| SEAMAN: Dwindling light of a fine career
David Seaman is turning into the Evander Holyfield of international football. Holyfield, 40, still wants to fight. Seaman, 39, has a problem with flight. England’s goalkeeper refuses to pass on his gloves — the ones he signs ‘Safe Hands’. So who calls ‘time’ on the dwindling light of a fine career' Only Sven-Goran Eriksson can prise old ‘Safey’ out of his net, and the time has come to send the bailiffs in.
You can never predict how top sportsmen and women are going to respond to the slowing of their reflexes and limbs. Eric Cantona heard mortality’s whisper and slipped away from Old Trafford while he was still a god. Alan Shearer heard the groans of his bones and gave up playing for England to give the last of his energies to his club. Seaman, though, becomes more entrenched in the view that his high-altitude blunders against Brazil and Macedonia were freak accidents that concealed no deeper truth.
This week, Holyfield, whose speech is slurred, insisted that he would keep on chasing a fifth world heavyweight title despite losing to Chris Byrd, who is as wooden as the boardwalk outside the arena in Atlantic City where they fought.
A few hours later, Arsenal’s goalkeeper reaffirmed his position in a BBC documentary called David Seaman — The Real Story. He said: “I’ve decided I want to keep playing. There’s no doubt about that, otherwise I’d have called it a day after the Brazil game.”
The Seaman-Holyfield comparison may seem spurious. Certainly there is no threat to Seaman's brain cells from the speculative long-range shots that sometimes sail over his head. The unifying thread is a willingness to heed the voice in the head that says everything is as it was five or 10 years ago; the voice that tells us that we, alone among humans, will never grow old and that a power lost can always be recovered. It can’t. Not in sport. And now Eriksson can no longer ignore the call to give Paul Robinson of Leeds United his go in 2003.
The trouble is: whenever you start asking questions in the shadow of a national monument then people assume you’re some kind of hooligan. In reality it’s possible to express admiration for an athlete but then say it’s time to move on in the same sentence.
There are plenty of experts willing to argue that Seaman should be allowed to go on wearing the England jersey. But it seems a remarkable coincidence that most of those people tend to be employed by Arsenal.
The best non-news story of the week was Ashley Cole asserting that Seaman is “still a great goalkeeper”. Hardly ‘man bites dog’. My idea of a story is: ‘Cole urges Seaman to acknowledge evidence of ageing and pass on lurid shirt to younger man’.
If you pushed this all the way, you could argue that Cole’s Arsenal colleague is doing the country a disservice by refusing to perform a Captain Oates. This would be wrong. Eriksson is paid £2.5 million a season precisely to take those tough decisions.
The word from the Football Association is that he has been taking an extra close look at possible successors. Mathematics say he must. Seaman will be nearly 41 when the European Championship of 2004 comes around. Do we really think he can escape time’s arrow into his fifth decade on this earth'
Chris Kirkland, 21, has only just forced his way into Liverpool’s side and has a bit to prove. Russell Hoult of West Brom is already 30 and has Leicester, Lincoln, Blackpool, Bolton, Derby and Portsmouth on his CV. Not a crime, by any means, but he would have to be the world’s greatest late developer to cope with a promotion to England’s starting XI.
No, the obvious candidate is Robinson, who is big, strong, agile, mentally robust and has attracted the interest of Barcelona. Don’t assume that this is a case of throwing a kid into the nets in desperation. Robinson is 23 and has brilliant Champions League form on file. At the same age, Seaman was turning out for Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers.
This fading year was an unusually turbulent one for Premiership goalkeepers. There was the throw-in that went through Peter Enckelman’s legs in the Aston Villa goal; the gentle defender’s header that slipped underneath Jerzy Dudek’s body in the Liverpool-Man Utd match and Mark Bosnich’s positive test for cocaine.
If Premier League goalies are under more stress than most (not Bosnich, but the others), then it might have something to do with the fact that the attacking is so much better than the defending. There’s no down-time. When was the last time you saw a goalkeeper in England leaning against a post'
But if Ronaldinho (Brazil) and Artim Sakiri (Macedonia) cast light on Seaman’s physical frailties, the man himself has shown us the collapse of logic inside his head. “It’s not about getting a young keeper in the game ready for the next finals,” he said on the BBC. That’s precisely what this is about. Unless you think he can emulate Dino Zoff, who, at 40, captained Italy to win the 1982 World Cup. The issue here is not emotion but high shots and maths.