An affection for a rival club’s player can be a worrying, unsettling feeling.
We’re not talking about a dalliance with a lower-league cult hero or an obsession with Napoli’s latest languid heartthrob here. This is riskier – a penchant for a direct rival, a player who the basic rules of football fandom dictate you should despise, boo, burn in effigy if needs be.
I wrote recently about my complicated feelings for Didier Drogba, a player who’s done more than most to puncture Liverpool dreams down the years, a serial rule-bender and on-field personification of Chelsea’s efforts to buy and bully their way to success. He’s great though.
I asked fans of Liverpool’s fiercest rivals for their take on which of our current squad they liked the most.
The criteria were pretty loose – it could be based on footballing style or ability or the fact that a player seemed like the sort of person you’d be happy to go for a pint with.
So here they are – Liverpool’s most likeable players, from an outside perspective. Thanks to all the fans who took part. I agree with you all.
Rob Warm (Manchester United) – Dirk Kuyt
There are plenty of Liverpool players I hate. There are others that, at times, I have coveted in a superficial way – a bit like fancying your mate’s girlfriend (“oh Fernando, we both know it’s wrong but…”).
And then, very occasionally, there is one I just like. For me it is Dirk Kuyt. A player who has never made me cheer or even smile. A player who scored a hat-trick against United and celebrated like he meant it.
Why? Well, he is a very good player. But it isn’t to do with how good he is. It is to do with him. And it is to do with decency. For me Dirk Kuyt plays football in a way which balances absolute commitment as a player with a sense that this is only part of who he is. And probably not the most important part.
Would I rather see Rooney score? Of course I would. Would I rather go for a drink with Kuyt? The answer is equally obvious.
Barrie White (Everton) – Pepe Reina
I’m writing this as Pepe Reina’s red card at Newcastle brings to an end an astonishing unbroken run of 183 league appearances for Liverpool. Reina, a passionate Spaniard who seems to have grown frustrated over the last few months, is the only player in a Liverpool shirt that I have any affection for.
He is a superb shot-stopper and is showing no sign of the flakiness in commanding his box that dogged his first year at Liverpool, while his distribution would put 80% of Premier League defenders and midfielders to shame.
A passionate man, shown clearly by his sending off, he displays all the hallmarks of opposing fans thinking, ‘yeah, I wouldn’t mind him being our number one’. He is loyal, though that is sure to be tested in the summer, and if it were not for Iker Casillas, he’d have had a long spell as Spain’s number one by now.
By all accounts, he’s a funny man who many players, teammates and opponents alike, have time for and, let’s face it, despite his lack of hair, is a good-looking fella, so all hail Reina, a proper keeper.
Chris Barbour (Chelsea) – Martin Skrtel
I don’t only like Martin Skrtel because he’s the only man in the world, bar Gordon Brown, who manages to look more sinister when smiling.
My favourable feelings towards this round headed Slovak are derived from an anecdote I was once told by someone who lives on the same street as him. The anecdote is as follows; This person’s dad was walking and spotted 2 chihuahuas in the road outside Skrtel’s house.
After wandering over to them he heard a woman’s voiced from behind him turning to find what he assumed was the Slovak’s wife. He began to beckon the dogs over when from the house emerged the great man wearing naught but a towel.
He then muttered the words (you can do the accent I’m sure.) “Those are my dogs, give me my dogs.” He then picked up and carried the dogs, one under each arm, back inside.
I like this story not only because the thought of a man who looks like a mixture between a bouncer and a drug lord yet owns Chihuahuas warms my toes, but because he addressed the situation how he plays his football, do the job and leave. He’s very much a ‘want do you want?! Jam on it?’ kinda guy.
An Anonymous Evertonian (Everton) – Andy Carroll
As an Evertonian, we’re meant to have a deep rooted hatred of our neighbours across the park; anyone who pulls on a red jersey is our enemy and should be viewed only through narrowed dagger-filled eyes. For the most part I toe the party line with this thinking, past and present players are met with derision; why even the slightest mention of Michael Owen makes my blood boil to volcanic degrees.
But recently I’ve had these weird feelings. I’m unsure exactly how to describe them; I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I “liked” a Liverpool player – I definitely would never say that out loud – but it’s more an empathy. I see him and instead of intense rage and disgust, I just feel a bit sorry for him. The him in question? Andy Carroll.
Alright, so he cost £35 million and has barely repaid a penny of that in talent and yes, he’s quite the controversial character when you look at his history, assault convictions and accusations of drinking. But look at him. He looks sad, lost even. He must sit in his mansion and read Twitter with tears rolling down his cheeks as endless comments of “gypo” and “pikey” are levied at him. His hair, often mocked and rarely imitated, just needs a bit of attention – instead of pulling it back in a ponytail Andy, why not try a French braid? It’s your crowning glory, don’t react to the Delilahs who suggest you curtail your Samson ways.
So I look at him and I don’t hate Andy Carroll, I see a fish out of water, a lad who doesn’t quite fit. And as the old saying goes, you can take a lad out of the Bigg Market but you can’t make him score.
Alex Kersley (Arsenal) – Dirk Kuyt
In the past choosing my favourite Liverpool player would have been like relatively easy; crazy Grobbelaar who kept everyone laughing or Michael Thomas who retained my affection despite leaving us. Nowadays it is much harder though and I find myself choosing a player more for non-football reasons.
If pushed, I have to name Dirk Kuyt as my favourite Liverpool player at the moment. He plays for the national team that I support and he made his name with the team who were playing in the first ever professional football match I went to where I fell in love with the Beautiful Game, Feyenoord.
These are merely side issues though. The real reason I like Dirk is that he seems like a real person, not someone who obsessed with his own importance or image. He still helps out the club he played for as a child and his charity supports disadvantaged kids in Holland and Africa. When he was first married his wife continued working as a nurse with old people.
Not a man in love with his own image … just a normal Dutchman with the talent to have made his way in a fiercely competitive sport.