Oscar Levant once said: “There’s a fine line between genius and insanity” and though he was talking about himself at the time, his words are true for many of the figures that waltz into the gaze of the public.
In all walks of life we encounter people that could be deemed genius or mad, depending on which argument you find most convincing.
In music there were the Beatles, or Michael Jackson, in art you need look no further than Salvadore Dali, in academia there was Einstein, and even sport has its fair share of genius and madmen.
Luis Suarez’s recent antics have been the cause of rivers of ink, and rightly so, because as an action, both on and off the pitch, it is utterly disgusting. I make no attempt to defend such actions, but we should not be surprised that it has occurred.
Not only has Suarez got a history of such behaviour – having made two previous dental assaults on opposition players – he has also got a bad streak to his game which means that he is happy to break and bend the rules in order to gain an advantage.
This do-anything-to-win attitude reared its head four years ago, at the last World Cup, with Suarez taking it upon himself to play goalkeeper as Ghana were set to score.
It seems his ludicrous antics and his footballing genius are a package, things that go hand in hand. And you cannot get one, without the other.
Suarez is not the first of these sorts of players though, and he certainly won’t be the last.
Though Wayne Rooney cuts a mature, relatively calm figure these days, this change in personality has also coincided with a clear drop in performance levels. Rooney as a hot-head could be somewhat of a liability, but he also had moments of pure brilliance.
Speaking in 2011, after Rooney was banned for two games for swearing into a camera, Steve McClaren said: “Occasionally you are going to get things where he steps over the mark. He’s competitive, he’s aggressive, he’s a winner”.
This is the split personality that you seem to get when great players are pushed to their limits. You can have Rooney playing a withdrawn role, subdued in mood and level headed, but then you will not get 100% out of the man.
What you want is for Rooney to be marauding around the pitch, shaking off defenders, challenging for every ball, hunting down passes, and scoring majestic goals. If this comes at the cost of a few yellow cards, a late tackle or angry outburst at the cameras, then so be it.
Don’t reign him in, set him free.
There is a whole host of players that are exactly the same. The true greats do not mind breaking the rules, and going above and beyond what is necessary, in order to win games. Some times this passion, and this desire spills over, but I think it is far better to have too much, than too little.
Eric Cantona was one of the Premier League’s greatest strikers, but along with his winners medals, there is the infamous kung fu kick. So too Roy Keane, a man that is a general both on and off the pitch, a powerhouse of a centre midfielder, but at times, an incredibly dirty player. His confrontations with opposition, his vocal attacks on other players and his sickening, career-ending lunge on Alf Inge Haaland, all occupy his footballing CV.
Henry, seen as somewhat of a gentleman on the pitch, was not averse to using his hands to score goals. Republic of Ireland fans will attest to this. Another Frenchman, and one of the greatest footballers of all time, Zinedine Zidane left his mark on football and Marco Materazzi, when he headbutted him in the chest in the World Cup final in 2006.
There are those I have not mentioned, Mario Balotelli, Diego Maradonna, Paul Gasgoine, and Paolo Di Canio. Great footballers, but footballers who have performed some bizarre, stupid and, at times, insane things on a football pitch.
It is not essential to be a little bit crazy in order to be a great football player, but it does seem to help.
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This article was originally published on TitanBet on 3rd July.