On a day in which Patrick Viera (above, right) returns to Highbury (for tonight’s Arsenal/Juventus Champions League Quarterfinal), the Independent’s Dominc Lawson wonders why today’s footballers can’t be nice, polite gentlemen like those well-bred cricket and rugby players.

Rugby Union has long since turned professional. But the interesting thing is that the now well-remunerated players still maintain the same standars of conduct on and off the field as they did when it wan amateur game. In contrast to the way in which the modern professional football player writhes in mock agony at the slightest tap, the rugby union player reacts in the opposite fashion: even after receiving a thump that would fell an ox, he pretends not to be hurt.

The same is true of professional cricket. Batsmen are frequently struck sickening blows from fast bowlers, but it is a matter of professional pride never to rub the bruise, agonising as everyone knows it to be. In other words, rugby and cricket are manly games, while English football, symbolised by the effete and narcissistic David Beckham — no longer is. This development is frequently blamed on the foreign players who now dominate the Premier League, but I doubt whether such racial analysis would stand up to scrutiny.

Yes, I know that the greatest players — Pele and George Best spring to mind — have something about their movement on the field which is profoundly aesthetic. But, taken as a whole, the modern game is about as beautiful as a pub brawl.