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Footballing Clichés XI

Pat Fenlon

Here Tom O’Connor presents a “footballing cliches XI” along with a list of possible candidates for each position.

Brian Kerr and his “dead-eye dick finish” comment regarding Brian Gartland’s composed finish in the recent Dundalk vs Cork City title-deciding game sparked off an idea in my head. This writer had never heard that comment before but how many clichés do we hear trotted out every week by commentators throughout the Premier League and beyond?

“that’s a rather unorthodox piece of goalkeeping there”

Used to describe moments of madness from a keeper when they get away with doing something completely crazy such as a scorpion kick or an ill advised dribble.

Candidates for this role include Thomas Ravelli, Fabien Barthez, Jorge Campos, Rene Higuita and Carlos Roa (Roa was more eccentric off the pitch- deciding that the world was going to end with the advent of the new millennium he signed a contract until 31st December 1999 and promptly retired only to return to professional soccer soon after, when the world hadn’t in fact capitulated).


Commentators often refer, to mostly left backs – this writer doesn’t know why – as having a ‘thunderbolt of a left foot.”

This usually is in reference to the player in question having a left foot so powerful that goalkeeper ducks rather than risk life and limb to stop the airborne missiles these players fire.

Examples of these players include – Stuart Pearce, Roberto Carlos, Ian Harte, Aleksander Kolarov, Thomas ‘Der Hammer’ Hitzelsberger *even though he’s a midfielder! , Julian Dicks Maynor Figueroa and Matty Taylor. The latter two sneak into the list by virtue of two sublime long range efforts while playing for Wigan and Portsmouth respectively.


Often in the centre of defence is found a “Rolls Royce type player” who glides through the game.

These are the guys who can go through an entire game without breaking into a sweat or muddying their shorts due to their ability to think quicker than everyone else. Some of the following players provide excellent examples – Bobby Moore, Paul Mc Grath, Alessandro Nesta, Mark Lawrenson, Laurent Blanc, Rio Ferdinand and Phillipe Albert (who is really in there because of the sublime goal he scored against Man United!).


The “no nonsense defender” is the guy who kicks everything- including probably his granny if he got the chance – as far away from his goal as possible. These players are a throwback to 1960s football and are some of the bravest players on the pitch.

Players such as Nemanja Vidic, Martin Keown, Leboeuf, Ruddock, Bobo Balde, Marco Materazzi, John Terry, Jaap Stam and Colin Hendry belong in this category.


Again commentators seem to favour a particular side here with the “overlapping right back.”

These guys are on a 90 minute dose of shuttle runs up and down the pitch providing width for their midfield as well as covering back when defending, though often players in this role are much better at attacking!

Cafu was a modern pioneer of this role, which seemed to be originally developed by the 1970 Brazil team with Carlos Alberto. The likes of Gary Kelly, Glen Johnson, Dani Alves and Seamus Coleman are other disciplines of the system.


Often at right midfield we find a “free kick magician conjuring up goals from set pieces.”

These are usually players blessed with “a wand of a right foot” and have “a box of tricks available” when standing over the ball. Similar to the stylish defenders, they tend to be clean coming off a pitch but it’s usually down to the fact that they are more important to the team when the ball is not in play.

Players associated with this cliché include, Lyon’s Juninho Pernacumbo, David Beckham, Dwayne De Rosario, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gianfranco Zola, Leighton Baines and Ian Harte – the last two obviously left backs but I couldn’t leave them out.


Next up is the ‘tigerish in the tackle combative midfielder.”

This guy is often “the heartbeat of the team who leads from the front” and produces “bone crunching tackles with a bit of ‘bite’.” Basically these lads can do what they like because they’re harder than anyone else.

They “dominate the middle” and usually are quite keen to move the ball on when they win it rather than caress it. “Enforcers” may include Roy Keane, Patrick Vieira, David Batty, Billy Bremner, Gennaro Gattuso, Nigel De Jong and Vinnie Jones.


The players, usually central attacking midfielders, who do caress the ball and are often known as “conductors” by the clichéing commentator.

These are “the leaders of the orchestra” and often look the same after a match as they did before it. Some of the best examples of these players include  Andrea Pirlo, Wes Hoolahan, Andy Reid, Xavi, Luka Modric, Zvonimor Boban and Juan Veron in Serie A.


These players may often be replaced by the player who “can do anything with the ball at his feet”– very similar only these guys have more individual skills and somewhat less of the vision.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Zinedine Zidane, Jay- Jay Okocha, Youri Djorkaeff, Matthew Le Tissier and Dejan Savicevic are key exponents of this cliché.


Next we have the “mercurial winger.”

These lads have “talent to burn” but are often “missing in big matches” and often “lack a consistent end product.” Other clichés associated with this group include “flutting around some big clubs before losing his way”.

Footballers such as Keith Gillespie,  David Bentley, Jesper Blomqvist, Andrei Kanchelskis, Jermaine Pennant, Harry Kewell, Robinho, Royston Drenthe and Tino Asprilla may be members associated with this cliché.


Up front we often hear of a “fox in the box sniffing out chances,” the player who “scores goals for fun” and has “the knack”. In the playground these kids were “goalhangers”, “poachers” and nobody placed importance on their abilities. However, in professional soccer, these guys are key to success – sometimes they do little else except score but when the game is about scoring goals who cares?

Michael Owen, Miroslav Klose, Filippo Inzaghi, Robbie Keane, Ole Solksjaer, Gary Lineker, Andrew Cole, John Aldridge, Kevin Phillips – these guys just scored goals, no “running the channels” or “pressing high up the pitch” carried out by these guys.

Instead that work was carried out by the “Lumbering centre forward” ambling about, “making a nuisance of himself’,” he is “a  good hold up player.”

Basically these are just polite ways of saying that he doesn’t score too often. Sometimes that was perfectly acceptable because these guys “won the flick ons,” and “kept the defenders busy” while the poachers “found the net.”

Players such as Emile Heskey, Niall Quinn, Kevin Davies, Christophe Dugarry – none of these have “prolific goalscoring records” but they “did a job.”


There you have it – a squad of clichés! Pick your own 1-11 and let us know, tag anyone who you think fits in, or nominate a few more candidates/clichés.

Tom O’Connor, Pundit Arena

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