Former City coach Ian Crook had a word for it; or rather a description.
A phrase that probably applies just as much to Wayne Rooney as it does to Chrissy Martin as it does to Craig Bellamy.
All three, he’d argue, have ‘a little bit of mongrel in them…’
I always liked that.
Because, for me, that can make all the difference; that streak of mongrel.
It would be stretching a point to suggest it separates the men from the boys, footballer-wise; after all, for many it is the defiantly adolescent behaviour of those three Musketeers that marks them out as ‘trouble’.
Indeed, the phrase ‘stupid boy’ appeared to follow Martin round on the back of his latest brush with the law.
Clearly, we’re not delving too deeply on that one; nor is there much virtue to be had in dwelling on the latest domestic misfortune to befall the Rooney household or to re-visit the charge sheet that follows Bellamy on his travels.
The point is, however, that all three have more than ‘a bit of mongrel in them’.
And that I’d sign all three in an instant. For they have an ‘edge’ to them. Attitude, for want of another word.
I look back over some 20-odd years reporting on professional football and it’s those with such attitudes that usually make it.
Why? Because they want it more than most; certainly in the case of Messrs Bellamy and Rooney, you can guess where their life might have gone and the sporting gods not been so kind talent-wise.
A father at 16, a product of the rougher end of Cardiff, Bellamy would – in every likelihood – have found himself gobbing off at some nightclub doorman on a Saturday night had not football ridden to his rescue; he still might gob off at a nightclub doorman on a Saturday night, but as a footballer you can get away with it… you have ‘respect’; whilst you’ve got money, you have ‘mates’; you have minders to smooth clubland’s ruffled feathers.
Take away the footballer tag and you become just another mouthy, drunken punter; nothing special.
But what makes them special isn’t just their ability with a ball at their feet.
What marks them out from the crowd, is the street-type attitude that they bring to the party.
The kind of snarly aggression that a Chris Llewellyn never offered; that a Karl Simpson never found. The kids who were reared to shrug their shoulders and say: ‘Yeh, whatever…’ are the ones that don’t make it; those that clench their fists and tense…. Those are the ones that do.
Is this any excuse for what kicks off on a Saturday night? What happens when the little Mrs is not around and is off filming her M&S commercial; or whatever spin-off Colleen is cashing in on? No. It’s not.
But, to my mind, it’s a very rare footballer who can go out onto a pitch on a Saturday afternoon and offer genuine menace and bristle… and leave that same personality behind some five or six hours later. You can’t have one without the other. Most of the time, anyway.
There are the odd exceptions. Dickson Etuhu always struck me as never saying much of a boo to a goose off the pitch; on it and he could break a player’s leg at five paces.
Mathias Svensson is probably a better example. The Swede was affability itself off the pitch; on it, he had elbows sharpened to a dagger point. Ask Darren Eadie.
But they are rare. Those that can switch from Jekyll to Hyde the instant they cross that white line; the majority bring their work home with them, so to speak.
There is another point to this; why minus that streak of mongrel fewer and fewer kids are going to make the grade at professional footballer level. Because football is a power game these days.
If you’re not built like a Didier Drogba you are going to struggle; end of. The Lampards and the Gerrards survive because they are decent-sized ‘units’. Those that fancy themselves down the ‘spine’ of any side and are not blessed with a six-foot plus physique have to have something else up their sleeve to make it.
Sheer pace, possibly.
Otherwise, you’re back to that ‘bit of mongrel’; the fact that you’re a pain in the butt to play against. When a central defender says he hates playing against So-And-So, that’s a compliment… you get under his skin, up his nose and on his t*ts, that’s when you’ve won… And that’s the game that the mongrel plays.
I look at Michael Owen. And, yes, clearly he’s had his injury problems; his knees are probably shot. Owen is 30; he’s 31 in December. Bellars turned 31 this summer.
Who would you want your daughter to marry? And who would you want playing up top for your team? Ability-wise, Owen would take it. In his prime. Attitude-wise, for me, Bellamy would walk it.
He’ll sweat blood for Cardiff this season; he’ll not let any of his mates from the Ely estate down. Leafy Chester-boy Michael? He’ll have one eye on the horses; or the golf course. I’d be amazed if he ever got caught with his pants-down, Rooney-style.
But I’d know who I’d go with; every time. As does, Sir Alex.
The mongrel. For all his faults.