We need mavericks like Tomlin
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.
IN the month before Leeds owner Massimo
to step down, Cellino was forced their
men lost five of Neil Redfearn’s
to within a place six games and sank of the bottom three.
since the Italian Of the five games
they have won three cleared his desk, I
Is that coincidence? and lost just once. don’t think so.
in every office will As every person to
a lot better left testify, you work
than when an your own devices
is breathinterfering manager
ing down your neck.