Professional football isn’t like most other professions. You work odd hours, job security can vary wildly, and unless you get injured there’s pretty much no such thing as PTO. We all understand this, on some level. There’s an expectation that players forego some of the benefits and protections of most other employees in the workforce in order to revel in the glory of top flight football and to make a lot of money while plying one’s trade.
But football, and the culture surrounding it, shouldn’t be immune to examination or protection from change. There was a time when players could smoke in the dressing room; it was an accepted fact of the culture, until one day when it wasn’t. There continues to be a debate over whether English football should have a Christmas break, as they have in other European leagues. At the risk of re-litigating that fight in this article, it’s a discussion worth having, and I would argue that “it’s how we do things here” isn’t a good reason to keep our slate of Boxing Day fixtures untouched.
I bring this up because Alberto Moreno’s partner gave birth to their son, Alberto Moreno Jr., early Saturday morning. Papa Moreno wasn’t able to attend the birth of his son because he was on duty, locked down post-curfew at a hotel in Liverpool City Centre with the rest of the Liverpool squad in preparation for their home fixture against Southampton.
For what it’s worth, Alberto Moreno had a solid game, making an unmistakable contribution in Liverpool’s 3-0 win over Southampton.
Here’s the thing, though: I don’t believe Moreno should’ve played. I think the team should’ve excused him from first team duties so he could be with his partner as they welcomed their son into the world.
At the very least, he should’ve been given the option to go. Maybe he would have wanted to play anyway. Maybe he would have felt bad about leaving the squad in a lurch with fullback options being as limited as they are at the moment. Who knows. But I do believe he should’ve been given the option. And I also agree with former Liverpool Offside contributor Liz that the default should be for the club to give a player time away for this sort of thing.
In his post-match presser, Jurgen Klopp briefly acknowledged the difficult position he put Moreno in.
“At 2.30am in the morning, his wonderful girlfriend gave birth – Alberto Moreno Jnr was born in Liverpool. He was in the [team] hotel [when he was born]… sorry!”
I don’t know about you, but I know that, no matter how much I loved my job and my coworkers and my boss, if I was pressured to miss the birth of my child and my manager talked about it with others and said “sorry!”, I’d be furious.
There will undoubtedly be people who defend the club’s decision to not excuse Moreno from first team duties. That he’s paid handsomely to do a job that requires unusual efforts and a high level of professional and personal commitment. That he knew what he was getting into when he decided to become a footballer. That no one should feel sorry for millionaires, especially the tattooed millionaires of professional football.
Spend any time in the working world and one principle will become undoubtedly clear: whatever your compensation is for your job, some people— including, more often than not, your employer— will think it’s too much. Look at how people react to the efforts of retail and foodservice employees demanding a living wage. Or the opposition to paid maternity leave. Or how crowdfunding platforms that help independent artists cobble together a living gets branded as “hipster welfare.” And god help any employees who try to organize in the new economy.
No matter what kind of work you’re in, there will always be someone who think you have it too good. And there will always be employers who will work to make sure you have as little as possible.
My point is, wage labor— and contract labor, for that matter— is a shell game. Employers, even when they’re our favorite football club, are not on the side of their employees except when there’s a material benefit. Workers, whether they’re on the pitch kicking the ball or preparing the post-match meal in the canteen, always need to look out for themselves.
Alberto Moreno missed a literal once-in-a-lifetime moment and didn’t get to see his son being born because he had to work. Maybe he would’ve wanted to play anyway. But he almost certainly wasn’t given a chance. Football culture doesn’t have to be this way. Footballers shouldn’t feel compelled to miss important moments with their families just to entertain us. Clubs need to do more to offer sensible work-life balances for their players, but the culture also needs to shift to allow the space for that to happen. And that is on all of us.