Dixon no fan of current non-contact game

LONDON - For all the glitz, glamour and money in a modern footballer's life former Arsenal and England defender Lee Dixon would still rather play in the 1980s and 90s.

"Football's become more business and money-orientated than it was when we were playing and I think we had more fun," the 47-year-old told Reuters at his restaurant outside London ahead of the new Premier League season which starts on Saturday.

"Players today might disagree but I think if they're honest we had the best of everything," said Dixon, a vital cog in the robust Arsenal defence that helped win four top flight titles between 1989-2002 plus three FA Cups from 1993-2002.

Dixon ended his career on a high as part of Arsenal's double-winning 2002 side having racked up 619 appearances for the North London club and believes he could not have timed his playing days any better.

"We had a bit more freedom being out in the public than they do now. We were a bit closer to the fans than they are now. I think I had the best time to play.

"I also got a little bit of the upside of the wages, they went up in my last few years under [Arsenal manager] Arsene [Wenger]."

Dixon was never hard up but has said before he struggled with the mortgage on his 175,000 pound house having moved towards the capital when Arsenal signed him for 350,000 pounds in 1988.

The game nowadays is worlds apart, especially since Premier League side Manchester City were bought by Arab billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2008 to make them the world's richest club.

In Spain, Sporting Gijon's 24-year-old defender Javi Poves quit the sport he described as "rotten" on Wednesday, calling on top players to do more to help others.

Given the changing nature of the game on the pitch as well, the defensive stalwart who notched up 22 international caps said he would struggle to remain on the field if he played in the current era.

NON-CONTACT SPORT

"I think the art of defending is something that is being slowly eroded. It's almost become a non-contact sport in as much as you're not allowed to tackle from the side or from behind," said Dixon.

"Players have contributed to the downfall of the tackle with all the play-acting and diving. Football is now less of a defensive spectacle and that's not good for the game. I wouldn't like to be playing now.

"The spectators want to see goals but from the purists' point of view it's not necessarily wholly for the better.

"I'm not sure how many games I'd play if I was playing now, I'd be off every week," he joked.

Dixon has enjoyed life since his playing days, juggling his TV appearances as a pundit with owning a restaurant. He has also invested in a new online football game but said management at any level is not for him.

"I gave myself a year off when I retired to see what sort of road I'd like to go down, and I thought maybe after a year I would be ready to get back into the game in a coaching capacity, but that was nine years ago," he said.

"That pull hasn't been strong enough for me to get back into the game in that respect."

For all his knowledge on football, Dixon surprisingly said he is no "expert" on the game.

"I'm not a big believer in this theory that we're experts, we've just got our own opinions on the game. I try to relate what I would see when I was playing to people sitting at home."