Like the Olympics, football has to show its humanity
'Unparalleled drama and excitement'
'We won't witness drama like this for a long, long time'
'What was to follow blew everyone's mind into a thousand pieces'
'What happened will linger long in the memories and hearts and defied belief.'
No, that's not the Olympics. That's what journalists were writing about another sporting event that took place three months ago on May 13 at the Etihad Stadium, when Sergio Aguero scored against QPR in the 94th minute to win Manchester City the Premier League, having been 2-1 down at 90 minutes and looking certain to lose the title to Manchester United.
There hasn't been a ball kicked in the Premier League since then but apparently a lot of people have decided in those intervening months that football is a waste of time, players are the lowest of the low and that there's little to look forward to on this first Super Sunday of the season.
What has happened since then is that we've hosted the Olympic Games and felt extremely proud as we enjoyed a fantastic two weeks of sport. But we don't half like doing ourselves down most of the time.
Even a few weeks before the Olympics began they were going to be a shambles and a waste of taxpayers' money. As it turned out, we had a wonderful Olympics. But then we also have a fantastic, multicultural, global product in the Premier League.
I don't mean to shy away from the real challenges football faces. We do need to link football back to the community, get closer to the fans and make it more affordable. There is excess. There are problems with the globalisation of the game. And there are incidents of ill-discipline by players.
But nothing is ever as bad as it seems and nothing is ever as good as it seems. Didn't the Olympics cost £7billion more than the £2.3bn that was originally quoted back in 2005? Wasn't the bronze medallist in the 100m a drug cheat who was banned for four years? Didn't an American coach accuse the 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen of cheating? Weren't there empty seats at venues because too many had been allocated to sponsors or Olympic officials, the same kind of corporate people that are criticised for dominating football? Weren't some of the ticket prices in the £200-£300 range? It just depends which way you want to paint the picture.
I'm delighted that the Olympics were so successful and proud of the sportsmen and women who worked so hard to achieve their goals to win medals for Team GB. But it's just lazy to use their success as a stick to beat football. Some of the clichés that have been trotted out this week are that football needs a Dave Brailsford, the magnificent performance director of our cycling team.
But it was only nine years ago that football needed a Sir Clive Woodward after he guided the rugby union team to the World Cup. We have one of the great performance coaches in Sir Alex Ferguson, following in a long line of the likes of Sir Matt Busby, Bill Nicholson, Sir Alf Ramsey, Jock Stein, Bill Shankly, Bob Paisley and Brian Clough.
Football is still one of biggest mass participation sports in this country, with 115,000 affiliated teams - and that's just for people over the age of 16. If we want to get the country moving and playing sport as part of the olympic legacy, football has a big part to play. Some of the generalisations that were thrown around last week are quite insulting. Just saying 'footballers are lazy' or 'they need to be more humble' or 'they can learn so much' are just sweeping generalisations. If we're going to criticise, at least let's be specific.
If you asked me what can football learn from the Olympics, I would cite one particular lesson. The humanity of sportsmen and women was better portrayed at the Olympics because of the more relaxed relationships between the media and athletes. Journalists showed Olympians respect and they, in turn, trusted the writers and so were open and engaging in interviews.
I loved the moments of elation but the two incidents that made me sit up and think were both relative failures: the two rowers, Zac Purchase and Mark Hunter, being interviewed on the BBC after they had come second in the men's lightweight double sculls; and Dai Greene being interviewed within one-and-a-half minutes of coming fourth in the 400m hurdles. The way they spoke showed that they felt as though they had let down the country, their families and friends and themselves. They were disappointed beyond belief.
As they apologised - even though they didn't need to - they demonstrated a humanity that is almost impossible not to warm to. And I know footballers are the same. I've been in dressing rooms where experienced professionals have sat with their heads in their hands for an hour, barely moving, just overcome with disappointment.
I've been culpable over the years in trying to protect young players who have made mistakes by telling them: 'Don't say anything. Don't speak. Let it go away.' But what the rowers and Greene demonstrated is that when you do front up and speak after disappointments, the public will almost always give you a chance. In fact, they like to see that you feel the way they feel.
If you were to say to me what the biggest challenge is for footballers, it would be stripping away the layers of PR
people and agents who speak for them. That denies players the chance to communicate their own humanity, humility and professionalism. Let's put an end to the scripted statement, issued on behalf of the player, which is always the words of a PR
professional or lawyer. Let's hear from the player, especially if it's an apology.
When Jack Butland and Tom Cleverley spoke so well and openly while on England duty last week, you could see that young players do have a freshness and almost innocence about them.
Yet over the years that can be replaced by a cynicism, as quotes are twisted and small errors are magnified into back page stories. Then they retreat behind a wall of agents and PR
men and give the impression that they can't speak for themselves.
To the players I would say: 'Get rid of the hangers-on and speak for yourself. Attend your contract negotiations, put yourself up for interviews, take control of how you are perceived.' But the media also have a responsibility not to abuse the trust of players who are open, and to eradicate some of cynicism that has built up over the years. That's what I'd take from a wonderful Olympics. But none of that is going to prevent me from being excited about the football season.
Contrary to what you may have heard and read, the two aren't mutually exclusive. We can enjoy both.