there are no guarantees.

Juan Sebastian Veron, one of the best players in the world, did all he could to integrate at Old Trafford. He made a huge effort to learn the language and was really keen to come out socially with the players.

If a players' dinner was organised he was the first there with a smile and a few new English words – not all of them fit for repetition in front of families.

The players taught him bad words and laughed as he used them. Despite all his efforts, it did not work out for him in England because of footballing reasons. His playing style just did not suit.

Clubs take a risk with any foreign player and that is why there is a premium on British prospects.

Manchester United and Liverpool have bought the best of the young British talent this summer, players who do not have to settle in a new country, learn a new language or style of football or what referees will tolerate.

It is important for English clubs to have a British core. It is part of the tradition. Not so in Europe.

Inter Milan have always filled their team with foreign players while United did not have a South American player until they signed Veron in 2001.

And it is always a bonus for fans if those British players are local or supporters of the club. Foreign talents should be embraced though.

I'm very open minded about foreign players and did not agree with the three-foreigner rule in the Champions League in the 1990s.

I judge people on personality, not nationality. Foreign players have improved the standard of the Premier League and made it the best in the world. Those who have succeeded have done so because they have had the personality to embrace the culture.

Language remains the sticking point. If there are cliques of foreign players talking in French or Spanish, then it is not good for the dressing room. You don't know what is being said and others will be suspicious.

So it was English only at United and we would often tell the Norwegians - Ronny Johnsen, Henning Berg and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - to stop speaking Norwegian. It was light-hearted, but there was a serious point to it.

Some of the players struggle with the heavy English accents. I have heard Liverpool players say that they cannot understand the Scouse lads such as Steve Gerrard and Jamie Carragher.

And with the greatest respect to my former boss, not everyone, British guys included, could fully understand Sir Alex Ferguson straightaway. But they could certainly understand when he was telling them off, trust me.

Eric Cantona spoke very good English and yet played stupid. Anderson and Nani have to perfect their English, but it is a lot better. I have just been away with them for three weeks, so I know.

They hang around with Park Ji-sung, from South Korea, and Patrice Evra, who has lived just about everywhere other than France. I have no idea in what language that little group communicate.

Ultimately, though, it is what a player does on the pitch that matters. That is where he will be judged. He can come from a tribe in the Amazon and speak English like the Queen, but if he is no good then he's no good.

There is an anomaly in all this. Carlos Tevez has lived in England for five years and made little effort to speak English. It could be viewed as disrespectful or lazy, but he is paid to play football. He does not like living in Manchester, and has been honest enough to say that.

He cannot be hanged for telling the truth as he sees it. Yet nobody can find fault with his performances. He has been Manchester City's best player for two years.

Tevez gets by because football has its own language on the field. He also has his teammate Pablo Zabaleta to translate where needed. Carlos is very quiet anyway, so it is not like he would be saying a lot if he did speak English.

But I cannot help but feel that if Carlos did speak English and embraced the English life more off the field, then he would not be so keen to move away.

Andrew Cole's column is written with the assistance of European football correspondent Andy Mitten

sports@thenational.ae


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