Are the days of the great mavericks finally numbered?

  • With Kevin Pietersen’s England cricket career all but over, Chris Bond asks whether there is still any room for mavericks in public life today.
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BRIAN Clough once said it took “moral courage” to play football the way Glenn Hoddle did.

The former Tottenham Hotspur and England midfielder was blessed with the kind of flair and vision normally associated with the Brazilians or Spanish, and is widely regarded as one of the most gifted players of his generation.

Even Michel Platini, not someone short on skill himself, claimed that Hoddle would have won 150 international caps if he’d been born in France.

In the end the man, nicknamed “God” by Spurs fans, played 53 times for his country. Not a bad tally but one that didn’t reflect his undoubted ability.

It perhaps didn’t help that Hoddle plied his trade during the 1980s when football in this country was at its nadir. The sport had become an increasingly blood and guts affair, often played in dilapidated grounds that resembled open prisons, with little time for so-called fancy-dans.

In England, though, such mercurial footballing talent has long been viewed with the kind of scepticism now reserved for election pollsters.

But it’s not just players who get tarnished with this particular brush. Brian Clough was controversial, outspoken and eccentric, but he was also one of the most successful football managers England has ever produced. Yet twice he was overlooked for the top job in favour of those deemed less likely to rock the boat.

Would England have won the World Cup with Brian Clough at the helm? Possibly not, but most fans would liked to have at least seen him given the chance.

Part of the problem is that mavericks are unorthodox, they do the unpredictable and unexpected. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Which brings me to Kevin Pietersen. Few cricketers who have played for England have been more gifted, or more divisive. Pietersen was sacked in February last year despite being England’s top run scorer in the woeful 5-0 Ashes whitewash, following a series of controversies.

He had been hoping for a recall only to be told this week by Andrew Strauss, England’s new director of cricket, that he wouldn’t be playing in this summer’s Ashes series, a move which surely spells the end of his England career.

We increasingly hear the mantra “the team is more important than the individual” and we only have to look at the success of “Team GB” during the London 2012 Olympics to see this in action.

But is the team ethic now sacrosanct to the point that it means excluding your best players? It’s a question that perhaps needs closer scrutiny.

It’s not just the sporting realm, either, where mavericks appear to be a dying breed. Britain has a long tradition of producing political mavericks and yet today they are few and far between.

You might point to Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage but they are two brightly coloured ships sailing on what is a largely monochrome sea.

Some might say good riddance to any kind of political posturing and showboating, but at the same time we need to hear dissenting voices even if we disagree with what they have to say.

If the likes of Johnson and Farage are mavericks then so, too, was Winston Churchill and half a century after he died he still frequently tops public polls over who is the greatest ever Briton.

But if he was fighting a general election today he would almost certainly have to face questions about his drinking habits that nobody would have dared ask 60 or 70 years ago.

So would Churchill, in a world where social media and 24-hour news was ready to pounce on his every utterance, have been able to become Prime Minister in 2015?

The answer, sadly, is probably “no.”