Commentary

The loudmouth moaner -- why does every team have one?

A few years ago while running an over-35 team in Bethesda, Maryland, one of my teammates recommended that his mailman try out for us. "He's a nice guy," he assured me. And indeed he was, until we started to play. Although there was nothing wrong with his soccer skills, he wouldn't shut up. For a new player, he was awfully quick to start ordering everyone around and telling us what we were doing wrong.

The mailman wasn't the kind of defender who cajoles and motivates his fellow players from the back, rather all he did was moan about his teammates' mistakes. These were admittedly frequent, but we were not playing to win at all costs, we were playing to get us out of the house on a Sunday. If this had been a Hollywood movie, he might have knocked us into shape and we'd have ended up as the Old Men's Champions of Montgomery County (no doubt breaking box office records at the same time). In the absence of a rags-to-glory script, I asked my teammate to continue enjoying his chats on the porch with the mailman, but he wasn't going to add anything to our side besides rancor and ill-feeling. Plus, we already had our share of hotheads and foghorns.

I thought of him this past weekend while refereeing a men's game in rural Germany. The home team was given a hiding by the visitors, yet both teams had their loudmouths, and it's clear what effect they had on morale. The losing side barely created a chance throughout the afternoon, with the defense under constant pressure. As goals started to fly in during the second half, their two center backs began a sustained campaign of yelling at their midfielders for failing to stop the superior opposition's runs. Did that help? Not one bit, the final score was 0-7. The midfielders either hung their heads, or yelled back until the team's coach intervened and appealed for everyone to calm down.

On the away team there was also tension, despite the easy win. One player lost possession in midfield, and then screamed at his teammate for not having been in the right position to pick up the loose ball. At the time, they were winning 6-0, so you wondered how they behaved when they were losing. The yelled-at player loudly asked back how he was supposed to know that the teammate was going to lose possession. He will not have forgotten the unwarranted tantrum, and his festering resentment will inevitably re-surface in some future game or practice session (or bar fight), to the probable detriment of the team.

When I used to play for a decent amateur team in London, we had a captain who kept his counsel until necessary. That is, if you weren't pulling your weight then he'd let you know, but in a way that was entirely motivational. You quickly realized you were letting the team down, and that if you didn't buck up then you'd soon be on the bench, at the latest by the following weekend. If we'd even thought about screaming back at him, we knew we'd be off the team for good.

Now, soccer's a frustrating game -- the fact that it's played with the feet means that there are many more errors than in games played with the hands. It therefore requires a far higher tolerance level of the players' fallibility. Even at pro level, each game contains countless errors that leave us fans exasperated for the vast majority of the 90 minutes. Not to mention the coaches. We howl with disappointment, as though perfection was the promise: one hundred percent possession, and a goal from every attack.

At the professional level, a team will tolerate a moaner or even a monster if they're good enough to make a difference to the results. Giorgio Chinaglia (Cosmos) and Karl-Heinz Granitza (Chicago Sting) made few friends on the field with their low threshold for suffering teammates who weren't up to scratch, but they were hugely successful players who raised their respective teams' levels. Joshua Kimmich of Bayern Munich is a modern example of a player who gets on his co-players' backs to positive effect, but who's maybe not on their invite list for a fun day out at the Oktoberfest.

The problem for recreational players just out for some fresh air is that such players always have their imitators, even on the bumpiest park field. At my Monday night, half-field kickabout with a bunch of ageing lags we also have one pain on the grass who takes it all too seriously. We generally ignore him, but I've heard one or two whispers over post-game beers in recent weeks. "What's his problem? Why does he have to react like that in a game where we're not even counting the score?" When he doesn't show up, no one complains.

On the other hand, there's something about these players you can almost admire. Their dunder-headed level of commitment. Their refusal to let any kind of rational perspective cloud a volatile, obstreperous determination to stick one over a bunch of fellow men playing in a different color jersey. Their rubicund, steaming outrage at a teammate's incapacity to play the ball exactly where their talents deserve and demand. I suppose they are part of the game, and almost universally part of any given XI. Still, all assholes stink, and thankfully a soccer team's not like the human body -- it doesn't really need one to function.

(Ian Plenderleith's books include "Rock n Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League.")

7 comments about "The loudmouth moaner -- why does every team have one?".
  1. frank schoon, October 19, 2021 at 10:18 a.m.

    Ian , You have a point, but your description of this mailman go in two. One he's just a jerk ,personality wise or two, he should be playing with better players...I don't know. I was told one time, that I should join a coaches league. The problem with the coaches league is that not everyone was a coach, there were some younger players, ex college who were still trying to feel their oats. I chose not to play, not because of the quality offered but I didn't want to get hurt by one of these idiots, who later brag about it at a pub.

    I chose to remain playing pickup in Reston till my late 50's against a range players with a mix of players, some high school, college and over 30 etc... I still took the game serious,even the guys enjoyed playing a good game. They were all experienced. The only thing that I would get upset about is the lack of talking.  You're waiting for that pass but it's taking a little too long, and of course, and ofcourse some players are watched closer of their ability than others therefore I wasn't given much time. Once in a while the ball was stolen was stolen or intercepted on the way to me and the reason was no one told me, 'man behind', 'time', 'turn to left or right'.

