In the midst and the chaos of all the talking points of the weekends action, only one overwhelming topic was and will be discussed and remembered in the coming weeks and maybe even years, the farewell to a great, Steven Gerrard. Now we certainly aren’t going to go into any great debate about the man or his club or even his send off but it has got me thinking of great players past and present and how fickle our great game is now, The class of 92, the Gerrard’s, Carragher’s and Terry’s of the game, cornerstones of the Premier League, the last and final few of our generation to be a stalwart and true legends for clubs, those few whose club’s blood is etched into them.
David De Gea instantly sprung to mind, brought in as a youngster with huge potential, thrown straight into the shadow of Edwin Van Der Saar – a big void to fill for anyone. His career got off to a shaky start to say the least and most of us thought we had another Massimo Taibi on our hands. The press and our opponents were onto him in a flash, and more mistakes were made. Now we all know how good he has become and it quickly became apparent this kid was staying put rooted firmly between the nets. Fergie and the board had the belief and the faith to stick with him through probably the toughest moments he will face in his career.
Speculation and inevitability about his move to Real Madrid draws ever closer. My question is this, why would a boyhood Atletico Madrid player and fan favourite, still so young, especially in goalkeeping terms want to move to his fiercest rivals? The move to Manchester is obvious, the lure of the biggest club and the need to progress your career plain to see. For a player loved by every single fan in the theatre of dreams, week in, week out wouldn’t it just be nice for him to pay back that faith we put him in?
Other United heros that have crossed the divide between hero and traitor spring to mind, great as they are shatters our opinions of them and destroys their legacy.
Paul Ince, a real machine in the heart of the midfield, a key player on our journey to success in the early days of the premier league moved on, understandable, every player is moved on for various reasons, Inter Milan, you can understand the lure, Middlesbrough, a club on the rise at the time but Liverpool? For a man who had United blood running through his veins how could he even entertain the idea of crossing the divide, the ultimate insult to any United fan and his status as United legend not gone, but forever tarnished.
Other noticeable former players, former legends who have damaged their respective reputations in club folklore are Mark Hughes, to actually go on and manage Manchester City, touted as an eventual possible successor to Fergie chose skyblue. Inconceivable to think just a few years earlier, United’s very own Sparky was almost burnt out. We could go on but to move forward we can bring up one more player, another goalkeeper, undoubtedly United’s greatest of all time.. Peter Schmeichel. I mention this particular player, who again, after playing for various other clubs ended up at City because there is another, greater side to loyalty..
Enter Gary Neville, now captain of our great club, lining up against Manchester City in the tunnel against none other than the man himself, Peter Schmeichel. The great dane with a cheeky smile, attempted to shake Neville’s hand and with a look of disdain and unwavering concentration and a complete look of a man who was disgusted at his former team mate for doing such an unthinkable act of treachery.
Gary Neville is a symbol of loyalty, a one man club, his passion and his belief shone through, memorably the famous incident running to the Liverpool fans and kissing the badge. This man epitomizes what loyalty is, even through to his final game… a 45 minute display away against West Brom which is still in memory as his worst performance I had ever seen him play. But he was man enough to realise he needed to call time on his career and with that will go down in history as our greatest ever right back.
There are other greats of the game who show such loyalty, as mentioned earlier – Gerrard, Carragher and Terry, United’s very own Scholes and Giggs and moving abroad you have the likes of Del Piero and Totti. It seems all too rare nowadays that loyalty is becoming a thing of the past, players are swayed by money, warmer climates and the lure of the bigger club.
One thing can be assured though, of these players who have represented their own clubs as if it was their very own life and blood… They will be etched in memory as all time greats of the game, adourned and loved long after they have retired by their respective clubs.