Manchester United great Gary Neville admits modern footballers are “perceived differently” to their predecessors but says Granit Xhaka must be willing to accept fan criticism.
Arsenal stripped Xhaka of the captaincy following his angry response to being jeered by his own supporters in the recent Premier League match against Crystal Palace.
The much-maligned Switzerland midfielder cupped his hear, removed his shirt and appeared to swear at a section of spectators as he was substituted in the second half of the 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium.
Xhaka said he had “reached boiling point” after receiving abusive comments at matches and over social media, part of the growing “anything goes” culture Neville condemned.
But the ex-England international insisted players must also have a thick skin.
“All’s fair in love and war,” Neville, who was speaking at the launch of the eToro Fan Financial Statement, told Omnisport.
“[In games] against Liverpool they were singing about my mum. I wasn’t happy but it didn’t bother me. I was booed for 12 months for England as a Manchester United player, but you just accept it as part of the game.
“Look at what’s happened with the targeting of black players, people think that anything goes. We have to stop that. The fines for Bulgaria were unacceptable.
“There is change happening. Football should be a pioneer for change, but overall football is a safer place to watch, there are more families.
“The games are fantastic football matches. We have the best football in Europe at the moment. There are so many positives.”
The following is a message from Granit Xhaka… pic.twitter.com/YG5lBKmQvi
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) October 31, 2019
Xhaka’s situation has prompted debate about whether fans paying steep fees for tickets are entitled to direct vitriol at their own club’s players.
The eToro Fan Financial Statement, a study into the monetary commitment of British football supporters, found match-going Premier League fans are, in total, spending an estimated £1.3billion a season following their club, an increase of 31 per cent since 2014/15.
Arsenal were revealed to be charging the highest prices for adult season tickets among the 20 top-flight clubs.
Neville, co-owner of League Two side Salford City, thinks the eye-watering figures have contributed to fans feeling disenfranchised.
“Football players are perceived differently now,” he said.
“[The treatment of] Xhaka was not down to cost or rising prices, that’s always happened, but it doesn’t get away from the fact that fans are being left behind.”