By Ollie Irish
Robbie Savage almost lost his cool on BBC Radio 5 Live when defending the sort of ‘They don’t like it up ’em’ football that has made the English Premier League so rife with injuries. He also admitted that when he was a Blackburn Rovers player, then-manager Mark Hughes gave him explicit orders to be physical and cynical. For me, that’s the definition of a manager setting his team out to play anti-football: you STOP the other team (Arsenal, usually) playing, which is very different from beating your opponent by playing BETTER than them. Of course, Hughes is hardly the first manager to do this (but you think he might have learned a different, more positive game under Fergie at Man Utd), but it’s depressing that the same old team talk is still being parroted in dressing rooms up and down the country. Get stuck in, lads. Rattle them early doors. Let them know you’re there. Take no prisoners. Stop them playing.
With such a negative mindset so widespread in British football, no wonder the Home Nations fail at international level; anti-football will only get you so far, unless you learn to conceal such play, as the Italians – arguably the most cynical and defensive-minded football nation there is – have done for years with considerable success. Us Brits like to play dirty too, especially when we see foreigners flaunting their superior skill on our pitches (the nerve!), but because we’re still a nation obsessed with fair play and being ‘jolly good sports’ (a hangover from the World Wars, partly), we’re not very good at getting away with it.
Do you think Savage is simply being realistic – cynical play is ‘part and parcel’ of football – or is it people like him who ruin the game?