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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future