John Roberts: Team spirit need not be destroyed by the mavericks

South Africa's first Test performance shows that disunity is no hindrance to success, and Superbike champion-elect is happy to be humble
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The Independent Football

A football manager once attributed his team's run of success to "the great harmonium in the dressing-room". But Graeme Smith, South Africa's young cricket captain, would be well advised not to be misled by songs of praise from within or without. Talk is cheaper than runs in the quest for esprit de corps.

Nasser Hussain demonstrated that much even before a ball was bowled in the first Test by underestimating the power of the individual while voicing doubts about South Africa's collective will. Smith responded with such conviction that Hussain was left to fret in the field. The England captain reached the conclusion that the time had come to pass the baton to Michael Vaughan

The team ethic is sacrosanct. It has served the military well and has also stood the test of time as sport's example to children learning to interact with their peers. But life has always provided scope for mavericks. There is no rule stipulating that members of a team must be friends and selfless in order to succeed. Often the reverse is the case.

Keen rivalry within a group is commonplace. Sometimes it can be nasty, sometimes simply a case of personal jealousy countermanding respect. Pride plays a part, too, as was witnessed during Geoffrey Boycott's feud with the Yorkshire committee, an affair generating more acrimony than an entire series of Emmerdale.

Raich Carter verified a story concerning his Derby County days as Peter Doherty's inside-forward partner. A supporter praised Carter for the way he and Doherty played for each other and the team. Carter put the man straight. "When I walk on the pitch," he said, "I have a vision of a back-page headline: 'Brilliant Carter'. Doherty also has a headline in mind: 'Peter the Great'. That's how we think. And when the paper comes out, the headline says: 'Stamps scores hat-trick'."

Bobby Charlton admired George Best's skills as much as he was dismayed by the Irishman's lifestyle. Even on the pitch, however, Charlton was sometimes irritated by Best's habit of keeping the ball. "I remember in one match," Charlton once recalled, "I was running into good positions and George wouldn't release the ball. So I decided to stay put in the next move, whatever happened. George beat one defender, ran across the penalty area, beat a couple more, came back, and was on his way past me when I said: 'You greedy... great goal, George!'"

Kevin Keegan's transfer from Liverpool to Hamburg in 1977 led to some awkward moments before he was eventually acclaimed a success in Germany and throughout Europe. The fact that Keegan had a contract to wear Patrick boots instead of adidas, like his new team-mates, caused a row in the dressing-room before his first training session.

Initially, some of the Hamburg players seemed to resent Keegan's arrival so much that they would not pass the ball to him. "It took a while before I was accepted fully by the Hamburg players," he recalled.

Putting the early difficulties behind him, Keegan impressed everybody by scoring goals and making goals and conversing in German. There was great harmonium in the Hamburg dressing-room.