Tuesday, August 25, 2009

What a difference a summer makes (Or: Shut up Gary)

The fickle ways of football fans have always been a source of much amusement. Love him, hate him, love him. The average supporter has the same loyalty as a 13 year old girl swapping boybands.

Even with this background though the strange case of Gary Caldwell still astounds.

Much criticised for gaffes, unable to get a regular start in his favoured position. Pilloried by rival fans, barely tolerated by his own fans. That was then.

A turnaround last season saw him secure his place at the heart of the Celtic defence, cement his role in George Burley’s Scotland (mis?)adventure and, to top it all, win a player of the year award. Gary, Gary, where did it all go right?

This season has been a bit different. Sent of for Scotland – and in the process shouldering a lot of the blame for the shockingly inept display against Norway – he went back to Glasgow seeking home comforts. Instead he scored an own goal against Arsenal. And then was culpable for one of St Johnstone’s goals on Saturday.

One thing about Gary, he’s not fussy. He’s prepared to stand up and make a mistake against anyone, anytime, anywhere.

Now, of course, this is unfair. Last season we were talking about his major turnaround as a career finally maturing into the realisation of all that potential he had as a kid. Now after a few incidents in a few games Gary’s gone from hero to zero.

But there’s a funny ratio at work in football these days. The more money that’s poured into the game the less time people have. Liverpool lose two games in three matches and they’re told they can’t win the league. Tony Mowbray, George Burley, any manager knows this. They see a loose cannon, that most dangerous of things a centre half with a confidence crisis, and they have to react. Survival of the fittest and all that.

I’m not suggesting that Gary’s in a terminal decline. But he might need to be prepared for a few chastening experiences after last season’s plaudits.

And here’s how he should react.

Gary, please shut your mouth.

I’ve got a theory. I reckon a few years ago, maybe in the hope of shutting him up, somebody’s told Gary in the pub that’s he quite articulate for a footballer. He’s taken that as a sign to embark an almost unrivalled period of speaking.

Every week, every paper. It’s no coincidence that the writers voted him player of the year. He gave them most of their copy.

Now in some ways this is admirable. He’s shown a willingness to stick his head above the parapet. Even when stories of a Rangers cheerleader emerged he didn’t hide.

But sometimes you pick up the paper and think “dear God, man, give it a break.”

He had a bit of a reputation in Edinburgh for saying that Hibs were a stepping stone back to the Premiership. It became his mantra, apparently. The presumptiousness of that statement didn’t endear him to the Easter Road faithful. When he eventually joined Celtic they not only questioned his geographical acumen but also whether Gary Caldwell was all mouth and no trousers.

On his award winning season last year he said he’d worked hard on his concentration to eliminate errors. Apparently that didn’t last the summer.

He has an almost spooky ability to be hoist by his own petard. We’ll win this, they’ll lose that, me and my brother will do this. When it comes to predictions he’s like Nostradamus in reverse.

So Gary. For your own sake, go away and work on your game again. Don’t believe your hype. You need to work at it. You’ve done it before, you can do it again.

That guy in the pub was right. You are an articulate guy. But, you know what, Tony Blair and David Cameron are articulate guys as well but we don’t want hear them spouting claptrap constantly. The next time your writer mates call just say no comment.

When you’re falling over yourself to look stupid on the pitch the last thing you should be doing is giving the football hacks an opportunity to make you look stupid in the papers as well.