by Lewis Ambrose

News is scarce this time of year, and that just means there are more nonsense stories around about what players get up to in their spare time.

Transfer gossip is one thing but I’m referring to the ludicrous stories surrounding the personal lives of players that we will see even more than usual over the next month – particularly about players smoking.

Some footballers smoke. It shouldn’t be such a big deal.

Ashley Cole is arguably the best left-back to ever play for Arsenal and England, he won everything in the English game. He also smokes, and was pictured doing so just this week.

That even came after the defender, now playing for Roma, has said in the past that he quit and urged Jack Wilshere to do the same last year.

Zinedine Zidane, and Johan Cruyff were the very best in the world. The latter has said that he smoked up to 20 cigarettes a day at the peak of his powers, while the former was photographed smoking a number of times during his career.

Wayne Rooney is on course to become England’s all-time top goalscorer but is known to like a cigarette, a drink, and a terrible diet at times throughout his career.

The England and Manchester United captain even has amateur boxing bouts with fellow footballers in his kitchen but manages to compete at the very highest level – I don’t think the odd cigarette is too much of a concern.


Some of the best players in the world have smoked throughout their careers and it hasn’t prevented them from reaching the very top.

Ray Parlour has shed some light on the double winning team of 1998, saying the French players used to smoke. Recalling pre-season the Romford Pelé says:

“I’ll always remember the moment Steve Bould went up to the bar and ordered 35 pints for five of us.

“After we left the bar we spotted all the French lads in the coffee shop and they were sitting around smoking.

“I thought, ’How are we going to win the league this year? We’re all drunk and they’re all smoking’. We ended up winning the double that year.”

Smoking may well affect performance, but there’s no actual proof that it does.

Ultimately it’s the performance that’s relevant.

Back in January Arsenal lost 2-0 to Southampton to two goals that could both be pinned no Wojciech Szczesny.

After the game the Pole reportedly had a cigarette in the showers, and he hasn’t played in the Premier League since.

Now imagine Arsenal had won 2-0 on the south coast. Other than more negative comments about his attitude, would anyone have batted an eyelid?

Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger dropped him but that may well have been for the performance itself – especially seeing as the manager played down the impact of smoking in a press conference in the week following the game.

“Does the occasional cigarette affect performance? No,” said Wenger after that very same 2-0 defeat.

“If you make a good pass on the football pitch that is what people want to see.

“I’m sure there are some top sportsmen who smoke, but it is not a good example. The best is you don’t smoke.”

As long as players do their jobs well nobody minds what they get up to in their own time, or what example they set.

Bad Examples

As long as the example isn’t truly awful.

I’m not saying going off the rails is ok. I don’t want anyone – least of all professional athletes – to be chain smokers or alcoholics.

I would love our players to emulate George Best and Jimmy Greaves on the pitch next season but would be appalled if they fell for the same vices as those legends of the game in their personal lives.

Having said that, they still became the best players in the country at their best. Maybe they could have made more of their careers but they played at the very highest level and are still loved by Manchester United and Tottenham fans


What exactly wrong with occasionally indulging?

Just drinking and eating the wrong things are wrong if they hinder performance but are likely to go unmentioned if a player does well.

If it does hinder performance the player could cost you a few points but, ultimately, he won’t be at the club forever if he keeps making the wrong choices.

It’s his own career that he’d be damaging.

Footballers are very privileged and are paid a lot of money. They should, within reason, conduct themselves in a way that is good for the club that pays them.

But we can’t just undoubtedly say that smoking occasionally affects performance, so why is it met with outrage?

Footballers private lives should remain private and headlines surrounding a player who goes out with his friends and has a cigarette on holiday every now and then are just ridiculous.