Two games in and Daniel Farke has already been confronted by (and dealt with) his first public display of player unrest.
Nelson Oliveira’s shirt-waving goal celebration and subsequent omission from the squad against Swindon has seemingly divided opinion amongst the supporters who have broadly classified his antics as one of the following;
- A great show of passion from a player who clearly wants to play for the club
- A complete lack of respect towards the Head Coach and his team mates
- No big deal – draw a line and move on
For what it’s worth, I sit in the last camp and as such, there is a certain paradox in basing a column on the subject.
However in my defence, genuine talking points are hard to come by this early in the season and it’s hard to draft 1,000 words on the exploits of a single goose.
Watching the replays from Fulham and reading the subsequent views expressed on social media, I found myself reflecting on my own (extremely limited) exploits on a football pitch.
Most of my ‘best’ football was played on the south coast in my early twenties. Mine is not a tale of missed opportunities or of a glittering career cut short by injury or misfortune. The truth is I never had the ability to ‘make it’, nor the attitude or application to compensate for my short-comings.
Nevertheless, I was alright and that culminated in a couple of seasons playing in Division 3 of the Isthmian League.
‘Dizzy heights’ indeed.
It was during that time that I played alongside the most naturally gifted player that I ever shared a pitch with.
For reasons that will become clear, I’ll refrain from revealing his full name and simply refer to him as Steve (and no, that’s not some thinly veiled reference to myself).
I first was first introduced to Steve outside the training ground, whilst he chain-smoked his way through Marlborough Lights and took endless calls on his mobile phone, which in those days were a relative rarity.
He didn’t look like a footballer. True, he had badly bleached blonde hair but he was long in the body, short in the legs and blessed with a hat-trick of chins to match an obvious paunch.
However within minutes of taking to the pitch together, I was forced to completely re-evaluate that initial assessment.
He was a magician. Maybe it was the low centre of gravity but he could weave a spell on the ball and make it do things that I considered wholly unnatural.
Big on talent – big on attitude.
During one match, Steve picked up the ball on the left touchline. He shaped to cross, cut inside on to his right foot and curled the ball into the far top corner from all of 30-yards. As we celebrated, their prostrate goalkeeper muttered “you lucky b******”.
Steve shot him a disdainful glance over his shoulder and trotted back towards the halfway line.
Two minutes later, he took possession on the right side of the pitch and embarked on a cross-field dribble towards the general area from which he’d scored his goal. Without hesitation or an upward glance, he preceded to bend the ball into the very same spot of the net to put us 2-0 up.
Brushing aside his jubilant team mates, he slowly ambled over to their keeper and quietly said “now are you gonna shut the f*** up or are you gonna make me do that again?”
To have the confidence to try it was something. To have the ability to pull it off was something else; a reflection of a character that was to prove the bane of opponents, team mates and the coaching staff alike.
When – or if – he turned up to training he would often appear glassy eyed from a session at the pub and would inevitably delay kick-off by finishing a cigarette.
There were no on-field calls of ‘man on’ from Steve. He was more likely to shout ‘give me the bloody ball, d*ckhead’.
He refused to be allocated a position in our formation; insisting that he would ‘play where he decided was best’.
In other words he was a pain in the a***.
And yet we loved him. To be able to share a pitch and watch his talent close up was – at times – an absolute pleasure; albeit one that was short-lived and lasted only a single season.
I never found out exactly why he didn’t report back for pre-season training. Depending on the rumours, he had either gone to Brazil for a trial with Flamengo or was detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure for dealing in narcotics (hence my reluctance to reveal his full name).
I don’t draw this analogy to suggest that Oliveira should serve some form of incarceration. I’ll leave that to the Twitter accounts of certain retweet-seeking #ncfc celebrity fans.
Rather it serves as a reminder that the names that feature on a team sheet or on a goal flash are people.
People who alongside their talent for kicking a ball, bring with them all manner of personal nuances and behavioural traits driven by their emotions and expectations.
People who need managing.
Was Nelson stupid doing what he did?
Did it show a certain passion that is needed to excel in competitive sport?
Has Daniel Farke dealt with it and drawn a line?
It’s his job to do so.