Jayne Dowle: What we can all learn from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City mobile phone ban

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has banned mobile phones from training.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has banned mobile phones from training.
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Can you guess the connection between the game of Fortnite and Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola? He’s banned mobile phones from all “working spaces” at the team’s training base, so that’s a few highest scores amongst the players taking a battering.

It’s a small thing in the whole vast arena that is the internet, but I find it intriguing that multi-millionaire international football stars appear to be as addicted to this online battle game as millions of their teenage fans.

I can just imagine Guardiola standing at the door of the gym shouting, “Oi, Aguero, how many times have I told you to come off that blasted game? There’s goals to be scored here!” Swap the word “goals” for “GCSEs” and countless parents up and down the land would grimace knowingly. Obsession with the game at the expense of exam revision has been held accountable for more than one academic failure this year.

The prohibited Man City areas include not just the gym, but analysis sessions, team meetings and training pitches at City Football Academy. Players caught in breach of the new regulations will be fined. It’s all intended to help to maintain the standards set over the team’s last record-breaking season.

I’m sure that some of the more rebellious squad members are not happy. Here are a bunch of famous young men, at the height of their physical powers, earning millions a month and they’re being treated like irresponsible children. There will be probably be more than a few walls kicked and tantrums thrown. Let’s hope that their phones, no doubt absolute top of the range models, survive the trauma.

It remains to be seen whether the mobile ban will have a positive effect on the team’s performance. Who would have thought it though? Academics may write up their in-depth studies and campaigners can put across their points for and against, but it’s the game of football which is polarising the mobile phones debate.

And it’s also helping to take it to another level. Until recently the argument has pretty much centred on children and young people. I’ve always considered this disingenuous. Before pontificating on what youngsters are doing, adults should be looking at their own behaviour.

How many families spend their evenings, meal-times and free-time with eyes glued to phones and ears stuffed with earphones? Children learn from their parents. And if mum can’t drag herself away from Facebook gossip and dad is obsessed with checking his emails, it’s no wonder that their offspring are failing to learn the art of actual face-to-face communication.

Two things are happening now however. There is much more awareness of how we should manage the positive and negatives of holding the power of the internet and the influence of social media in our hands. And there is increasing evidence that adults are gradually self-regulating; choosing not to take their mobiles to the dinner table, for example, or insisting on an hour free of technology in the evenings.

It’s early days. Many parents would still agree with Guardiola’s hardline approach. Yet others argue that individuals should be encouraged to set their own limits. This element of the debate is especially pertinent in schools. France has just introduced a legal ban up until the age of 15, and there have been calls for similar legislation in the UK.

Currently it is up to the school to decide whether phones should be outlawed. But a new poll suggests that almost six out of 10 of UK parents think students should not be allowed to carry switched-on mobiles around school. There are compromises; of the 2,022 parents surveyed by Internet Matters, 27 per cent said phones should be allowed at break, and 34 per cent said they should be permitted during lunchtime.

However, cyberbullying was found to be a huge worry for eight out of 10 parents. I’d say for this reason above all others, some rules must apply. Despite these concerns, some educationalists argue that children should be allowed unfettered access to mobiles in the classroom because they foster independent research skills. Having taught myself, I can only assume that these educationalists have never actually spent much time in schools. For every highly-disciplined class of hard workers, there will countless others who become totally and uproariously distracted by a talking cat or worse.

It would be interesting to learn what England manager Gareth Southgate makes of all this. During the World Cup campaign this summer, he said the national team didn’t have a mobile phone policy as such. But he pointed out the players themselves had agreed to leave their phones away from the meal table.

“I don’t like loads of rules, the players are responsible enough, they know what’s expected,” he explained.

The question is, do the rest of us?