Easter. A time when an over-sized bunny followed a trail of chocolate eggs to a cave. And in that cave was Luke Skywalker, hanging upside down, with his lightsaber just beyond reach. And the bunny rescued Luke who then went on to free all the executive producers in Hollywood. Or something like that.
To celebrate this time of year – and the Cutter’s 100th post – we’ve devised a special Easter XI, eleven players who have plumbed the depths of despair (and in some cases been metaphorically crucified) before rising once again.
Whether it’s returning from being cast out into the wilderness, a miraculous comeback from injury, or sweet redemption, all of the players below know how it feels to be reborn.
Suffice to say the tannoy system would be blaring out the Roses’ I Am The Resurrection when this team walked onto the pitch.
1/ LES SEALEY – As passionate and eccentric as they came Sealey perfectly epitomised the caricature of a mad-cap keeper. Whether it was venting his spleen at hapless defending, throwing his head amongst a flurry of boots with courageous lunacy, or pulling off saves with the agility to make a gymnastic cat blush, the Luton and Coventry stopper was moulded from the old-school.
After carving out a respectable career that spanned nearly two decades he was loaned out to Plymouth, as his vociferous, grandstanding career drew to a reluctant close.
That was until Ferguson and United – hit by a goalkeeping shortage – brought him in on emergency cover for Jim Leighton with just a few games of the season left.
Leighton was undergoing, what can only be described as a crisis in confidence, which was made much worse by the fact that such confidence was severely misplaced to begin with. In the F.A Cup final against Palace the shaky Scot had the proverbial ‘mare, a clanger-strewn display that prompted open mockery from a watching nation.
Yet nobody expected Ferguson to drop his long-standing number one for the replay. Even by his standards that would be a ruthless act too far.
To the amazement of seemingly everyone that was precisely what he did and Sealey, making only his second start for the club, suddenly found himself thrust into the limelight, a glare that suited his larger-than-life personality.
After helping them to victory Sealey, who had never won any item of silverware before, gave his medal to the traumatized Leighton (the F.A would later give them one apiece) then went on to make a further 31 appearances for United, even winning another trophy in Barcelona, a European Cup Winners Cup.
Sadly he passed away in 2001 aged just 43.
2/ TONY BOOK – Already we are veering from the confines of this list. Because strictly speaking Book never experienced a second coming as such, but rather he enjoyed a first flush of glory when others would ordinarily be winding down their careers.
But if ever an exception should be made it’s with the exceptional, and Book and his story is certainly that.
Following many seasons plying his trade for non-league Bath City a charismatic figure arrived at the club who would form a monumentally positive impact upon his life. Malcolm Allison immediately installed Book as his captain and, after a brief stint together playing and coaching in Toronto, he then took his aging prodigy with him to Plymouth. Here he instructed Book to doctor his birth certificate to shave off a few years because Big Mal knew the directors would refuse to shell out the £1,500 transfer fee for a 30 year old full-back.
At the age of 32 he rejoined his mentor at Manchester City and became an instrumental figure in the club’s most successful era to date. In his first season they secured the league title. In his second, just a week before lifting the F.A Cup, this 34 year old right-back was voted the Football Writer’s Footballer of the Year.
Let us just pause for a moment and consider all that. A guy in the twilight of his career, who had spent the large bulk of his career in virtual obscurity, and a right-back to boot…since when do full-backs receive such awards?!….becomes a pivotal leader in a title-winning side.
It is nigh on biblical.
3/ STEPHEN CARR – On the first of December 2008 Carr formally announced his retirement from the game. This afternoon at Anfield he will captain a Birmingham side for which he has been a steadying ballast of excellence and experience in a troubled season.
Carr is playing with the enthusiasm and vigour of a man who knows that every match is one more than he probably shouldn’t have. A persistent knee injury has blighted his career for the past decade resulting in a lack of continuity that was mirrored by the ever-changing managerial personnel at both his previous clubs. If you reeled off thirty of the usual suspects Carr must have played under half of them.
Some, as is their want, didn’t fancy him, and towards the end of his Newcastle tenure the able Carr found himself way down the pecking order.
The Irish international was released into the wilderness and even suffered the indignity of being rejected whilst on trial with Leicester.
