When a football Goliath-like Liverpool comes up against its own David in the cup, you would expect the Reds would march on. This was the case last week as the Premier League champions romped to a 7-2 victory over Lincoln City in the Carabao Cup. Yet, despite advancing to the next stage with ease, fans still had an issue with one player in particular. Nineteen-year-old right-back Neco Williams found himself a victim of abuse on social media due to a mistake for the first of Lincoln’s goals. With another youngster now being torn down in the public eye, it seems that this case points to a larger societal issue regarding football.
Abuse of Neco Williams Points to Wider Societal Issues
Are Our Standards Too High?
Liverpool were already five goals ahead when the young Welsh right-back turned the ball over, leading to Lincoln’s first goal of the night. By all means, his mistake was sloppy, but it far from costed Liverpool the game. Yet, this one error sparked such abuse that Neco Williams felt the need to block his social media. This raises the question of how high a pedestal we should raise for footballers. Yes, Williams may earn more money in a matter of weeks than many will over a year. That said, he is just a 19-year-old boy, still finding his way in a highly competitive sporting world.
The vast amounts of money pumped into football over the 21st century have turned players into modern-day icons. Children look up to the stars of their club, dreaming of emulating them one day. The fact that football has become such a big-money enterprise means we put more pressure on players to perform each week. We still need to look past the money and still see the people behind the players.
Liverpool’s assistant manager, Pep Lijnders, was quick to defend Williams, encouraging his desire to take risks. Arguably a coach should be more critical than the fans you would expect to be behind a player.
Lijnders on Neco Williams: “Neco is a doer and a doer makes mistakes. We don’t want safe play, we want players to take risks. I think he dealt with it really well. Our players and players spoke with him. You can’t get caught up with praise or criticism as a young player.”
— James Pearce (@JamesPearceLFC) September 30, 2020
Social Media – A Double-Edged Sword
While the new age of social media has created an illusion of bringing fans closer to the players, it is not without its drawbacks. As much as fans can follow, like, retweet with the click of a button, that so easily can switch like a blade. Those who don’t live it directly likely have no idea of how vitriolic a place like Twitter can be, least of all to a teenager. Yet, this instance is lucky enough to have media attention; imagine everyone across the world in the same boat as Williams.
The English media has long had a problem with tearing down its nation’s young players. And though this particular instance originated from ‘fans’ on social media, it could be a simple case of cause and effect. Raheem Sterling has endured unjust media criticism throughout his career. Tosin Adarabioyo was criticised for buying his family a house ‘before even starting a game’ for Manchester City, compared to a less negative description of Phil Foden‘s similar activity. While these examples also play into an argument about race, they are nonetheless still relevant.
Loris Karius received death threats after his high-profile mistakes led to Liverpool losing the 2018 Champions League final. His errors having a more significant swing on the match does not make it okay to level this kind of hatred. Ultimately, this performance led to the end of his Liverpool career after a lacklustre first season. It is not fair similarly to damn another player’s career before it has really had time to take off.
Is it because Neco Williams is an unproven 19-year-old that people think it is okay to criticise so violently? Virgil van Dijk made a very clumsy error which led to Leeds United scoring in their opener against Liverpool at the start of the season; there is nowhere near the same outrage against him, despite it being the relatively unimportant opening game. One could argue that you need a thick skin to succeed in this game, which is certainly true. But that does not mean we have the freedom to test this to its very limit. No matter the money and technology we can boast nowadays, respect and decency will always be free.