What is it about problematic players that makes them so attractive to managers?
I’m not talking about the true mavericks of the game, the gifted, free spirited souls who simply are just born differently. I mean the nightmare players who show a blatant disregard for authority and the ethos of team sport.
The reason I mention this is because of the letter of apology issued by ex-Newcastle striker, Nile Ranger, on Twitter this Monday.
If you didn’t catch it, Nile was explaining how the loss of two close friends had made him see the error of his ways, apologising to every member of coaching staff, team-mate and fan of the clubs he has played for and admitting his conduct had not been befitting of someone who was lucky enough to be in the position he once found himself.
This is a player who in the past has been described as “the most most obnoxious footballer in Britain”, and has a list of misdemeanors as long as the river he takes his name from.
At 24 years old, it seems the penny has finally dropped for a player who has already been given more chances than his behaviour has deserved but is it now a case of this fresh gesture being far too little, far too late?
The answer to that is simple: no, of course it’s not too late. This is football, after all.
You might call it the “Cantona Syndrome”, a condition that almost every manager is affected by at some point in their career, where they truly believe they can do what previous manager’s have failed to do a get the best out of a troublemaker. That he’ll be the one who becomes a father figure to the player who has been universally misunderstood by the rest of the football world. That he’ll be the one to buff-up this rough diamond and make him shine.
But the reality of it is, for every Eric Cantona and Alex Ferguson, there’s a hundred Brendan Rodgers and Mario Balotellis.
In their heads, it’s a gamble worth taking. Much of the decision to take the risk is pure ego, thinking ahead to the credit they’ll receive for turning a bad boy into a saint, but at the same time it’s done with their fingers crossed behind their backs, praying like the gambler chasing his bad bets at the end of the day.
And that’s where the decision to gamble comes from; desperation. And that’s why it inevitably ends in tears.
It’s the desperation of a manager drinking in the Last Chance Saloon. He looks across the bar, seeing a glint in eye of the drunk slumped at the end of it. That glint, a tiny glimmer of hope is what draws them in, and they begin to imagine he can help this seemingly lost cause.
So they befriend them, tell them they can help them back on their feet and return them to their old selves. The trouble is, while he’s using the toilet, the drunk nearly always sees an opportunity to take the wallet from the Good Samaritan’s jacket pocket and disappears before he returns.
And they’re always strikers as well, aren’t they? It’s always that striker that had one good season when he was younger that’s given him a licence to unlimited chances.
I guess that’s down to the nature of different positions too. The further away from your own goal they play, the less of a liability they are and easier to accept the risks.
With his attitude and work ethic (or lack of it) if Balotelli was a centre half or a defensive midfielder, he wouldn’t even have made it as far as the Premier League.
Blackpool’s boss, Neil McDonald, has already stated Ranger no longer has a future at the club but I’ll guarantee a club from League 1, 2 or the Conference will offer him the chance of a way back – and I can see why.
When I was at Barnsley, Nile spent a short time with us on loan from Newcastle and I have to be honest with you, I didn’t see the same person I’d read or heard relayed from others and in the media.
When he came into the dressing room, I was prepared to meet a monster. What I actually saw was the complete opposite.
He was pretty quiet, kept himself to himself and worked hard to get the match fitness he so obviously lacked. OK, so he had the words “RANGE ROVER” changed on the his 4x4 so that they read “POWER RANGER” which riled the anti-stereotypical footballer in me, who also has a irrationally strong distaste for private registrations on cars, but that’s hardly a crime, is it?
I remember him playing for us against Leeds United at Elland Road and it’s not too much of a stretch to say he reminded me of another player who is tarred with a similarly stained brush, Emmanuelle Adebeyor. Tall and gangly but deceptively strong, he held up every ball played up to him as the lone striker, allowing the rest of the side to play off him.
And that’s the real sadness in it all. For whatever the reasons, whatever the background story to these players, you often find there’s a different side to the one we’re usually shown and they end up living up to a character they’ve created, eventually self-sabotaging their career in the process.
Imagine having the talent to be a Premier League footballer and throwing it away; it’s like buying a winning lottery ticket and losing it on a drunken night out celebrating. Tragic, yet entirely your own fault.
As cringeworthy as it was, THAT salute between Adebeyor and Tim Sherwood against Sunderland at White Hart Lane should have been celebrated for more than the embarrassment it actually became. It was a mutual acknowledgement between a manager who had taken a risk and a player who had repaid his faith with a goal. A “thank you” to each other.
If he really means every word he says then I genuinely hope Nile is ready to repay any manager brave enough, or desperate enough to give him the last chance he desires.
I just hope this time he let’s the kind stranger keep his wallet and gratefully accepts the helping hand.