Pep Guardiola has banned Wifi at Manchester City’s training ground, Sergio Aguero confirmed yesterday. Speaking with reporters, he said the move came after the City manager caught a player checking his phone while receiving a massage:
‘In this place I am preparing the orange juice, and they (team-mates) were asking if the internet was working. “I think it’s broken,” I said. I thought they were messing with me, but it was right.
‘It seems that one time, he entered the massage rooms and saw one of my team-mates, I don’t know who it was, relaxing with his phone and, I don’t know, maybe he did not like it.
The reason, according to The Daily Mail at least, comes down to camaraderie:
Guardiola made the adjustment to foster team spirit, hoping his squad would concentrate on communicating with each other rather than being glued to their mobiles at the City Football Academy.
This is about the time where one would comment on these new age managers with their new fangled ideas, but banning internet access isn’t on quite the same level as introducing a healthy diet or banning all night pub crawls in the middle of a football season.
In fact, Guardiola may be doing these players a major favour, particularly as many of them have been brought up in an age of ubiquitous screens and endlessly curated social media profiles.
European football clubs have long been criticised for failing to acclimatise expensive new signings, mostly by refusing to help players find accommodation, schools for their children etc. Yet as talented players increasingly arrive from further and further afield, throwing up all kinds of language and cultural barriers, the challenge of building and sustaining a united team is more difficult than ever.
It’s understandably tempting for players to stay on their phones throughout their time at a club rather than force awkward conversations with teammates who may be gone in a matter of years, if not months. Football reporters are well accustomed to the familiar scene of a group of players walking together but alone out of the team bus, white earbuds in place, phones in hand ready for checking as soon as they get out of sight of the press.
Yet if psychologists like Sherry Turkle, author of the book Reclaiming Conversation, are to be believed, this connectivity threatens one of the major facets of human relationships: conversation. Unlike texting or tweeting, conversation cannot be edited, it cannot be curated, and it doesn’t exist in a virtual cloud, but in a physical place. As Turkle writes:
Life is a conversation and you need places to have it. The virtual provides us with more spaces for these conversations and these are enriching. But what makes the physical so precious is that it supports continuity in a different way; it doesn’t come and go, and it binds people to it. You can’t just log off or drop out.
A football career, though luxurious for all involved, is also short. What remains long after the final whistle beyond the giant pile of money is the memory of community, of moments, of conversations, juvenile or otherwise. After a week in which Donald Trump forever debased the concept of “locker talk,” the truth is that players need more of it (the normal, non-misogynist kind), not less, both for the good of their team and themselves.
Team spirit is an ephemeral concept at the best of times, and few managers seem to be able to find a magic bullet to foster it at a club. Establishing a space where players have no choice but to ask, “What’s up?” to their peers however is a good start. Pep should be lauded for trying.