News of Rickie Lambert’s elevation to the England squad raised a smile. The “Litherland Lionel” may be a Red, but he talks like me (having gown up in the same place) and he fits the template for players from other clubs that we respect and like to see doing well. So what is the template?
Such players cannot, of course, play for a Champions League club – we may respect the likes of Juan Mata, but they play for our rivals and their success merely fuels the sense of entitlement their clubs project. So we’re mining amongst the middle and lower ranking clubs.
Next we’re looking for a player who doesn’t look like the next Ronaldo. They’re usually a bit slow, often having to think about their game to succeed with just enough left of the kid in the park for us to recognise. When interviewed, they tend to convey an element of “Gee, fancy me being here” humility – just like we would.
Finally, some form of struggle (over injury or early rejection or fan / media scepticism) to promote a backstory of redemption, is the final piece of the jigsaw. Such redemption can take many forms – often a late blooming, but sometimes just continued excellence and loyalty to one club or one style of play. They are anti-Suarezes, who never appeared as teenagers at half-time signing apprentice forms with a beaming manager.
If The Litherland Lionel surprised everyone with his perceptive passing, running and finishing, to make the cut of those we love to love, who else is in this selection?
Though not quite four-square with the template, Matthew Le Tissier’s touching devotion to one middling club, his exquisite skills and less than dedicated approach to physical conditioning, gets him in (alongside his equivalent these days, Dimitar Berbatov). Grinning and gurning, in the midfield, we find Jimmy Bullard, whose Indian summer brought late international honours. Swansea’s Leon Britton, tapping out the passes in the middle of the park in all four divisions, earns a place too.
And what of our lads? Arguably (and I hope this screen isn’t too rose-tinted) we might have four candidates. Phil Jagielka did his time in lower divisions, playing wherever managers demanded, before becoming an England centre-half. Sylvan Distin, a cool, intelligent man off the field, has been as consistent as any defender over the last five years, playing hard but fair. You can’t talk to fans of other clubs for long before they confess admiration for Leighton Baines, contrasting his personality with his rival for the England left-back slot.
But the man who fits the template perfectly, is the Chorley Iniesta, good old Ossie. He’ll never be an Everton Great, for the pantheon is populated by only the very best in history, but what a career he’s had. He deserves, and I suspect he gets, the admiration of football fans everywhere – something he should enjoy, as he starts yet another season on the banks of the Royal Blue Mersey.