    There is nothing worse than having a ball stolen from behind because no one opened their mouth....That pisses me off to no end and I let them know verbally.... The situation could have been prevented  just by TALKING. And there is one thing soccer players dont' do is TALK. I'm the one that continually talks either preventive or leading the player. I look at the situation and see the possible upcoming situations from that. I talk constantly, how else can you play soccer, for there is so much going on you're not aware of..... Many times I felt like most of my teammates were graduates of the soccer program at Gauladet college and all were decent players....

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  2. frank schoon, October 19, 2021 at 10:51 a.m.

    In Holland everyone talks and criticizes, that's part of the learning phase. Kids at an early age in pickup or in games are very verbal and vocal about things happening on the field. Immigrants have a tough time in the beginning playing with dutch soccer kids due to that.

    Dutch are critical by nature , 'it's half empty',  'you can do better', that's why van Basten even when he known as an upcoming talent at Ajax youth academy would come home crying from practice once in while....

    The one thing I miss in the American culture is self-criticism and that can seen in the soccer pro ranks as well. They'll talk more about a cute move they did leaving an opponent behind,  instead of thinking about the bad passes they made or the lack of back support given, or poor positioning  off the ball. When you're self-critical you tend to think more about the game and what you could have done better; instead of,'yeah, we won ,whoopee!' attitude. I find a lack of introspection a hallmark in American soccer players....

    I remember at Maryland playing against the Naval Academy at home which was always hard fought game. The cadets were so in shape and can run all day and break up your rhythm of play. We went into over time and I scored the winning goal. My first words  to the journalist of the college paper was not of joy or happiness. I felt so embarrassed about my play, for the Naval cadets took you out of your game, stated "this was the worst game I ever played".   

    The American soccer player has to be taught to be more analytical about the way he plays for that helps him at the same time think about the game and circumstances, instead of thinking 'oh ,I'll try better next time'. The point is ' try what better next time'?, for without really studying what you did and replay the situations in your mind you won't improve.

  3. Kent James, October 19, 2021 at 11:32 a.m.

    As a team game, soccer takes social skills.  Players need to "read the room."  One of the interesting things about playing pick-up in different locations is the games often have different cultures, or unwritten rules. Sometimes it's important to remind overzealous players that it's not the World Cup.  Or that we have to go to work on Monday.


    On good teams, players may not be best friends off the field, but on the field, they need to cooperate.  It's always a good sign when your opponents start to bicker among themselves. Some players can make players around them better by what they say to them; others make players around them worse. One of my regrets coaching was my 2nd year as a HS coach the most skillful player on the team was very critical of his teammates when they made mistakes. I talked with him about it, and occasionally benched him for it, hoping he would get better, but any improvement was marginal.  I always wonder if the team would have been better off had I kicked him off (or at least suspended him).  But we didn't have a lot of depth, so I tried to work through it.  


    One thing that is for sure, it's a lot more fun to play when teammates aren't jerks...

  4. Bob Ashpole, October 20, 2021 at 7:20 a.m.

    I suggest that the comments miss the point. The point is to weed out toxic personalities, that while they may be the best player around, would destroy the atmosphere and destroy everyone's enjoyment of the game. Some players simply cannot switch gears going from playing competitively during the week to playing in a recreational league on the weekend.

    The last thing an o-35 manager needs is someone in a friendly game who plays like he is in the World Cup finals. Sure everyone wants to win, but more importantly everyone wants to have fun and go home in one piece after the match.

    Even on a professional team someone with a toxic personality usually gets traded before they poisen the locker room beyond repair.

  5. frank schoon replied, October 20, 2021 at 8:30 a.m.

    Bob, the question was 'why does every team have a loud mouth moaner.?'  I never ran across one and I've played on a bunch of teams, but then these guys all can play ball, that I played with. In all the pickup games I've played ,I have never ran across a moaner like that. Maybe this guy was a real a-hole, who knows. Ian is suggesting that every team has one....I don't think so!  

    Also if I do join a pickup game and I see the level these guys are at then I'll play accordingly, knowing what to expect. As far as I'm concerned what Ian experienced was beyond how a guy should act and I think what Kent stated about lack of social skills spot on.....What you can experience during the heat of the game is someone that can't control his temper at times, which is more prevalent.

  6. Ian Plenderleith, October 21, 2021 at 12:17 a.m.

    Bob's on the money. You can play and compete without making a whole lot of noise, and still be respectful to your co-players and opponents. Millions of players manage it every weekend.

  7. stewart hayes, October 21, 2021 at 11:08 p.m.

    An adult amateur team I played on had a player that was constantly telling us what to do.  He was a solid midfielder, a hard worker and a big help to us, although he could not score for some reason.  His constant directions were irritating as hell and we told him but that did not work very well.  It was disruptive because it interfered with our decision making.  That experience was one of many things that convinced me of the importance of letting the youth players I coached make their own decisions, right or wrong.  Of course we know what happens when coaches or players talk too much.  We naturally tune them out.  

    There was another player, center back, calm, skillful and also Dutch by coincidence.  He was always giving us an encouraging word.  I still remember him telling me once as I was going off on a dribble 'you can do it stewart'.  That coming from the best player on the team was like a shot a adrenalin.   

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