Date:Thursday February 18 2010
If you were to conduct a survey of football fans asking for opinions on Robbie Savage, the range of responses would be astounding! You would get responses such as "Girlie-haired shadow-chaser" or "inspirational captain", as well as everything in-between, and that`s just from Derby fans!
Savage has never been shy and has certainly never shunned-publicity, but does he get the respect he deserves? Both on the pitch and in his private life, Savage surely deserves more credit?
When we judge people in the public eye, we usually look at them as two people. We look at the performer - how well they do what they are famous for doing, and, we look at the person - how positive a role model and how clean-living are they.
Savage came through the youth set-up at Manchester United, in an era when they were churning out International footballers regularly. Although he did make his name there, Savage became a household name whilst at Leicester City under the excellent management of Martin O`Neill.
After a few years, he joined a newly promoted Birmingham City, and then in rather controversial, and to some, quite comical circumstances, decided to move closer to his family in Wales by leaving Birmingham for Blackburn!
Savage had notoriety amongst Derby fans for his antics when winning a penalty against Derby for Leicester about 10 years ago.
Savage arrived at an almost already relegated Derby County in the January of 2008, and there was certainly some reaction to his arrival. Quite a lot of it negative. His initial impact on the team, coupled with some bizarre and ineffective performances, led to derision amongst Rams fan, culminating in the PA being greeted with "BOOOOOOOOOOO" when Savage`s name was mentioned.
Within 8 months, Savage was out of the team, almost sacrificed, maybe even a scapegoat in a Derby team struggling in the Championship. There was talk of Brighton, Leicester and even teams in the middle-East being interested in taking Savage off Derby`s hands, but nothing materialised and it was thought that Savage would see out the remainder of his lucrative contract either in the stand or in press-box in the role of summariser for radio-coverage. This was not to be the case.
In January 2009, young Nigel arrived at Derby County. Though there were promises of introducing stability and discipline, many fans hoped for a better brand of football, which could surely come only after several players were ushered away from the club and onto pastures new. Many fans would`ve put Robbie Savage onto such a list of unwanted players.
You`d have struggled to convince a director in Hollywood to make a film about what has happened since, it sounds so far-fetched! Albeit hardly a fairytale story where everyone is living happily-ever-after, not many would`ve scripted such an influential role at the club for such an outcast!
Nigel Clough`s first month in the job included a trip to Old Trafford, did anyone pay attention to the man sat beside him in the dugout? Was this an indicator of what Savage would become? Soon after Clough took over, his honeymoon period was all but ruined by season-ending injuries to both first choice central midfielders Paul Green and Miles Addison, even though Addison had been sampling life at centre back under Clough.
Robbie Savage, previously out in the cold under Clough`s predecessor Paul Jewell, was thrown back in to the team to replace Addison (who was replacing Leacock!).
Thus begins the resurgence of Robbie Savage! How? Why? What had changed? How could he possibly contribute anything? Hadn`t his legs gone?
Well, initially credit must go to Nigel Clough. Savage is hyperactive, there can be no doubt about it! Hyperactive people need to be controlled and have their energy channelled, and Savage is no different. It was obvious that Savage was not being controlled by Paul Jewell, maybe naively Jewell believed Savage`s experience meant he didn`t need to be managed and controlled. Savage spent the majority of his 2008 Derby career chasing all over the pitch in a desperate attempt to prove his commitment, and much to the detriment to his overall contribution, he tried far too hard to do far too much. There were plenty of examples of dedication and commitment, but far too few examples of the quality and intelligence that is often overlooked by critics and pundits alike. I remember Savage sprinting 40 yards to chase a backpass that was already in the goalkeeper`s area, leaving him blowing bubbles for the next few minutes whilst chasing the shadows of his midfield opponents.
When Savage was re-introduced into the starting XI by Nigel Clough, the first noticeable improvement, was arguably the most effective, Savage was playing with positional discipline. Something so simple, yet so often overlooked. Being disciplined positionally is key to a central midfielder at the peak of his career, so it`s bound to be even more important to someone at the twilight of his career, yet in the excitement, pressure and desperation of playing in a struggling team, Savage struggled to maintain the required levels of discipline.
In recent weeks, Derby have enjoyed a somewhat impressive improvement in terms of performances, and results could`ve and should`ve been more kind. But why?
To me, for the importance people place on injuries and unsettled squads, I think the key factor has been Savage competing in midfield, in some cases winning the midfield battle. For many games towards the end of 2009, Derby`s midfield was missing. It was ineffective. Savage was chasing shadows and not showing positional discipline, chasing the ball in areas of the pitch he has no responsibility for and leaving himself without the energy needed to affect the performances of the opposition midfield.
Savage is an old man in football, he needs to conserve his energy to be effective, but again, credit where it`s due, he`s looked after himself. When we talk of role-models, and people who live their life the correct way, not many supercede Robbie Savage, yes he`s a pantomime villain, yes he`s animated and probably now a caricature of himself on the pitch. But he isn`t a dirty player, he`s never been in trouble for sending naughty texts and he`s certainly never had a drink or drugs problem.
Personally, I couldn`t boo Savage when he arrived, he was playing for my team after all! Similarly, I cannot bring myself to sing "Only one Robbie Savage" either. But I have a lot of respect for him, both as a player and as a man. Not many players would be strong enough to accept thousands of (their own team`s) fans booing them, and come back better than they were to start with.
Football will miss Robbie Savage when he`s gone. People will probably give him the respect he deserves at that point.
Date:Thursday February 18 2010
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