As a young player, the rating I was given out of 10 by journalists in the Sunday newspapers affected me almost as much as how I’d rated myself that day.
Not that I ever needed anyone to tell me how well, or how badly, I’d played but it meant a great deal to me because for those people who weren’t at the game to make their own minds up, this was how their opinion would be influenced.
This was back when I was young enough, and sensitive enough, to care about what people thought of me, and I viewed the difference between getting a seven out of 10, or a six, the same as my performance being acceptable or unacceptable. It was that black and white to me.
It was only during a conversation with a journalist from one of the nationals was I told that because of the time constraints of him filing his copy back to the office, he usually did his player ratings at half-time whilst he was having a cup of tea and a biscuit in the press box and unless a player was brilliant or terrible during the first 45 minutes, everyone got a six.
“So it’s not just a personal vendetta against me?” I thought to myself and I began to enjoy reading the next day’s papers without the apprehension of receiving the thumbs up or thumbs down from emperors of editorial.
I began to think more rationally about it. Even if it was personal and their opinion of me as a player was low, so what? That was their prerogative. That’s how they saw it. Naively, I’d think to myself “What did they know? They’d never played the game.”.
The more thought I gave to it though, the more I reasoned it was impossible to give an accurate rating of each player’s performance as they attempted to grasp the narrative of the game and put it into words for those absent from the stadium.
It wasn’t until I began taking an interest in art and visiting art galleries that it really began to sink in that football, just like any work of art, is subjective. We can all watch the same game without coming to the same conclusion yet there is still great offence taken if it isn’t the same as ours.
You might be sitting there now reading this and thinking “this column is rubbish” but my point is, you wouldn’t be wrong because that’s your opinion.
One of the great life experiences I’ve had was seeing Michelangelo’s statue of David at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Florence. Like any of the world’s great sculpture or painting, I stood looking up at him in awe, appreciating the work of a true genius but if he was alive today I’m not sure he’d be the slightest bit bothered if I told him that, even though I now know they are meant to be, all I could think was “his hands and feet are too big. It doesn’t look right”.
He might turn to me and say, “what do you know, mate. You only look at art. I create it.” A fair point but if I’m not allowed my opinion, why exhibit any art at all then? Isn’t that the whole point?
That moves the argument on to the validity of opinion. Everyone has had a good laugh at Robbie Savage this week for John Terry saying he doesn’t value the opinion of someone who hasn’t achieved what he has in the game and to a certain extent, I can see his point.
If I had accumulated the accolades Terry had throughout my career, I dare say I’d give little weight to what most people said either. That wouldn’t be arrogance, I wouldn’t dismiss their opinion as irrelevant, but I wouldn’t give those words as much thought unless they came from the mouths of those of similar stature as he mentioned.
What I did find strange in that Chelsea press conference was the amount of laughter drawn from Terry’s comments on Savage. If Terry’s logic is right and Savage’s opinion is worthless, then the opinion of journalists laughing along with him is of even less worth.
The one thing Terry has failed to understand here is that Robbie Savage’s analysis and reactions aren’t for him. He shouldn’t worry about someone who has become a one man pantomime because even by joking about him will reverse the desired effect.
When I first began writing, I made peace with myself about criticising players who were better than I was, simply because I knew I would be honest and say exactly what I thought at the time.
I rarely say anything for effect or to rouse a reaction, apart from when I try (and mostly fail) to be funny or sarcastic and I think this is where John Terry’s dig does hold true.
You can see straight through the wind-up merchants, the people who poke tigers to get them to bite, those who think of themselves as controversial.
This is the reason why names such as Ferdinand, Neville and Carragher were mentioned in contrast to Robbie, because we believe in what they say, whether we agree with them or not.
They’re not contrived, premeditated or making us feel like they’re playing a part, because being controversial for the sake of it isn’t ‘saying it how it is’ – what it does is lighten the weight of your words, until in the end, nobody will care.