Monday, 16 April 2012

An ode to the football maverick

The modern age of football has heralded an era of professional footballers being elite athletes, media savvy, and almost monosyllabic in all forms of output. Footballers are more machine like than they used to be with their lifestyles, diets, sleep and all manner of other exciting things carefully managed. Their performance is carefully monitored by the use opta statistics and other mathematical based systems and on the whole the beautiful game has become more clinical and would not look out of place on a deeply cleaned clinical ward at Great Ormond Street Hospital.

Forget the question, 'is football dead', one should be examining if football has become boring.

To avoid getting into a long winded debate, for which I simply have no time for at the moment. I would rather celebrate my favourite football species, the magnificent 'maverick'.

Long has been the tradition in British football that the maverick is the most sought after footballer on the pitch. The rock star of the team, ordinarily given full licence to attack and have nothing to do with defending what so ever, mainly due to managers anxieties of a lack of responsibility and fear of the unexpected. When considering  the 'maverick', the players that immediately spring to mind are the likes of George Best, Stan Bowles, Tony Currie, Charlie George, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Peter Osgood, and Frank Worthington. Indeed, British football was blessed with 'mavericks' in the 1970's.

This small population characters are in danger of becoming extinct in the modern age of football. Managers have lost patience with those with raw ability without the application. Those who are blessed with ability for the sublime, but equally for the abhorrent. Those types of characters are few and far between in the robotic football we all watch now but those who have graced the pitches of these isles have been celebrated and treasured. Manchester United supporter's will forever chant for Eric Cantona and QPR supporters are currently enjoying the enigma that is Adel Taarabt. Mario Balotelli has already been discussed on this blog and is an example of the 'maverick' going through harsh times.

My modern favourite is undoubtedly Andrey Arshavin however. Beautiful, funny and frustrating to watch at Arsenal, being a 'maverick' was ultimately his downfall in a modern game where being clinical is paramount. Poor fitness, erratic displays where he would miss a 2 yard pass followed by scoring from 30 yards were accepted by the hierarchy and fans alike when he scored 12 goals and had 7 assists in 39 games during the 2009-10 season followed by 10 goals and 17 assists in 52 games the following season. The tide turned on the lovable Russian when his output became less, he became less clinical, he had less assists, less goals, and had not as much influence on the games he was involved with. His antics started being held with derision rather than being celebrated by supporters and it was inevitable that the 'meerkat' would leave England and return to Russia.

Having looked through the weekends football action I raised a smile however as it seems Mr. Arshavin has not lost the ability to do something completely different on the football pitch. During the Zenit St. Petersburg against CSKA Moscow tie on Saturday Andrey delivered something that was more attune to a sketch from Monty Python than that of a Russian football title decider. Rather than describe in words his actions, please watch for yourself and join me in celebrating the endangered world of the football 'maverick'.

For weekly updates on the world of Andrey Arshavin I thoroughly recommend visiting his website and in particular the 'ask Andrey' section.

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