Sunday 17 December 2017

'Gorgeous Robbie' will be missed

Aidan O'Hara

Aidan O'Hara

In the 1940s and '50s, Gorgeous George became wrestling's first true superstar. By all accounts, he wasn't the most technically gifted wrestler or particularly powerful but his ability to make people hate him was unrivalled.

Venues would be sold out in the hope that he would lose and, because of the profession's pre-ordained nature, he could stoke the fires by promising to crawl across the ring and kiss the feet of an opponent if he was beaten. He would regularly win the first pinfall, lose the second and look certain to fall in the decider, only to produce an illegal move behind the referee's back and emerge victorious.

Such sneakiness sent the crowds into fury and, when he was next in town, they would fill the arena in the hope that he would get his comeuppance. The point was, though, that they were filling arenas.

Being on the end of abuse from supporters can hardly be pleasant but, if you embrace the image, it can turn out to be quite profitable.

On Saturday, another man with flowing blond locks and a cocky persona called it quits when Robbie Savage hung up his hairband for the final time after Derby County's game against Reading.

With most of football's hate figures, there's a degree of jealousy from supporters for the talent that they have. Wayne Rooney is disliked by Liverpool because he plays for Manchester United after growing up with Everton; United fans, in turn, generally hate Steven Gerrard while Chelsea have John Terry and Ashley Cole, whose PR representatives would face a tougher job than Osama bin Laden's estate agent if they tried to change their public images.


But, with all of these players, even their greatest detractors would admit that their talent has been undeniable over the past few years and, if the chance arose, they would be welcomed into almost any team.

Savage, like Gary Neville, sparked a different type of anger because of the perception that they weren't very good in the first place. For years, Neville antagonised the opposition, defended solidly and ran up and down the right wing at Old Trafford behind David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo who, as a last option, would give the ball to Neville and regularly watch him cross it into the stand.

Ronaldo's ability to destroy the opposition with his ability or theatrics would often infuriate rival supporters but it takes a special kind of talent to be mediocre and hated.

Like his fellow retiree Neville, Savage has this ability in spades and, as his career entered the final few months, he has been quite candid about this ability, which involved "passing the ball to better players". "Listen, people say I was dirty but I think I was clever," he said last week. "I knew where the line was. I was booked 160-odd times in league games but sent off once. I'm a clever guy, irrespective of the hair."

In an era when players are criticised for hiding behind the "happy with the three points" answer, Savage is honest about the wealth he has accumulated but, depending on how its spun, such openness can sound like cockiness very easily, particularly when you're casually admitting that you're on £25,000-a-week at a club that finished 19th in the Championship.

"It's a surreal world (being a footballer). If you phone up a restaurant and it's fully booked, they get you a table. If you park your car on double-yellow lines, you get let off. You can go into a shop saying, 'I'll have that, that and that', not looking at the price.

"There's no such word as 'no' for a footballer, you think you're above everybody. That's why they get into trouble. That's the world I've lived in for the past 10 years. And I'd be a liar if I said I wasn't going to miss it."

In such a cut-throat environment, the longevity of players like Savage and Neville is remarkable because nobody lasts that long without being found out talent-wise.

Yet it's the antagonistic side of their personas that will be missed next season when they are not around and opposition fans are in grave danger of not having anybody to roar abuse at.

El-Hadji Diouf is making himself a nuisance in Scotland, Craig Bellamy has dropped to the Championship with Cardiff and, at 34, it won't be long before Lee Bowyer is joining Neville and Savage in retiring to his mansion.

Arsenal used to have a team full of them but it's difficult to get too worked up if Laurent Koscielny commits a foul. Players like Robson, Ince, Butt and Keane once patrolled Manchester United's midfield sparking fear and fury in equal measure. Yesterday, it was Giggs, Park, Carrick and Valencia, each with a reputation for being nicer than the other.

Irish viewers are all too aware of how controversy creates cash when it comes to being a television pundit and, having started their careers together at Manchester United, it won't be long until Savage and Neville are re-united in a studio somewhere. The tag-team of Gorgeous Robbie and not-so Gorgeous Gary are unlikely to make many more friends in their new careers than they did in their last one.

Irish Independent

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