Savage reveals real football man behind pantomime villain act

The player opposing fans love to boo tells Richard Rae that in his final season he still enjoys the game – despite recent depression

When Robert William Savage leads out Derby County at Leeds United today at the start of what he accepts is probably his farewell season as a player, it seems fair to say Elland Road is unlikely to greet him with a round of affectionate applause.

Having spent his career happily winding up opponents, players and fans alike, Savage knows the abuse will be sustained and vituperative. That's a shame, he suggests, though not for the reasons that might be expected.

"I think in a way I might be the last of a kind of player which they can understand, maybe even identify with a little, if you like," said Savage. "This day and age, I think it's got so hard to for a young English player to come out of a youth team and break into the Premier League. I think now with the rules as they are it's hard to even go out on loan.

"I'm glad I've had my time when I have. I honestly don't know if I'd like to be a young, up-and-coming player at a Premier League club now.

"I say that because I think you have to be extra special now, I think you have to have something completely different now to break through at that level."

There are some - many, perhaps - who will say that is no bad thing, and that the game will be better without players like Robbie Savage. In fact, however, there has always been a lot more to Savage's game than the chasing and the wild and occasionally mistimed tackles with which he is automatically associated. The legs may not allow him to cover as much ground as he used to, but under the management of Nigel Clough, Savage has become the man who makes Derby tick, intelligently organising and knitting play together in central midfield, and offering a real threat from free-kicks.

If that has surprised those who automatically characterise him as an essentially negative player, as well as an intensely irritating one, they may be further surprised by the contents of his autobiography, published this week. It was characteristic of Savage that he should launch it dressed in a outfit that demanded ridicule, but then, flanked by his mother and father, explain movingly why he chose to publish now, rather than when he finally moves full-time into the broadcasting career that seems to be waiting for him.

"I was going to do the book at the end of next year, but unfortunately Dad has contracted Pick's disease, which is in the Alzheimer's group, and to put it bluntly, I wanted him to read about me while he can remember who I am," said Savage.

"And while I've cheated and lied at times in my career, I haven't in the book. I've proved a lot of people wrong – people say I'm over-rated, and a wrong'un, but I'm not."

The book has its standard episodes - the cars, confrontations, drinking sessions, a chapter which starts with the sentence "I must have seen every adult movie every made" – but there are also moments of natural insight, as well as painful self-analysis.

Most particularly, perhaps, of the period shortly after Paul Jewell brought him to Derby in 2008, and Savage admits he was so depressed he considered self-harming.

"Talking about the depression, the bad times at Derby, that was the hardest thing to talk about, because people don't believe it," he acknowledged. "They think how can you be depressed earning big money, with a lovely family and lifestyle, but I was - my state of mind was like you'd never believe, I didn't have the will to do anything.

"I was finished, I was a wreck, and I nearly lost my wife. It was horrendous, honestly, and in a way it was my own fault because I was not the player Paul Jewell thought he'd bought. It wasn't his fault that I wasn't the player he'd seen for Blackburn against Wigan tearing round the pitch making tackles. I couldn't reproduce what he thought he'd bought."

Clough, however, saw something in Savage others did not, the ability to play in a role that many would have thought beyond him. In many respects, Savage acknowledges, this has become the most fulfilled time of his footballing life, which is why he has chosen to play for at least one more season – though he will also be anchoring the BBC's flagship football phone-in show, 606.

Even those who actively dislike him must be pleased about that, if only on the grounds that anyone would be better than the appalling Alan Green, but Savage has a natural, if slightly risky, talent for repartee which could make the programme required listening.

As he demonstrated with his Mum, the formidable Valerie.

"I get my hypochondria from her," he told Derby fans queuing for a signed copy.

"No you don't," she retorted.

"And my argumentative side," her grinning son instantly responded.

'Savage! The autobiography of Robbie Savage' is published by Mainstream Publishing at £17.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Bach Choir has been crowned the inaugural winner of Sky Arts’ show The Great Culture Quiz
arts + ents140-year-old choir declared winner of Sky Arts' 'The Great Culture Quiz'
Life and Style
food + drink
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas