Press Centre

The Football Mavericks

  • Episode: 

    3 of 3

  • Transmission (TX): 

    Tue 19 May 2015
  • TX Confirmed: 

  • Time: 

    10.00pm - 11.00pm
  • Week: 

    Week 21 2015 : Sat 16 May - Fri 22 May
  • Channel: 

The information contained herein is strictly embargoed from all press use, non-commercial publication, or syndication until 12 May 2015
“From the outside looking in, if you didn’t understand them, it looked as if they didn’t love the game, it looked as if they were abusing the game and their talent. But that was just the way they were made up.” - Glenn Hoddle
This new three-part sports documentary series for ITV4 focuses on uniquely gifted footballers whose antics made them terrace icons.
From George Best to Stan Bowles, Gazza to Eric Cantona, to modern-day characters like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli, this programme features those individuals whose exceptional skill on the pitch has sometimes been overshadowed by their lifestyles and personalities.
It weaves together contributions from some of those players - including Frank Worthington, Rodney Marsh and Glenn Hoddle - with the views of their managers, team-mates and fans alongside archive footage to paint a unique portrait of those who dare to be different.
In the third episode, A Dying Breed, players from the ‘90s are profiled including Eric Cantona, Paul Merson, Matt Le Tissier, Faustino Asprilla, alongside heroes of their time like Paolo Di Canio and David Ginola, and modern-day mavericks like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli.
At the start of the 1990s, one man lifted English football from the doldrums it had been in through the ‘80s and heralded a new era for the game - Paul Gascoigne. His performances at Italia ‘90 caused a resurgence in interest in the game in this country. Journalist James Brown says: “For many years, English sport was considered something you did after you took your blazer off. Suddenly there was a player who didn’t wear a blazer. He had a cheeky smile, he was like a school kid and he was playing for England. And you got the impression Gazza probably would have played for sweets.”
A big-money move to Spurs, then on to Italy, a classic goal against Scotland at Euro ‘96 and lurid tabloid headlines about his personal life followed. Terry Venables arguably got the best out of Gascoigne for Tottenham and the national team, says Rodney Marsh. He says: “[Venables] knew that he could get the best out of Gascoigne by allowing him to be Paul Gascoigne. Never let Terry down, never let England down. He’s one of the few mavericks who has made his way in the England team and been highly successful. Yes, he’s a great footballer - I put that down to the managers allowing him to be great.”
Meanwhile, Alex Ferguson was building a title-winning squad - adding the nonchalant Frenchman Eric Cantona to the so-called ‘class of ‘92’ to herald a decade of success. Cantona’s flicks, tricks and turns had caught the eye at Elland Road, so his move to Manchester United meant he could take a step forward, says former Leeds team-mate Gordon Strachan. He says: “Cantona had world-class players all round him with drive and determination and one of the best managers of all time. He had that swagger, the ability, the strength, the pace - just genius. But he was needing Keane, he was needing McClair alongside him. Hughes, Bruce, Giggs, Beckham - he needed all of them.”
In North London, Paul Merson became Arsenal’s gap-toothed talisman, with a sharp eye for goal and skills - and pounds - to burn. Former team-mate Lee Dixon says: “We used to get weighed every Friday and Merse used to go and put his thumb on the side of the scale and dropped a few pounds off. He was doing it for about 11 years. And we all knew about it but we let him get away with it.”
But when Merson publicly admitted he was addicted to gambling and alcohol and had taken cocaine, he was forced into rehabilitation. He says: “The councillor was there, he went, ‘You come in for this Christmas and you will see a lot more. Or don’t come in this Christmas and I will be shocked if you see another two.’”
Fortunately for Merson, Eric Cantona’s famous kung fu kick at Selhurst Park in 1995 moved the tabloid headlines away from his own troubles. He says: “It was still big in the papers, people going, ‘Ban him for life.’ And I remember sitting there one night and Sportsnight came on. All of a sudden you see [Cantona] dive into the crowd and kung fu kick someone. Thank God. I couldn’t believe what he did, I thought, ‘Fair play to you.’”
Title-chasing Newcastle United thought they’d signed a real star when Faustino Asprilla was brought in by Kevin Keegan in 1996. But the Colombian’s arrival heralded a famous collapse from the team that was ten points clear of Man Utd in the Premier League at Christmas. Team-mate John Barnes says: “He was a larger-than-life character, crazy. This one day we were just training and he came walking out with some flippers, like he was swimming, a snorkel and a jockstrap. Shouting instructions on the field in Spanish, no-one knew what he was talking about.”
At Southampton, where relegation was a threat every season, Matt Le Tissier was carving out a reputation for scoring wonder-goals and quickly became a club legend at The Dell. But his refusal to move to a bigger club cost him his England career, says Glenn Hoddle. He says: “He needed to go to a Chelsea at the time, or a Tottenham, or an Arsenal, move to a bigger club and really challenge himself. I think that would have elevated him as a player, and I think he would have played more for England.”
But Le Tissier disagrees. he says: “I was quite happy with the challenge I had at Southampton, scoring 20, 25 goals, 30 one season, in a team that was playing at the wrong end of the table. If that’s not enough proof that I’m a decent player, to be able to do that in a team that is struggling, then why do I have to go to a team that’s challenging for honours and winning, to prove that I’m a good player? I can do it in a bad team.”
Meanwhile, at West Ham Paolo Di Canio and at Spurs David Ginola became the kind of charismatic stars who reflected the glory of the 1970s mavericks seen at both clubs. As decades changed and older characters retired, footballers seen as mavericks had begun to stick out like sore thumbs - like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Mario Balotelli. 
Paul Merson says the advent of camera phones and social media may have put paid to that kind of player - as their antics are constantly monitored and commented on. He says: “If we had video cameras when I was playing, on your phones and all things like that, I’d have been banned from playing football forever. You can’t tell me Wayne Rooney isn’t a character. You can’t tell me he isn’t a maverick. But he isn’t allowed to express himself like we really did off the pitch and that’s why probably only Manchester United fans love him.”
Despite the emergence of potential mavericks like Joe Cole, says Glenn Hoddle, the England side has failed to kick on to success by using those players well. He says: “Why have we not won the World Cup since ‘66? There’s a reason - we find it hard to deal with that type of talent. We haven’t played the game in a way that you pass the ball [up] the pitch and you open up teams. We got stuck.”