The season has already turned sour enough for Graeme Souness without the Blackburn Rovers manager facing the prospect at Leicester this afternoon of his sagging side tangling with a combative fellow Scot known, even to his team-mates, as "The Pest".
Paul Dickov gets around more places than most on a field, including up the nostrils of people trying to come between him and his holy grail, the opposition's net. Since he is some inches short of being a six-footer, it is not Dickov's style to float at crossbar height in search of headed goals. He inflicts his particular brand of damage on the ground, close in, commando fashion. And, as those with the bruises to show from these clashes will testify, Paul Dickov just never gives up.
I was advised by Leicester's media lady not to arrive too early at their training ground on Friday, "because Paul is always the last off the pitch". She was right, too. Dickov is one of those disciples of extremes like extra training. Cold showers, too, probably. "I am a great believer that if you put the work in on the training pitch, eventually it will pay off," he said, offering a broad smile, firm handshake and not even a trace of menace.
"The ability to battle is one of the main parts of my game. I know my limits. I am not the sort who gets the ball and is then going to beat five or six players and stick it in the top corner from God knows where. But, whether I'm playing well or not, the one thing you will get from me is 110 per cent, upsetting defenders and basically giving them pain. I am sharp rather than ultra-quick, and able to read situations. But probably my best attribute is being a pain in the arse. That's why the manager and people at the club call me 'The Pest'."
His manager, Micky Adams, thinks so much of Dickov's attitude that the Scottish striker was the only player to keep his place at Aston Villa in midweek following the débâcle at Wolves last Saturday, when a 3-0 half-time lead turned into 4-3 defeat. "Paul epitomises the sort of spirit we all need here," said Adams on Friday as he continued his attempt to put that nightmare behind him and get his team away from the foot of the table.
Dickov's battle plan, as those who have watched him will know, runs like this: "I try to get teams on the back foot in the first five or 10 minutes by pressuring defenders and getting among them." He insists that he is a bit of a pussycat nowadays. "A few years ago I was trying too hard, getting stupid bookings and frustrating myself. Now I am not getting involved in things and I think I am a better player for it. I try to walk away and bite my tongue, but it's not easy sometimes because it's in my make-up. Don't get me wrong. It won't stop me going in my hardest for tackles. But people say I get rid of all my aggression on the field, because I am pretty laid-back off it."
Like most Scottish football-crazy kids, Dickov only wanted to be a striker, from his earliest days in Living-ston. His idol was Kenny Dalglish, his team Celtic. But, most important in his development, he says, was his time at Arsenal. "I was lucky to be there at the same time as Ian Wright. For me, he was just fantastic. His attitude was great, and I got the thing about being last off the training ground from him."
Dickov turned 31 yesterday and is, therefore, a Scorpio. "Sting in the tail," he pointed out, something Blackburn will not need reminding of this afternoon. Having lost leads against other teams besides Wolves this season, Dickov urges the need for Leicester to defend as a team for 90 minutes. "And once we do that we will get results, because we will always score goals. It is not Ian Walker's fault in goal, or the defenders' fault, or the midfielders' fault, or the forwards' fault. It's a collective thing. I am a great believer in defending from the front. If you do that, it shows you are enthusiastic, and it will rub off on the rest of the team."
Adams will certainly hope so. As he lamented: "I can't plug every gap on the budget I have been given." Though, strangely, he has won only five full caps for Scotland, Dickov has played Premiership football for more than a decade, five seasons at Arsenal and four at Manchester City before signing for Leicester in February last year. He remains something of an icon in Man-chester, having potted the late goal in the Wembley play-off final which helped them overhaul Gillingham and get out of the Second Division, and on Friday a family had driven over from Manchester to get him to sign a picture for them.
"When I left the club there were thousands and thousands of messages wishing me good luck," he said. "We go to Manchester to play them next Saturday and I have had five or six hundred letters from City fans saying they can't wait for me to go back."
If he scores, and if Leicester manage to win that one, the Blue Moon folks' devotion to "The Pest" will be sorely tested.Reuse content