He’s been the pantomime villain his entire career, the player fans love to hate (unless he plays for your team) but at the end of his current contract it will all be over for Robbie Savage.
The controversial Welshman has stated this week that he will retire from football when his contract with Derby runs out in 2011. Previously he had stated that he wanted to end his career playing for Wrexham but a tough 2 years at Pride Park has made him reconsider this and it is with the Rams where he will play his final game.
Two years ago even the idea of Robbie Savage playing for Derby would have been laughed out of town, because he hadn’t really endeared himself to the Derby fans in the past. Savage used to play, and captain, Derby’s east midlands rivals Leicester City and it was while playing for the Foxes that Savage became a hated figure in Derby. In truth Savage wasn’t despised that much until a match at Pride Park in 2001, he was just the energetic midfielder who never gave up and the dislike for him was also mixed with some admiration.
However on 15th September 2001 that all changed, the score was 2-2 in injury time when the Welshman dived over Danny Higginbotham’s leg in the penalty area to win his side a penalty. Had that just been it Savage probably wouldn’t have been hated so much but it was his reactions that caused the players, staff and fans’ blood to boil and propelled Savage to public enemy #1. He jumped up and in front of the Derby fans pumped his fists and celebrated with an arrogant smirk that said “I’ve just won that for my team”. Chaos ensued and Savage was manhandled by Burley and confronted in the tunnel.
In the years following this incident Savage was booed every time he touched the ball (whoever he played for) and although encounters between the sides he played for and Derby reduced due to the Rams’ relegation the anger was still there for the fans.
So when, on the 9th January 2008, it was announced by Paul Jewell that Savage had signed for £1.5 million on a 2.5 year contract there was a fair bit of unease with the fans. The signing of an experienced Premiership midfielder to help the club fight of relegation was good…but it was Robbie Savage! It was not made easier for Savage when Jewell appointed him captain on his debut. The reception the new signing got was far from welcoming, and whenever he made a mistake the fans rounded on their new signing.
Unfortunately for Derby and Savage there was no way the club were going to avoid relegation, the club were bottom with 1 win at Christmas and no sign of it improving. Savage struggled to make an impression in the midfield, he hadn’t played regular first team football for three months and was clearly lacking in match fitness. He tried to make an impression, but tried too hard and his performances dipped. By March the club were relegated and at the end of the season had accumulated the lowest points tally in Premier League history.
As a new season in the championship got underway Savage was in the starting eleven and looked better thanks to a full pre-season, however the club failed to get a victory in the first month of the season and Savage was dropped by Paul Jewell who claimed that he thought Savage’s “legs had gone”.
This seemed to be the beginning of the end for Savage, the manager was publicly criticising him, he wasn’t involved with the first team and as a result he was loaned to Brighton in October 2008. It appeared that Paul Jewell was doing everything he could to get rid of the midfielder. The month at Brighton didn’t go to plan and Savage was sent back early as the Seagulls didn’t want to keep him. So Robbie Savage’s career looked dead in the water, nobody wanted him in England and even a trip to Beirut about a potential transfer didn’t go any further. Retirement looked like the next option and there wasn’t a huge amount of sympathy with the Derby faithful.
However in December 2008 Paul Jewell was sacked for continual poor performances and a week later Nigel Clough was appointed the clubs new manager. Clough and his backroom staff were told that Savage had “lost it” and “wasn’t good enough” however the new manager announced that every player had a chance to prove themselves, and this included Savage.
Suddenly things were looking good for Savage, the new manager believed in his ability and restored him to the first team squad. A fit again Savage won his place back in the centre of midfield and became an important part of the squad as Derby avoided a relegation battle, he was an experienced head alongside younger team-mates and he was revelling in his new lease of life.
In February 2009 Derby beat their arch rivals Nottingham Forest at the City Ground, it was after this game that the Derby fans began to change their minds about Robbie Savage. While celebrating with the fans Savage was given a Derby scarf, and as he walked off the pitch Savage repeatedly waved the scarf in front of the away fans as they continued to celebrate.
A new season started and after a tough pre-season Savage was fitter than ever before, and was enjoying his football again. Savage has since started every game in the midfield, and has been one of the few consistent performers in a team who are performing inconsistently. In August he was made captain again, this time because he was right for the job and he has shown his natural leadership skills to help the team through some tough times.
His good form earned Savage a contract extension in August, which completed a remarkable 12-month turnaround for the midfielder. Savage’s new deal will see him stay at Derby until June 2011. Ironically Savage’s 50th appearance in a Derby shirt will ironically come against his old club Leicester City on 17th October, it will be interesting to see what kind of reaction he gets from their fans.
Opposition fans continue to taunt Savage, he still fulfils the role of pantomime villain, but one set of supporters who no longer boo him are the Derby County fans. Amazingly after all that has happened in the past he has won them over and “there’s only one Robbie Savage” can regularly be heard being sung at Pride Park these days.
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