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NEIL MOXLEY: Last Monday showed it’s a different world now, but footballers must still live in the love of the common people

Date Posted,May 27, 2017

David Luiz spent £1million on 30 luxury car-keys for his team-mates to mark Chelsea’s Premier League title triumph.

His Chelsea pal John Terry stopped a game of Premier League football for his own, selfish emotional tribute last week.

At Manchester United, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is paid £367,000 a week , Wayne Rooney £300,000.

And managers such as Jose Mourinho can pocket upwards of £15m a year for essentially writing 11 names on a team-sheet, speaking to the press, and standing on the sidelines watching a game of football unfold two or three times per week.

It used to be said that modern-day footballers and managers were being elevated to the status of pop stars.

Not any more. They’ve progressed way beyond that.

Ibrahimovic’s salary is more than that of the entire Ajax staff United beat in Stockholm (Photo: Man Utd via Getty)

In terms of financial wealth, status and marketability they are zooming light years ahead of anyone who can lift a microphone and warble a few notes.

And they are moving miles away too from the public that put them on such lofty pedestals.

Long gone are the days when top-flight players mixed with punters before matches. Or afterwards, quaffing a pint or two.

According to folklore, the likes of Tom Finney travelled by bus, mingling with Preston North End’s supporters.

He wasn’t the only one.

Pick a team from Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Leeds, Newcastle, Birmingham or London and speak to any old-timer and they’ll confirm that the stars of yesteryear drank, smoked and even worked alongside the rank and file.

Can you imagine today’s players climbing a ladder to fix a roof, like Tom Finney is here? (Photo: Picture Post)

It wasn’t all good. The maximum wage ensured club owners could trouser vast sums of money while keeping the real stars of the show in their place.

And that’s what they were.

To ­millions of schoolchildren. And to ­millions of blokes and women who lived their lives through those who kicked a pig’s ­bladder about.

It might come as a surprise to many but people still hold footballers in high esteem. They are dream-makers, after all.

However, those superstars of yesteryear were way more accessible than their successors.

There has been a tendency with every bonkers television deal, with every hike in a player’s salary – from the time when £20,000 used to be a Premier League footballer’s weekly pay instead of half-a-morning’s – for them to become increasingly remote.

Mark Noble of West Ham United stops to sign some autographs prior to kick-off
Mark Noble spares some time for adoring West Ham fans earlier this season (Photo: West Ham via Getty)

Team buses now drive right up to the players’ entrance at stadiums. Areas are cordoned off, children desperate for a dreaded ‘selfie’ are refused point-blank, or ignored.

At some clubs, supporters are ­ordered not to ask for autographs at training grounds.

Punters have to stand outside, waiting for a glimpse of their idols before the players roar off in this week’s latest supercar.

On matchday, security men, half the time more interested in the reflected glory themselves, shepherd these ­players out of sight.

Interaction? Not on my watch.

I mean, there was some fantastic footage on social media earlier this season of Juan Mata holding up Manchester United’s team bus to go to speak to a disabled supporter outside Old Trafford.

He was applauded for the few ­moments by a crowd that had waited desperately for a glimpse of a player, anyone, who might stop to sign a few autographs.

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Now, there are a few who do exactly that, who have a chat and have no problem living up to the expectation. Frank Lampard, for example.

Obviously, as someone who views these stars close up, the novelty value wears off. But every time I see the response of an ordinary fan to a player who has given him a few seconds of their time, then I’m reminded of football’s unique power.

There will be a reaction in football to the horrific events in Manchester on Monday night.

It will result in even more security with these players moving just that little bit further out of reach. And that’s understandable, of course it is.

Football clubs cannot take any chances with their most high-profile employees. But if the net effect of an increased clampdown is a blanket ban on any personal touch between players and supporters, then those who seek ­division will be winning their warped fight.

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If football is to show that the game should go on, then those who play it must remain within physical reach.

So please, Premier League footballers, take a moment to sign those autographs, pose for those pictures, and stop for a while.

Because if you don’t, another small part of our collective soul will be ­eroded and we’ll be even poorer for it.

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