Paul Scholes is a nice person. Seriously, read his autobiography. He uses words like “lovely”, and describes Steven Gerrard as a “nice guy”. Apparently, winning the FA cup for the first time was “fantastic”. But despite all this sweetness, and his prowess on the pitch, it’s hard not to find him a bit drab.
On the other hand, everyone loves the story of a roguish celebrity getting caught up in abnormal media headlines. Take the enigma of Mario Balotelli. Whether you’re a red or a blue, Geordie or Brummie, it’s hard to ignore him. Within his illustrious portfolio of hijinks and tomfoolery are tales that have achieved an almost mythical renown amongst avid fans and the most staunch football haters alike. We love to support a professional footballer who doesn’t let fame and money stand between him and the public, and whose notoriety has been earned through wacky and hilarious incidents rather than the sex scandals and bar fights, which litter the Premier League’s elite, earning Balotelli at least our respect if not our affection.
Balotelli isn’t the only loveable rogue out there. More of a loose cannon than a modern day Robin Hood, Sean Avery of the New York Rangers ice hockey team has flirted with the roles of hero and villain on multiple occasions, both within and outside the confines of the game. The outspoken, hard-hitting, fashion-loving maverick is generally hated for his unsportsmanlike conduct on the ice, which has most recently involved him scoring a goal and then proceeding to punch an opposing defender instead of celebrating. However, his frank and controversial comments in live television interviews have earned him a large group of supporters who might dislike him as an ice hockey player, but love him for his off-the-ice shock factor. For example, prior to a game against the Calgary Flames, Avery approached reporters in the dressing room and informed them that he was about to make a statement. He proceeded to comment on the then Flames’ defenceman Dion Phaneuf, who had recently become involved with Avery’s ex-girlfriend Elisha Cuthbert. With all frankness, he stated, “I just want to comment on how it’s become like a common thing in the [league] for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don’t know what that’s about, but enjoy the game tonight.” Hilarious! No? Well, I laughed.
In American sports, perhaps due to more lenient legislation, these characters are much more frequent; from Terrell Ownes’ outlandish celebrations including signing and giving the match ball to his financial advisor after a touchdown in 2002 to Michael Vick’s bizarre social life including dog-fights and ‘All White’ parties, referring to the theme but doing nothing for delicate race relations. In a country where confidence and ego are so often blurred, it is not surprising that they have produced the most mavericks in a sport littered with them: boxing. Whether Mike Tyson is appearing in The Hangover or biting ears in the boxing ring, there was never a dull moment.
It’s hard to understand these mavericks. Why aren’t they content to simply dwell quietly atop the pedestal onto which fame and fortune has elevated them? Why do they feel the need to clown around and get in their colleagues faces? Some may argue that it is a question of ego; getting tied up in media situations keeps them in the headlines and therefore reassures them of their own self-generated hype. But is that such a bad thing? In professional sports, having confidence is intrinsically linked to performance, and different personalities gain this in different ways.
Scholes gains his sense of importance from his stellar performances on the pitch, but sadly for us that ends after ninety minutes. He offers us nothing outside of the game. Personally, I’d take Scholes on the pitch, but without a doubt Balotelli in the classroom.