When some people walk away from football, the shock of the end is overpowering.
Former Liverpool midfielder David Thompson told Simon Hughes in the latter's book, Men In White Suits, that, in the first couple of years of his retirement, his heart-rate would naturally rise around 3pm every Saturday, so attuned was his body to playing football. at that time. Michael Calvin's Living on the Volcano tells of managers who have to go to the gym on a Saturday afternoon to satisfy their bodily routine.
Not so Richard Dunne. The Irish legend retired from football in 2015, and is currently living with his family in France. While he still watches Match of the Day and does some punditry for BT Sport around Manchester City matches, Dunne has no interest in following the usual route into coaching or management:
No interest in it [coaching]. I'll hopefully start coaching my son's team soon, but not professionally, no.
There's no length in the jobs now, anywhere, regardless of wherever you go. If you take a job in the League of Ireland, or in England, or anywhere, you have six months maximum, regardless of your three or four year contract and then that's it. If it's not working out then it's not working out.
There's so many different reasons for it to go right or go wrong...the thought of uprooting the family again, move somewhere, do something, think you're doing it great, then get sacked after six months, and you're back to square one...it just doesn't appeal to me at all.
The intensity of management is, frankly, ludicrous, and that level of obsession with football is something that Dunne doesn't miss at all.
I really enjoyed being a footballer, and having that in my life, and now I'm enjoying it from the other side, of just watching it as a fan, and not have to make decisions or do anything based on contracts.
It's massively intense, the whole time. The whole life...is football. When you walk outside the door, it's football, somebody wants to talk about football. When you go for a meal with your family, it's like 'Sorry, I don't want to disturb you, but', yeah, but you are!
It's constant, all the time. People will generally come up to you and are excited to meet a footballer, but for the footballer himself, it's like 'Jesus Christ, everywhere I go, it's just this'.
When you stop, and take a step back and get a little bit of freedom...because you think that the whole world revolves around football, and when you stop playing, it's like.. Jesus. Now, somebody asks me 'did you see the match last night', and I never realised that there was a match on. You have your life back again.
The state of modern football is constantly diagnosed by perhaps the final generation of old British football talents: Manchester United's Class of '92. Paul Scholes seems to be engaged in an eternal crusade against modern football, and spoke last week of how the Premier League - which he is paid by BT to watch - no longer stirs his soul, saying that he preferred to watch Salford. Dunne has some sympathy for Scholes' view: "I'm sure Paul Scholes is watching some games now and thinking, 'This is shit'. I've commentated on some matches and you think to yourself, 'well, what the hell are you supposed to say about that? Nothing happened!'. You're told 'just fill it, just fill the air".
Nicky Butt, too, has taken aim at modern football. In an interview with The Times, Butt complains of modern footballers being overly coddled by the vast football institutions who train them. With most football training now largely the preserve of academies, Butt feels that he has had to bring in circus performers to teach his players how to fall over: "I see players in our academy and they can’t move. Our lads don’t know how to fall".
Dunne also feels that football's move to academy coaching has stripped the game of a level of spontaneity. He is in a unique position in which to judge this phenomenon: the Manchester City Richard Dunne left in 2009 is virtually unrecognisable from the club it is today. Dunne took his son to the academy recently, and found it to be "completely different", calling it "just a big football factory".
Has it lost its soul?
Yeah. Carrington [the previous training ground], you knew everyone, because the building was so small. Everyone was on top of each other and everyone knew each other. There (the new Etihad Campus), I’d imagine you wouldn’t know half the people in the building because it’s so big. If someone got injured during training [at Carrington] it would be ‘Right, you come over here’ and you’d mix with them (the youth players) and start playing games with them. It will lose its soul a bit but that’s just the way football is.
When we went [to the new training campus], the Saudi Arabian women’s team was playing on one pitch. There was another match, I don't know who they were on another pitch. It was just like ‘What is this place?’ There are 17 pitches in it. There are different entrances for different people on different sides of the people – one for the academy and one for the first team. One dressing-room on one side and ten on the other. They don’t come across each other at all. But I think the new manager is trying to introduce some of the academy players getting picked to train with the first team for experience. That will help.
The way we had it, we knew everybody. You mix with them and play games, and you had reserve games.
It will lose its soul bit, but that's the way football has gone.
Dunne feels it is merely copying a formula that was successful for Barcelona:
Everything is an academy. Everything is about ‘Well, it worked for Barcelona so it has to work for the rest of us’. You can see the kids training there and they’re just individuals. Everyone is an individual and then, I presume as they get older, they’ll build a team but it’s all about the individual – can they move right, can they kick the ball, juggle the ball. It’s a factory. You’re trying to find one. And they might find one every four or five years if they’re lucky. The amount of money that must’ve gone into it is crazy.When they’re 13/14, then an academy is useful because their bodies have developed. But when you’re six or seven, kids don’t even know how to run properly. Just let them have the freedom to go and play. And when their brains have developed, they (coaches) can teach them what they want. You’ve got kids in academies four days a week for two hours. They’ll come out on a Friday and someone will say ‘Show us something new’ and they’ll all do the same trick because that’s what they’ve learned that week. It’s just a lot of robots.When I was 10/11, you’d be playing against 16-year-olds out on the street. Everyone wanted to play so it toughens you up straightaway. You’d know that you couldn’t get past one fella because he was much bigger and stronger and faster so you’d have to think of a new way to beat him. That’s how you solved your problem.
Copying Barcelona seems an imperfect plan: the club have produced some of the most technically gifted midfielders of the modern age, but have had trouble producing the kind of raw talent who can beat a player and open up the pitch. For this, they have imported players who played on the streets of South America: Ronaldinho, Neymar, Luis Suarez, and to a lesser extent, Leo Messi. As hard as they can try, academies cannot create these conditions.
There was no shock at the end of football for Richard Dunne.
There may, however, be a shock in the future of football for us all.
Richard Dunne was speaking at the launch of SSE Airtricity’s #PowerOfGreen research findings which highlight the achievements the nation is proudest of. More more information, you can visit www.sseairtricity.com.