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Monday, 06 October 2008

Players we love to hate: Robbie Savage

Before Cristiano Ronaldo arrived on the scene, Robbie Savage was undoubtedly the most universally hated  player in the Premiership.  He made Roy Keane and Wayne Rooney look like choirboys with his constant moaning to referees, he wound up everyone with his gamesmanship and in-your-face style of play, and his shoulder length blond hair meant that you could never miss him. But the one thing that really irritated supporters was the fact that deep down they would love to have somebody like him in their team.

Robbie Savage is never likely to win any popularity contests amongst fans of fellow professionals but it is his desire to win and commitment to the shirt that makes him such a hit at every club he's played for, except Derby County possibly. He would do everything in his power to put opponents off their game and break up play. He'd pull shirts, he'd clip the back of their heels and go down at the slightest bit of contact in order to win a free-kick and take the pressure off his team-mates. He was also smart enough to know what he could get away with referees and when to stop harassing them. Surprisingly he has only ever been shown the red card once in the Premiership - however he does hold the record for being the most booked player in Premiership history. One of his main understated strengths though is his fantastic engine - he could run after players all day.

But his determination and passion sometimes went too far. Spurs fans will never forget his theatrics for Leicester City in the 1999 League Cup final which saw Justin Edinburgh sent off for raising an arm at the former Welsh international midfielder. Savage went down holding his face as if he had been smacked with a sledgehammer even though there was no contact whatsoever. And when he was playing for Birmingham City against Aston Villa he was involved in a confrontation with Dion Dublin who was subsequently sent off for head-butting the former Manchester United youngster. Savage has also had high profile run-ins with former Arsenal midfielders Gilberto and Patrick Vieira, and Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand and Wayne Rooney amongst many others.

Even managers got infuriated with his antics. Former Ipswich manager George Burley was livid with Savage when he felt that the former Crewe man dived in the box in order to help Leicester win a penalty leading to the current Scotland boss labelling Savage a cheat in no uncertain terms. And Steve Bruce felt totally let down when Savage put in a written transfer request at Birmingham in order to be closer to his parents in north Wales, only to end up signing for Blackburn Rovers.

Savage retired from international football following a heated dispute with manager John Toshack and was famously dropped by the then Wales manager Bobby Gould for jokingly throwing Italian legend Paolo Maldini's replica shirt in the bin before a match against Italy.

But Savage is the archetypal pantomime villain on and off the pitch and absolutely thrives on it. Even darts fans hate Robbie Savage! A television camera picked him out of the crowd in Sheffield and the whole arena went mental as Savage stood up and milked it for all it was worth. Savage has also been on the receiving end of some unfortunate incidents on a football pitch which have been met with huge cheers from the fans. A fierce Robert Pires shot smacked Savage square in the face at Highbury a few years ago which brought the majority of the stadium to their feet. He was flattened with a back hand by referee Matt Messias at St James' Park. However he had it coming from the referees after deciding to use an official's toilet after being subbed while playing for Leicester City in the infamous "poogate" incident.

So why do we hate the current Brighton and Hove Albion midfielder so much? Is it because of his ruthless style of play and disregard for reputations? Maybe it's because he likes to dish it out but can't take it back? Or maybe it's because he's got shoulder length blond hair and had a bright yellow Lamborghini to go with it? Whatever it is, there's no denying the fact that Savage is one of the game's most hated players. But let's be honest, apart from fans of the top six clubs in the Premiership, you would love to have somebody like Savage in your team . . . wouldn't you?

* Calling all football fans. What are your memories of Robbie Savage? Do you think he was a good player or just a nasty piece of work? Why do you think the majority of football fans hates the Welshman? Are you a Leicester City, Birmingham, Blackburn or Derby fan who still worships Savage? If you are a Brighton fan are you pleased to have him at your club? We'd love to hear from you.


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