Welcome To The Soap Opera, Adam...

Football's desperate hunger for characters means Adam Lallana's clash with Mark Clattenburg has made him public property. Now we all have an opinion on the England international...

Last Updated: 06/01/14 at 16:01 Post Comment

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Adam Lallana made his England debut last November against Chile. Playing on the right he impressed, creating chances and covering ground. On an otherwise glum night for England, Lallana was one of the few highlights - good enough, anyway, to start again a few days later against Germany.

But Lallana only became a true England international on Friday, with the news that he'd been upset by Mark Clattenburg's comments during a match against Everton. Until then he was just a technically excellent attacking midfielder with an expensive haircut. Now he's public property: a three-dimensional character with a fragile ego and a haughty disposition. Now he's ours to play with.

To re-hash the facts: After a series of decisions going against Southampton in their match against Everton on December 29, Lallana took issue with Mark Clattenburg's accusation that he had "changed since playing for England". Southampton complained. The Professional Game Match Officials Board found Clattenburg had no case to answer but the club insisted that they still didn't want him refereeing their games. On Monday, the FA rejected Southampton's appeal for Clattenburg to be investigated.

Earnest talking points were raised in the proper newspapers. Paul Hayward at The Telegraph did his best to turn the incident into a debate about the need to record and publish what footballers say to referees. Others banged their fist about the pressurising of referees by both players and clubs and the overreaction by Southampton.

But everyone else just had a jolly good laugh. A hashtag sprang up (ThingsThatUpsetAdamLallana). Twitter got stuck in, with Lallana now upset 'when dinner guests have little or no idea how to use the fish knife', 'when being mistaken for A Llama' or 'when the Sellotape gets stuck to the roll'.

He was fair game. If true, the hypocrisy of a player complaining about a wry aside from a referee after, by all accounts, hurling abuse throughout the match is remarkable. So throughout Friday, poor old Adam slowly morphed from a talented, largely featureless footballer into a character: precious and sensitive, egotistic and neurotic, all over some alleged conversation at his place of work. Over the period of one news cycle it was possible to actually witness his black and white outline being coloured in by the internet.

Because an industry hungry for narrative needs this. It needs Adam Lallana to expose himself as haughty. It needs Jack Wilshere to fumble through his own Rivers of Blood speech, for Peter Odemwingie to drive to a locked Loftus Road, for Daniel Sturridge to do his silly dance and Ashley Cole to be, well, Ashley Cole.

American sports writing legend Frank Deford had it right when he spoke a few years ago of the public's relationship with sport. People don't really want to read or talk about sport, he said, if by sport we mean the action on the field of play. Instead we want the humanity around it and for that we need stereotypes. According to Deford, sportsmen have always had three images: the heroic manly man; the good-looking roué who gets the girl; and the dumb jock. "All three still exist, there are just fewer manly men than ever before."

And considering recent history, there should possibly be a fourth added to that list: let's call it the Premier Leaguer; a strange mixture of dumb jock and ladies' man, with a 21st century brand of cosseted infantilism thrown in. Because it's undeniable that players at the top of the game are more prone to hyper-sensitivity, to bouts of petulance and self-regard than ever before. But you get the player you deserve, and Adam Lallana's complaint shouldn't come as a surprise in a league with such an inflated sense of self-importance.

It's perhaps tempting to even feel a little sorry for the Lallana. We don't know the full context of the conversation, or quite how hectoring Clattenburg was. Indeed, it's possible that Southampton, not Lallana, took the lead, using Clattenburg's comments as fodder in a seemingly never-ending assault from clubs on referees. But even if the situation is as petulant as it seems, it probably shouldn't define Lallana in the public eye quite yet. It certainly shouldn't linger forever; he's too good a player and the indiscretion too small to follow him around throughout his career (see Joey Barton for the inverse of this relationship).

But like an ill-judged TC23 branded website, a Brendan Rodgers envelope speech, or a half-time team talk conducted on a pitch, these public relations miss-steps seem to mean an increasing amount to character-hungry Premier League watchers. They allow us all a view to grope around for on Monday morning in the office kitchen. They become shorthand labels for hapless men who grew up thinking they'd be known for simply excelling at football, not stealing toilet seats from B&Q.

Tom Young - follow him on Twitter.

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