Perennially under-rated and a diligent fixture of the Premier League it was an edifying sight witnessing Carr lift aloft the Carling Cup at Wembley in February.
4/ MARCO MATERAZZI – For some strange reason Italian defenders rarely suit the English game. So it was for this muscle-bound hothead at Goodison Park though perhaps his performances were not quite as poor as memory serves. Certainly his stint on these shores was generally considered a failure and some time later Evertonians would gasp in astonishment as a player bearing his name, and resembling their mediocre rough-house right down to the numerous tattoos plastered across his arms and body, began to excel at Inter, becoming a bedrock of consistency and fortitude, and represented Italy at three major international tournaments.
Materazzi would go on to achieve extreme notoriety by claiming to prefer the sexual services of Zidane’s sister to a proffered shirt in the course of securing a World Cup victory for his country whilst last summer we were treated to the bizarre sight of Mourinho jumping from his car as he departed Inter for Madrid to run back and tearily embrace his fiery centre-back. Arguably the greatest coach in world football today emotionally clinging to, and seeking solace from, a man who used to be bamboozled by Julian Joachim. That’s quite some upswing in status.
5/ TONY ADAMS – If the life and career of Adams is reduced to short, simple facts it is truly staggering how much the first and second parts contrast. It is a fame of two halves. Anyone who was not familiar with his journey would understandably assume it was the descriptions of two completely different individuals. Which, in a way, they are.
Boy from Romford becomes a rugged, no-nonsense centre-back. Knocks back the ale on a regular basis. Is widely characterised as a donkey for his primitive, clumsy style of play. Gets sent down for crashing a car whilst pissed up into a wall.
Becomes a leading exponent of continental training habits. Is widely respected for not just his leadership skills, but also his integration into a fluid, stylish Arsenal side that is immensely attractive to watch. Founds the Sporting Chance clinic, a charity that helps sportsmen and women who suffer from various addictions. Plays Chopin on the piano and reads philosophy.
For the way that he successfully transformed his image, lifestyle and entire persona Adams wears this side’s armband.
6/ DIEGO – The talented Brazilian is selected here to represent the commonest reason for a player’s fall and rise – a big-money move early in his career that goes awry followed soon after by a further move that provides a vindication of his ability.
Usually the initial transfer occurs too early in a player’s development – we are after all talking about a move to a foreign country and culture, often as a teenager, and often alone.
Diego Ribas da Cunha, an artful schemer of the first degree, headed to Portugal and Porto, traditionally a successful port of call for his countrymen, when he was just 19. After being part of an incredible Santos outfit that contained such luminaries as Robinho, Elano, and Alex, big things were expected of him. In fact he was expected to replace the departing legend Deco. Unfortunately however he failed to deliver on such promise and potential and he was soon packed off to Werder Bremen of Germany.
Once there, indeed almost from the very beginning, every facet of his considerable ability flourished.
Player of the years awards, goal of the season awards, a series of memorable, magical displays, trophies, a first call-up to the national team, and a sustained partnership with Torsten Frings that became known as the ‘two motors’.
The crafty South American had finally found his feet.
7/ DAVID BECKHAM – From effigies to eulogies within the space of twelve months at the turn of the last century was a magnificent achievement and a true resurrection of reputation.
The lionisation of Beckham, based mainly upon his celebrity status and looks as opposed to his footballing ability, is a particular bugbear of the Cutters. Yet credit where it’s due. To turn things around from being a national hate figure following his lash at Simeone at the 98 World Cup to then having the season of his life (playing an instrumental part in United’s treble and eventually coming runner-up in both the European and World Player of the Year awards) revealed there was considerable substance behind the style.
8/ EDUARDO – When David Busst’s leg exploded at Old Trafford none of us ever wished to see such a horrific breakage again. Yet in 2008 at St Andrews we did. The nation grimaced at the sight of Arsenal’s Eduardo buckling beneath Martin Taylor’s heavy challenge then immediately recoiled when we saw the singular limb flailing in opposing directions. The outcome was a broken left tibula and an open dislocation of the ankle and many feared the Croatian goal-poacher’s career was over.
A critical aspect of his game – the zip and sharpness that elevated him over others – was inevitably left on the pitch that day, but thankfully, following lengthy rehabilitation he is back to somewhere near his best.
