Savage talking a good game as he sets his sights on being top pundit
FEW people would have imagined Robbie Savage capable of reinventing himself as the thinking man's pundit when they recall the Leicester City player charged by the FA for bursting into Graham Poll's dressing-room at half-time to use the referee's toilet.
Savage might be the last player football fans envisaged becoming a voice of the BBC, but the Derby County anchorman would like to take this opportunity to challenge his public image. He would like to, but it is tricky, bless him.
"I love football, that's what people don't realise," he says in the build-up to today's FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Birmingham City, another of his former clubs. "They just see the hair and the teeth, the tan and the big house, the car and the clothes, and houses all over the world. What they don't see is that when I go home to the model wife, look over the golf course, go for a dip ... I watch ESPN, Spanish, German football, everything. Any league in the world, I watch it all the time. My knowledge of football is up there with the best and that's why I want to stay in it."
Savage soon eases into self-deprecation. It is an endearing quality, this ability to laugh at himself; the man who has spent a career winding up opposing fans and players in equal measure is in danger of becoming popular. But what he wants to convey is he is too insecure to manage in football, so he would prefer to talk about it.
This is why, as he nears the end of his playing days by building his media profile, Savage is taking his coaching badges while doubting whether he will use them.
"I couldn't be a coach," he says. "I like to be the main man, but I've seen the pressures on Paul Jewell, Nigel Clough, Steve Bruce. If you're successful, it's great; but I'm a bit insecure, I'm a terrible worrier, and whether I could handle all the expectations, I don't know."
Clough, in many ways the antithesis of his captain, loving management as much as he hates media attention, confirms this. "He's always on the phone to the coaches on a Sunday morning asking about his performance the previous day," the Derby manager says. "I'm just glad he hasn't got my number, so I can get on with watching my son's game in peace."
The ultimate hypothetical offer is put: he can take charge of his country's national team or succeed Alan Hansen on 'Match of the Day'.
John Toshack will not be surprised at his erstwhile antagonist's response. "Anybody can manage Wales," Savage says. "That's been proved."
So the media it will be. He already has a newspaper column, a Monday-night TV sofa and will go to the World Cup finals as a radio analyst. He is very good at it, too. His autobiography is due out this year and, after a weird and wacky career with Man United, Crewe, Leicester, Wales, Birmingham, Blackburn and now Derby, where at 35 he is playing as well as ever, it will be anything but mainstream.
"What Alan Hansen's done is unbelievable," he says of the former Liverpool captain. "He won loads of things, but not many players have done that. I have been an average Premier League player, and a Championship player, so I can speak for the majority of footballers. Not everybody's won the Champions League."
Thirteen short months ago, Savage thought that his time was up. Frozen out by Jewell, he went on trial in Beirut with Al-Ansar -- "If I had had a pay-off, that would have been me finished with football."
But then Clough came in and Savage responded from day one. "I was magnificent in training that day," he says, tongue half in cheek. "He got us all out in the car park, even the injured ones. It was freezing outside. He just said: 'It's up to you'. He's like his father, and Martin O'Neill. He doesn't want people in the comfort zone."