Football: Get back to where you once belonged


Olivia Blair
Saturday 21 February 1998 01:02

IF MY knowledge of music serves me right, and it was Odyssey who sang about packing up their boots and going back to their roots, then they must have had an insight into the mentality of footballers.

Because as much as football likes to portray itself as a forward-thinking industry, it also likes to keep one boot planted firmly in the past by looking back nostalgically in the misguided hope of being able to recreate former glories, conveniently forgetting the old adage that things are seldom as good the second time around.

That said, there are exceptions that prove the rule. Going back is OK, for instance, if you are Steve Claridge and were released prematurely by your home-town club as a teenager when Alan Ball was in charge.

Going back is probably OK if you are Alan Ball and you took Portsmouth down last time (Ball admittedly got Pompey promoted to the top flight in the first place, but it was short-lived to say the least) so things cannot really get much worse this time.

Can they? Going back is OK, too, if you are Peter Beardsley and were to all intents and purposes being put out to grass at St James' Park (although Beardsley was still better than most of the players Kenny Dalglish has put out onto grass at Newcastle).

And if you are Graeme Le Saux and have metamorphosed from unconvincing winger into roaming full-back while you were away.

And going back is definitely OK if you are Julian Dicks and should never have gone away from Upton Park in the first place. Dicks, whose spell at Liverpool was short and not at all sweet, is not nicknamed the terminator for nothing.

However, going back was not OK for Dicks' erstwhile team-mate, Tony Cottee. Cottee says that when he left West Ham he never thought he would be back.

"I felt I had done as much as I could there and that I was going to a big club where I would score lots of goals and win the Championship and play for England," he says, which would have been alright had Cottee not chosen to sign for Everton.

But while he described his return as "coming home", others saw it differently, the Hammers fanzine calling Cottee "a poor shadow of the once prolific doyen of Upton Park".

Similar sentiments could be applied to Jurgen Klinsmann, who started the rot this season. The German's prodigal son-like return to White Hart Lane was the best thing to have happened to Spurs all season, but that says more about the club's season than about Klinsmann's form.

The fact he had recently been substituted at Sampdoria in favour of, er, Daniele Dichio should have been enough of a clue; as it is, his impact at Spurs has been minimal - no dive, no bicycle kick; one goal in seven games, a few nice touches and another horrific facial injury.

No, the first time was always going to be the sweetest, for sure. That's something Ian Wright and Richard Gough would do well to remember. Wright claimed recently that he would not mind ending his days at Crystal Palace, a statement which smacked more of him realising his Highbury honeymoon is nearing its end than of any overwhelming affection for his former south London club.

Gough, meanwhile, won nine consecutive League titles with Rangers before pledging his future to Kansas City Wizards. That future lasted just three months, until Gough was persuaded to return to a Rangers side that looks a patch on its former self: struggling to contain the challenge of Hearts at the top of the table, and with hardly a Scotsman in sight. Ten-in-a- row will be more of a struggle than nine ever was.

Then of course there is Howard Kendall, back for a third spell at Everton, who had previously sacked Joe Royle (where he was cast in the role of saviour of the club he used to play for) because he wasn't up to the job.

Now Royle has reappeared at Maine Road, cast in the role of saviour of the club he used to play for. (Any minute now and he will be bringing in a former City defender as his assistant.) Perhaps Royle thinks being an ex-Blue will stand him in good stead. For City's sake let us hope so, but it was not much of an advantage to Peter Reid in the long run.

And it is doubtful to be much of an advantage to Diego Maradona should he eventually claim the role of Napoli's president player/ manager he is rumoured to covet so much.

Maradona is still a legend in Napoli, whom he inspired to two Scudetti, one Uefa Cup (in 1989) and one Italian Cup.

But the club have gone through three managers this season, have won just two games and are rock bottom of Serie A. They need a miracle, never mind Maradona, to save them now.

Perhaps the secret is never to leave in the first place, although that is unrealistic in a game as transient as football and anyway, Matt Le Tissier is proof that you only truly learn to fly by spreading your wings. Unless you are Steve Bull, that is.

But football players and managers tend to be fairly insecure people who in times of need will always gravitate towards their former successful stamping grounds. They would do well to realise that cover versions are seldom as good as the original.

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