Now at Shakhtar Donetsk whenever he gets on the score-sheet football supporters, no matter their allegiance, smile.
9/ RONALDO – The World Cup is the perfect global stage for redemption. In 2002 in Korea and Japan the goofy Brazilian not only reminded everybody of his devastating gifts but also laid to rest the remarkable episode from four years before when he suffered a seizure only hours before the final against the home nation France and was dropped, then dramatically reinstated, to the line-up at the last minute.
The confusing events that night almost led to Motson’s brain to visibly melt on the commentators gantry as he was handed one conflicting teamsheet after another.
What followed was a sorrowful spectacle as a husk of a player, a genius no less, traipsed around the Stade de France barely capable of going through the motions nevermind setting the game alight.
Thankfully on a warm June Yokohama night in 2002 everything was put right. Ronaldo helped himself to a brace (if only he’d done that as a boy!) to crown himself the Golden Shoe winner and defeat a typically stubborn German team.
Absolution was achieved and his ascendency into the pantheon of all-time greats forever secured.
10/ PAULO ROSSI – Rossi was a Tuscan predator. An instinctive hit-man who thrived on half-chances he would endlessly prowl along the opposition back-line seeking opportunities or defensive mistakes.
He was also, allegedly, susceptible to bribery.
In 1980, whilst at Perugia, he was embroiled in a betting scandal which resulted in him being banned from the professional game for three years. Some time later – with huge consequences for himself and his country – this was reduced to two.
The reduction of his punishment meant that he could be selected for Italy’s World Cup campaign on home soil that summer. He was, however, noticeably out of shape and lacking the sharp rapacious movement that was the hallmark of his game. For their first three matches he was described in some quarters of the press as being a ‘ghost on the pitch’.
All that changed in dramatic, and now famous, style in the crucial deciding ‘round robin’ game against Brazil. The victors would progress to the semi-final to face Poland.
In a stunning match set beneath the Seville sunshine that seemed to colour everything in bright, primary hues Rossi fired a glorious hat-trick to break Brazil’s hearts. He then helped himself to a further two against the Poles and then the first of three in the final itself.
As has been mentioned with Ronaldo, the World Cup is the perfect stage for redemption. Rossi, the arch opportunist, pounced with characteristic guile and didn’t just redeem his tarnished reputation; he came out squeaky clean.
11/ VLADIMIR SMICER – Chosen to represent the incredible Liverpool fightback from three goals down in the Champions League Final against Milan.
At half-time in the Ataturk stadium the Merseysiders were flat-lining and their hopes for a fifth European triumph were left in the hands of the delusional and blind-drunk. Nobody had ever clawed back such a margin before in a major final and even a second half consolation goal and improved performance would have been considered somewhat of a triumph through adversity.
Yet incredibly two goals within a minute soon after the restart completely changed the complexion of the game and, inspired by the marauding and tireless Gerrard, Liverpool managed to score again and take the game into a tense and frantic extra time.
Shevchenko ultimately missed the crucial spot kick and one of the greatest come-backs ever witnessed – on such a big stage – was accomplished.
So why Smicer? Well, he bagged the second for one thing, a tame 25-yarder that stumbled into the net. But more than this, the jinksy Czech had a chequered time of it at Anfield, never really establishing himself beyond that era. He symbolises that time and that team.
Also I was stuck for a left-winger.
MANAGER – BRIAN CLOUGH – Cloughie was a better footballer than he was a manager. And he was an extraordinary manager. In his playing pomp he used to rattle them in at nearly a goal a game (251 in 274 appearances) and this in the late 50s/early 60s, so hardly the tactically naïve kick-charge goal-fests of pre-war.
Tragically his brilliant career was cut short by cruciate ligament damage, aged just 27; an injury that now entails a lengthy spell on the sidelines but with a full recovery. Back then it meant the end.
He could have gone under and left the game with bitter regret. Instead Clough rose again to build more than one sensational team who conquered divisions and continents.
Even during his managerial career Old Big ‘Ead pulled off an impressive rebirth. Following a highly-combustive doomed spell with Leeds (now widely known about through The Damned United book and film) he returned to his provincial roots with Forest and constructed from scratch a side that won two European Cups.
In addition to all this there was the ‘walk on water’ boast.
There is no finer man, myth and legend to lead out the Cutter’s Easter XI.
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