We need mav­er­icks like Tom­lin

The Football League Paper - - FRONT PAGE - Chris Dunlavy

BACK when Lee Tom­lin was a wise­crack­ing 17-year-old on the books at Rush­den & Di­a­monds, he made a very fool­hardy de­ci­sion.

Determined to ex­hibit his tal­ent for the club’s new sign­ing Chris Hope, Tom­lin de­lib­er­ately em­bar­rassed the vet­eran cen­tre-half with a cou­ple of tricks, then rubbed it in with a dose of brag­gado­cio.

Alas Hope, a hard-as-nails Sh­effield na­tive, was never a man to mess with, least of all in his very first train­ing ses­sion. Within sec­onds Tom­lin had been floored by five north­ern knuck­les, his nose blood­ied and his ears ring­ing with a less-than-po­lite warn­ing re­gard­ing fu­ture con­duct.

Not that he lis­tened, of course. Tom­lin has al­ways been too cock­sure to take ad­vice. He kept show­boat­ing, kept mouthing off, kept mak­ing sure ev­ery­one knew just how good he was.


And he has never stopped, right un­til the mo­ment last month when he made a mug of Vin­cent Kom­pany in Mid­dles­brough’s 2-0 victory at the Eti­had, spin­ning ma­jes­ti­cally past the Bel­gian skip­per be­fore slam­ming his shot against a post.

“My wash­ing ma­chine was mak­ing loads of noise,” tweeted Tom­lin last week. “I opened it and Kom­pany crawled out. I must have left him in my pocket.”

How Hope must have chuck­led when he saw that. Within days, the cheeky mis­sive had been retweeted 29,000 times.

Nat­u­rally, there were plenty of nump­ties in the poe-faced, faux-out­raged world of so­cial me­dia who ac­cused Tom­lin of dis­re­spect. And they’re right, I guess. But you know what? I don’t care who Tom­lin up­sets. I love see­ing an English player so con­vinced of his own ge­nius.

In to­day’s me­dia-trained, mono­chrome, don’t-up­set-the-spon­sor waste­land of empty sound­bites and mean­ing­less buzz­words, no­body ever gives it the big ‘un. It’s all ‘We re­spect ev­ery op­po­nent’, ‘I’m just do­ing my best for the team’, ‘He’s a great player but they’re all great play­ers’. Who needs seda­tives?

Re­spect and pro­fes­sion­al­ism have re­placed swag­ger and per­son­al­ity. Where is Ge­orge Best? Where is Rod­ney Marsh? Where are the English – or Ir­ish – play­ers who sneer down their noses at for­eign coun­ter­parts?

The best sports­men don’t re­spect any­one. Muham­mad Ali didn’t re­spect Ge­orge Fore­man or Joe Fra­zier. He be­lieved ut­terly in his own su­pe­ri­or­ity, ram­ming it home lit­er­ally and ver­bally. He made sure his op­po­nents be­lieved it, too.

Then there’s Zla­tan Ibrahi­movich. The Swede – who this week likened him­self to Je­sus – is the epit­ome of self-con­fi­dence. It wouldn’t mat­ter how many goals or how many gongs Messi and Ron­aldo racked up, the PSG striker would re­main stead­fastly con­vinced of his sta­tus as the great­est foot­baller in his­tory. As he said when Swe­den missed the cut for Brazil, ‘with­out Zla­tan, the World Cup is not worth watch­ing’.

Of course, ram­pant self-be­lief is not with­out prob­lems. In Tom­lin’s case – as in Ibrahi­movich’s – its bi-prod­uct is a volatile tem­per­a­ment. The 26year-old has col­lected so many red and yel­low cards that his rap sheet looks like a game of Connect Four.

He’s also been dis­in­clined to put in the hard yards, cut­ting a dis­tinctly portly fig­ure in five years at Peter­bor­ough be­fore his £1.5m switch to Boro last Jan­uary.

“When I was younger, peo­ple used to say, ‘You’ve got the world at your feet’,” said Tom­lin last year. “I used to hear that and think ‘Okay, if I’m that good I don’t need to work hard, I don’t need to do this, I don’t need to do that’.”

But un­der the guid­ance of Ai­tor Karanka, those flaws ap­pear to have been ironed out. Gone are the strops and red cards. Gone, even, is that prodi­gious gut. But as that mar­vel­lous spin and its ac­com­pa­ny­ing tweet suc­cinctly proved, the old swag­ger and ar­ro­gance re­main un­touched.

That kind of at­ti­tude is in­fec­tious. It em­bold­ens team-mates, in­tim­i­dates op­po­nents. It makes you try things a less con­fi­dent player wouldn’t dare. It is a qual­ity sadly lack­ing when­ever Eng­land take the field.


Now, I’m not say­ing Tommo will ever get that far. He is too in­con­sis­tent, too slow, too in­di­vid­ual for the con­form-or-die mod­ern age. But I’d love to see the Cham­pi­onship’s reign­ing player of the month teach the boys in the top flight a thing or two about con­fi­dence.

Be­cause he wouldn’t just “en­joy the ex­pe­ri­ence”. He wouldn’t re­spect the op­po­si­tion. He’d try to hu­mil­i­ate de­fend­ers and give them some lip. And, as Hope dis­cov­ered all those years ago, no mat­ter how many times he was kicked, he’d get up and try an­other trick.

Tom­lin is a true throw­back to the age of the mav­er­ick, the last of a rare breed. If more English play­ers had his at­ti­tude, the game would be far more colour­ful.

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a lot bet­ter left tes­tify, you work

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