Aston Villa's decision to omit Alpay Ozalan from this afternoon's derby game against Birmingham City at St Andrew's will have been greeted with relief by the city's police and firemen. The fixture promises to be combustible enough without the presence of that rarity in football, a player more vilified by his own club's supporters than opposition fans.
Alpay's extraordinary one-man war against David Beckham in Istanbul last weekend means the Turk has surely played his last game for Villa. The gruesome picture of an effigy wearing an Alpay shirt dangling from a Birmingham lamppost guarantees that much, while the club's supporters in 31 branches worldwide are united in the opinion that he has become even more of an embarrassment than he was before.
It is an interesting coincidence that Beckham's was the last effigy to be strung up in England after his ill-judged retaliation to Argentinian provocation at the 1998 World Cup. He has famously overcome those bleak days, but there is no chance Villa followers will permit Alpay such a comeback. If it happens, it will be at another club in another country.
Geoff Tabberner, a 70-year-old who runs the supporters' group most adjacent to the club, at the Aston Hotel just by the Villa Park gates, said: "Alpay hasn't done Villa many favours since he has been there, but this latest outburst tops the lot. There is always something going on with him, isn't there? It's a shame, because the guy is a good player, but his head has gone somewhere. Look at the Beckham spitting accusation. Where has that allegation suddenly come from, three or four days after the match?
"Alpay was totally out of order. What happened against England was an absolute disgrace. He should have been sent off for the half-time incident. I have been a Villa supporter since 1945 and that's not what we want at this club. [Chairman] Doug Ellis should have recognised long ago what the feelings of the supporters are about Alpay."
Damian Dugdale weighed in from the Villans' South African branch in Cape Town, calling Alpay's actions "unprofessional and very stupid". He added: "If I was manager of Aston Villa I'd see how much we could get for him in the January sales, otherwise ship him out on loan to the northernmost team in Scotland to ply his trade for the rest of his contract."
That contract, a four-year one signed when the then Villa manager, John Gregory, paid £5.6m for Alpay from Fenerbahce, expires next July. In his three-and- a-half years in the claret-and-blue shirt, the defender has annoyed the club's followers and officials far more than he has pleased them while picking up weekly wages estimated between £22,000 and £30,000. Disaffection set in when Alpay was slow to recover from an ankle injury in December 2001, only miraculously to find fitness in time to play for Turkey in the 2002 World Cup. He came back from Japan, where he was named in the All-Star XI for the tournament, demanding a bigger salary and then a transfer, since when the alienation has been mutual.
Greg Crofts, chairman of the largest Black Country supporters' group, the Medda Villans, complained: "When Alpay came back from the World Cup he obviously thought he was something a bit special. But he has never recaptured any of his earlier form since then and has become a liability. What he did against England was absolutely disgraceful. He wants out, and is trying to force the issue.
"For instance, when he scored his first goal for the club against Charlton the other week he didn't celebrate, he just put his finger to his mouth. He was telling everybody to shut up. For me, Alpay is the bad apple in our barrel and he has to go. We had a similar situation with Savo Milosevic when he fell out with the fans. That sort of thing causes disruption, and there is so much riding on our match against Birmingham that we can't afford to have other things possibly affecting the result. We certainly don't need any more problems at Villa, we need people committed to wearing the shirt."
Those sentiments were echoed by the chairman of the Swedish supporters' club, Hans Fagerlin: "Most of our members here have been thinking for a long time that the best thing is for Alpay to leave, because the gap between him and the club and its supporters is now too big and deep. The way he behaved against England wasn't a nice thing for us Villans to see, but we think the worst thing he did was when he came back from the World Cup and commented that he was 'bigger than the club'."
If there is an undeniable smell of a decomposing career hanging over the 30-year-old Alpay, who has played 84 times for his country, the biggest whiff continues to be that of sour grapes emanating from Istanbul where, having admitted attempting to provoke Beckham, the Turks are castigating the England captain for allegedly retaliating to that provocation. Can Cobanoglu, Turkey's general manager, is even threatening to take Britain to the European Court of Human Rights over Alpay's treatment by English fans. And the excuses continue to spew from Alpay, the latest - and most ridiculous of all - that the half-time incident was caused because Beckham ran into his outstretched finger.
The conspiracy theorists believe Alpay is trying to draw attention to himself in the transfer market because he is out of contract at the end of the season. If that is the case, he has succeeded admirably.Reuse content