The Importance Of Being An Idol
Vital Colchester`s regular columnist returns with a controversial entry asking if the criticism being directed at U`s winger Mark Yeates might hasten his likely exit this summer...
If Mark Yeates paid as much attention to message board chitchat as you, he`d be running wild and Zorro-like in a thin black face mask by now, carving his name into Colchester`s training pitches with flaming footballs.
In that parallel universe, a gossip-o-metre would be a real instrument, through which medics could measure his transfer temperature. You can just hear Tony Flynn, the U`s physio, suggesting cures: "Mark, it`s just a bad case of repetitive strain injury; too much mouse-clicking. We`ll have to put on a healthy daily-broadsheet diet. Lay off the web and ditch those trashy tabloids, son."
One sure-fire way to turn a devil-may-care winger into a desperado is to start slating him each time a new rumour he`s leaving comes in. "Well, who needs last season`s top-scorer and shirt-seller supreme, anyway?" In recent weeks, the indigent remarks have flooded forward like an unexpected Colchester United counter-attack. Ball hog. Prima Dona. Show off.
Reading that sort of thing as an athlete could really diminish any lasting resolve to show loyalty to a set of supports whose respect for your art is clearly not as unconditional as it first appears.
If he cared - I mean really and to the point going over every spec of scandal ever typed about him - he might never don Colchester`s colours again, for fear they might stick to his skin as a monochrome prisoner`s outfit almost identically patterned like the club`s blue kit.
Taking flack is all part of the professional bargain, of course. He is the workhorse. You`re the wage-payers. Simple. Except that denying Yeates a status as Colchester United`s most prominent player since Kevin Lisbie, making him almost indispensable, seems a rather deluded coping mechanism.
Belief he might just zip off to Middlesbrough faster than he skins your average right-back is causing fans to resent him before he has even probably thought about leaving. Is he the most important squad member? That`s much more debatable, but clearly skill and flair are among his best talents.
Terrace talk says his influence on the team is overbearing; stifling, even, akin to assessments about an increasingly broody Thierry Henry after his final days at Arsenal. Difference is, the Gunners had a crop of youngsters intimidated by a man who oozed ability and intimidated them though it: here, before a bunch of raw wannabies was the personification of an internationally-renowned France legend.
Can the same be said about Yeates, in this situation, at Colchester? Doubtful. First, his repute isn`t worldwide. Second, he`s not the sum of the present side`s parts in Essex: the buck doesn`t stop with him. If he were injured, say, it`d be a shame. But, by keeping calm and carrying on, the team could win without him.
Perhaps that`s exactly what the manager, Paul Lambert, was trying to show in recent interviews. Yes, he`s good. Just how much Lambert does, or doesn`t, rate the player, however, is obvious from what came next, post-praise: the reservations.
Lambert worries are about the inconsistency in his star-turn`s performances. Sometimes scintillating, he also annoys. Amnesia wins the day too often because Yeates forgets that crossing is a winger`s raison d'etre.
So the player has imperfections. Current indispensability is not a synonym for becoming indeterminately irreplaceable. Can a club like Colchester, though, really afford to be so choosy? Pre-emptive rejection probably won`t help if the club has a difficult summer recruiting fresh faces and suddenly needs to send him an S.O.S to stay.
I say that because Lambert`s admissions mark the point where this seemingly playful persecution complex against the winger-cum-inside forward transcends conjecture or harmless comment and becomes a performance affecting reality.
Lambert, who often says thing exactly how he sees them, deliberately neglected to solely praise any of Yeates` performances in which he had scored several times last season, without also prefixing the analysis with negatives.
Perhaps these tempered assessments about the player`s sporadic but brilliant showings represented more truth than even the casual football-watcher cares to admit.
Unless Lambert - and hopefully this proves to be the case - knows something less than obvious about man-management that punters don`t, it almost appeared from the outside that United`s number 11 was frequently handed criticism for criticism`s sake.
It`s fallacy, of course, to declare that the U`s will automatically improve without Yeates running the channels.
Unless, that is, you think he commandeered possession so much last season that the team`s overall statistics would level out better if he`d only passed more often, or just shot at goal less. There are no reasonable grounds on which to argue that selling your side`s best asset is going to dramatically liberate, let alone advance, the team as a whole.
In a Vital U`s feature published only yesterday, a fellow columnist even called his stupendous free-kick against Leeds the most important goal of the season just ended. So here comes the necessary question: if the Irishman stops despatching dead-balls for Colchester United with such acute precision, then who will?
It`s true to say that the club does not exist solely to illuminate one man`s undoubted gift for mesmerising us all with a football. If he goes - not when - just don`t say you weren`t forewarned; everyone`s had a year to plan for life without him, after he spectacularly failed a medical at Crystal Palace last summer.
Since then, after each boo or grown rose following a wayward assist, or misplaced pass, Yeates might have felt like jail-bait in a circus didn`t subscribe to, wearing a ball-and-chain around his foot where a soccer ball should normally be.
Seasoned pro? Yes, I`m sure he can accept his faults. Just prey, U`s fans, that he doesn`t bother reading papers, or have a round-the-clock handle on what`s said over the Internet.
Stand United: Honouring Graham Shows Fans Won`t 'Lego` of History
Getting a stand named after Dick Graham wouldn`t just be a hugely deserved tribute to an ex-Colchester boss.
It would be an instant magnet for the nostalgia that some U`s followers thought bulldozers berried forever when Layer Road was reduced to rubble last summer.
Not only does Graham himself deserve it, for propagating Colchester`s F.A. Cup giant-killing culture in 1971, but the club also owes the fans a duty of care to listen to what they want.
Those opposed say the council-funded project belongs to the whole community, so to designate football-related names only on the stands used and paid for by everyone is tantamount to alienating non-sporting folk.
What people forget is that the club is slowly repaying the council £14 million it borrowed to build the complex.
Besides, you can`t put a price on assigning some historical significance to lumps of metal framework, moral or financial.
Add some character, and maybe the Community
Stadium will feel more like home and little less like it was assembled from boxed Airfix or Lego bricks.
Guilt Free Tennis... If You Dare!
Thwack. Ping. The Wimbledon purists are back, again, and moaning about once-a-year fans; those who turn up to our annual garden party for a fortnight and feel lost in the face of festivity for a usually overlooked national pastime.
Frankly, I`m no tennis buff, but I know about Hawk-Eye, net-calls and second serves. So, I`ll enjoy feigning more of an interest in the sport than it normally merits quite guilt-free.
You don`t get hear football snobs castigating the summertime transfer-junkie for renewing their optimism, instead of their season ticket.
Let`s call time, gentlemen, please, on this Middle English snobbery at Wimbledon, then. On, and pass the Strawberries.