James Corrigan: Retiring Savage is perfect spokesman for football's age of unworthy celebrity
We assumed he was a limited journeyman with a fondness for the colour yellow. But no, the media reaction told us, he was, in fact, one of the greats
Monday 16 May 2011
Sometimes all the fuss is understandable, other times it's about as warranted as a Fifa knighthood. Manchester City's FA Cup celebrations fell into the former category. Just.
To be honest, it was a little bit hysterical with newscaster after newscaster screeching that "FINALLY", after a "35-YEAR WAIT", City have "A MAJOR TROPHY". A notable feat, surely, but did the tone really have to ape a Seventh-day Adventist hailing the Second Coming?
Maybe it did, although the fact that 72 of the 92 professional clubs have been waiting longer than City for a major trophy should provide a bit of context. And so should the fact that 50 of the clubs have never won a major trophy. If you want the definition of long-suffering, look not to east Manchester but to north Derbyshire. To Chesterfield FC, no less. The Halley family have their turn in the spotlight at least twice as often as the newly-crowned League Two champions. Formed: 1867. Major trophies: 0. That's a wait of 144 years. Although it isn't, as major trophies weren't even invented in 1867. Neither were cars. Nor open-top buses.
But then, it's all about expectation and it must be a tad frustrating to see the side up the road piling up silver trinkets like a deranged Fagin. So yes, City's euphoria has been deserved. Just.
Certainly the wild revelries seemed more justified than those occurring in Donetsk. Nobody should ever require an excuse for a party, particularly in the Ukraine, but those fun-loving Shakhtarians found one anyway. In honour of the club's 75th anniversary they not only summoned Rihanna, one of the globe's most pre-eminent recording artists, but also Milla Jovovich, Ukraine's biggest superstar, and employed Marco Balich, the king of the Olympic opening ceremony, to produce the three-hour spectacular. Goodness knows what they will do for their 100th. But if I was the Pope, the Dalai Lama or David Beckham, I'd keep my diary free.
By then, Robbie Savage will doubtless be the most sought-after presenter on the planet and will do the announcing in his finest cheeky North-Walian. The midfielder's rise knows no bounds and, to be honest, not that much logic either. This last week must qualify as the best in his professional life, which is a trifle odd seeing as Savage retired last Saturday. They say you never realise what you had until it's gone and that's most definitely the case when it comes to Savage and any sane football fan.
We assumed he was a limited journeyman with a particular fondness for the colour yellow. But no, the media reaction told us, he was, in fact, one of the greats.
Not only did we switch on the nation's principal football phone-in to find it almost entirely donated to Savage's last game, but soon a TV programme had his mother on talking about her son's unique talent. "He may be a pain in the butt," said Mrs Savage. "But he's my pain in the butt." Naturally, Robbie was in tears; naturally, so were we. If only we'd known such a gargantuan figure had bestrode the likes of Crewe, Leicester and Derby we'd have paid more interest.
But now we will have to as those flowing locks and crowing mocks are everywhere. He has signed contracts with a radio station, a TV channel, a newspaper and a bookmaker. As accomplished as a player he no doubt was, Savage has at last discovered his niche. (And at 36 his wait has been even longer than that of Manchester City.) And when one hears his penetrating insight there can no be no wondering why the Sony Awards – the Oscars of the wireless – crowned him the "Rising Star" of the whole medium at Monday's ceremony.
Now, some cynics might suggest they no longer wish to live in a world where Savage is recognised for his punditry while those such as Jimmy Armfield are ignored, but they must have missed the searing wisdom Savage provided about the Championship play-offs. "I'm going to say Reading will win the play-offs," said the sage. Why? Because of their midfield muscle perchance, their flair down the flanks, their solidity at the back? "Because of the way their fans treated me," declared Robbie. "The ovation they gave me for my last match was magnificent. It's about time I got a bit of respect off people for the career I've had."
On Twitter, Lee Westwood dared challenge him as to his professional success, but Savage came right back with something along the lines of: "As world No 1, what have you ever won?" Undeterred by the fusillade of wit, Westwood pressed on, retreating to Google for ammunition. What he unearthed stunned him and should you. Not only was Savage an unused sub in the 1997 Division Two play-off final, but he won a League Cup and in the second week of August 2009 was named in the Daily Mail's team of the week. And, to think, all the naysayers ever flagged up was that, before the ascent of the national darling who is Lee Bowyer, Savage was the most cautioned player in Premier League history.
Fortunately, his new employers were on hand to give the send-off he deserved. Granted, the likes of Teddy Sheringham or Andy Cole didn't receive as rousing a farewell; but what did they ever win, apart from the occasional treble? The critics can lament and poke fun all they like, but Savage is clearly a spokesman for the age. And there is absolutely no connection that it happens to be an age of unworthy celebrity where people become nostalgic at the most meaningless of things.
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