We are getting close to the end of season awards in the Premier League football calendar and the race for the coveted Football Writers Association Footballer of the Year award is a three way sprint between Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and Robin Van Persie. As a football tipster, my inclination would be to back Gareth Bale, although the odds are very tight at 4/7.
How brilliant or how “World Class” (a common parlance that is fast becoming a cliché amongst the illiterate ex-pro punditry coterie) a player is can be determined by a combination of cold, hard statistics and of course, the grace, flair, skill, athleticism (this is getting a bit too much like Alan Hansen) and downright Joie de vivrewith which this highly paid professional goes about his business on a weekly basis.
The footballer is undoubtedly a “professional”, but there is something more going on under the bland sheen of dietary dedication and monotonous tactical preparation. The truly great players possess a street-wise nous, an intelligence that goes beyond the rational, which allows them to inherently and intuitively create more space and time for themselves on the pitch than the average footballer.
Ex-Manchester United and England “star” Phil Neville is the perfect example of the average footballer. A general everyman athlete, who could have played Test Cricket for England, but instead decided to become a defensively minded full back before progressing into an ineffectual midfielder, finally blossoming into an underwhelming utility player. There will be no statues built of this man.
Unlike Zinedine Zidane; solid bronze and five metres high outside the Pompidou centre in Paris, caught in the immortal pose of head-butting Italian defender, Marco Materazzi. The statue is an “ode to defeat” and so an interesting departure from the usual glorification of victory, but it is also a celebration of the fiery temperament and non-conformist spirit which we often find in the truly blessed players of this sport.
Zidane’s displays of artistry and irrationality on the field forged him into the maverick performer he was; he had a fluid connection between the common working-class supporter and the more intellectual connoisseur’s of the game. Eric Cantona was not a dissimilar personality on the pitch, so is it just a French thing? Well, no. The Argentine, Diego Maradona, was the finest player of his generationand also a very troubled little man.
If we consider his compatriot – the World’s current best player – Lionel Messi, the most placid and seemingly together person off and on the field, then this theory of the crazy genius doesn’t hold up. However, Zidane is a perfect gentleman off the pitch (apparently the same is true of Luis Suarez), it’s only when the whistle is blown that the fire rages from within.
In the thick of the action, Messi never complains too vehemently, always gets up when fouled (the same can’t be said of Suarez on this occasion) and ultimately ends up on the winning side because he’s playing in the best team in the world so there’s really not that much to get upset about.