He's the driver of the banter bus who's the most likely man in football to tell you the price of his watch. But is Robbie Savage actually just a vulnerable puppy in a harsh world?
If there is a downside to an excellent international tournament (other than England's inevitable disaster, of course) it's the feeling of despondency afterwards. Pity the football fan, grabbing for the remote to switch over to football of a Tuesday late afternoon, only instead to slump back on the sofa with the cold realisation that he'll have to make do with tennis or even, God forbid, something other than sport on TV...well, it's a pathetic spectacle.
Fortunately, the fallow period without football never lasts long. Indeed, and hilariously, the 2012-2013 football season actually began on Tuesday. Just 48 hours after Spain had finished with Italy, the likes of Linfield begun their qualifying quest for the Champions League. Summer will be over soon. A couple more days of articles from the national football correspondents about how England now must, must change their football culture, a new manager or two, then a few weeks of Arsenal fans screeching about their best player leaving and before you know it, the season has begun.
But what would become of us if there was no 'next season'? Not a realistic fear for the fans (not unless there's a global nuclear conflagration, in which case we may have more pressing matters on our minds) but a concern facing many a knackered old footballer at this time of year. At 35, many of us in the real world are just starting to get somewhere in our careers or jobs, beginning to really understand our trades or crafts, getting responsibility and power if that's our bag. You might be doing your job for another 30 years (that sounds a right downer when we put it like that). Probably 40, actually, given the way pensions are going. Erm, sorry, we'll stop. Point is: at an age when most of us are getting our shit together in the world of work, your sportsman is being shuffled off the stage like a geriatric liability.
So what becomes of them, these grizzled veterans, these gnarled old greybeards, these men who have seen one too many League Cup games at Boundary Park in Winter? They used to open pubs and newsagents and run sports shops, or do a bit of awkward hand-shaking on match days. But we are now in the era of the footballer who has made enough to be considered rich for the rest of his life, even if he never got out of bed again. Lee Carsley, for instance, was transferred for a total of approx. £7.5million in his career. With moderate financial prudence and luck, he is going to be a rich, rich dude for another 40 years or more, let alone the millions he must be raking in as, er, Coventry City's development coach.
Their counterparts in cricket and rugby have to get jobs, actual jobs the poor devils. For former cricketers, journalism - by which we mean actually writing down the words rather than yelling them at some underpaid ghostwriter while you work out which club to take on the 12th - is a favourite: Derek Pringle, Steve James, Angus Fraser, Mike Atherton are among the best. Rugby Union also boasts some decent post-career writers. How many ex-footballer journalists can you think of? Eamon Dunphy. Stan Collymore is another who could wear that badge of dubious honour, maybe. But that's about it.
Football seems to draw its participants almost exclusively from the ranks of the uneducated working-class, so expecting them to turn into Norman Mailer is clearly silly. But unlike days gone by, their wealth means that they needn't re-educate themselves in any regard, which, when it comes to dumping them onto our pundit sofas is part of the problem. While many have had some sort of media training - 'don't talk too fast', 'don't keep pulling at your cock' and 'don't try to finger the female interviewer' - all the basics - their education in all other respects remains steadfastly in the third form or lower. We often wonder how many applicants for pundit jobs the media actually gets? How many were turned down in favour of Mark Bright, for instance...and how bad must they have been?
We hear that Peter Crouch is getting a chat show because his name rhymes with the word 'couch' and also because 'he has a good command of the English language'. We like Peter but have never thought him exceptionally erudite by normal standards; however, by football standards he is apparently some kind of Peter Ustinov-style raconteur. Will someone who plays football and can string a sentence together without transposing verbs or using the slang of a gangsta rapper make great TV? Somehow, we doubt it.
Also on ITV this summer comes Let's Get Gold, which is a clunky and possibly grammatically incorrect title. The press release says:
'Sports teams from across the UK attempt to use their sporting skills to put on a spectacular show and win £100,000. This is the first of three heats before the final. Rio Ferdinand, Freddie Flintoff, Martine McCutcheon and Una Healy. Vernon Kay to Host.'
This is may well provoke fear-induced incontinence in more sentient members of society. Obviously Freddie would turn up for any programme on TV be it 'Whose Celebrity Turd is This?' or 'Pro-Celebrity Competitive Horse Eating With Michelle McManus'. But the fact Rio is to be on hand is unusual in that it involves a footballer on TV not being a pundit or presenter. How well it goes may well dictate how many more of his generation we see on various ITV4 shows once they retire. Can we look forward to Ashley Cole doing Miss World (not like that), Grant Holt on Embarrassing Bodies or John Terry being chased through a trailer park on Cops? We hope so. But not for honourable reasons. Usually, seeing a footballer outside of the football context is just very embarrassing; a bit like seeing a teacher out of school on a Saturday morning. It just looks wrong.
We've been as critical as everybody else about the C-minus efforts of all the usual ex-player pundits, but it must be murder trying to get them to do anything different. Capitalism's success has always been based on having an over-supply of labour, and that labour being so desperate for a gig that it'll eat sh*t all day long. Hard to see with what sort of stick you can beat a millionaire footballer in a TV studio. With the monstrous amounts of football now on offer, there's plenty of work to go round - even for people who don't need the work. No wonder these retired footballers look so bloody pleased with themselves.
John Nicholson and Alan Tyers
Alan's book is called 'Gin And Juice: The Victorian Guide To Parenting' and you can check it out here.
And read John's book, 'The Meat Fix.'