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Playing for respect

I only play to win. Not just because I get paid for it but also because that is who I am. I donít care that much about all the finesses of the game, my joy comes from the score board. My objective is to beat the opponent. That might sound brutal. I donít think it is. There is just something inbuilt in men that needs to compete, yearns for challenges and gets satisfaction from a fair but tough fight. There are obviously other paths too, but I personally couldnít agree more with American football coach Vince Lombardi when he said: ďI believe that any manís finest hour Ė his greatest fulfilment to all he holds dear Ė is that moment when he has to work his heart out in a good cause and heís exhausted on the field of battle Ė victorious.Ē

As you always do against the ones on the top, we in Crystal Palace desperately wanted to win when we played runaway leaders Reading on Friday. The tougher the game, the more you want to come as the best out of it. After a good performance I thought we could have almost had them but with all honesty, draw was a fair reflection of the game, I just felt we could have even nicked it. They have gone now 29 games unbeaten, which is unbelievable and admirable record in any level, not to mention highly competitive Championship where games come more often than Traci Bingham says something sensible.

In my opinion they are also good value for it. They have put together a well -organised and balanced team with good, lively quality and tactical awareness. Even when we took the lead they still had another gear, plan and will to get something out of the game. You could sense they knew what they where doing and had that precious winning mentality in them. It was a good game of football, definitely very entertaining and high standard for Championship level. I donít mind giving credit to the ones that deserve it but donít get me wrong: as a competitive man Iíd love to play the game again just to have another chance to beat them. Theyíve done their bit already. I still think we have good enough team to get our results. On the other hand so I thought a year ago about staying up. Results donít give second chances, though.

Watching successful teams always reminds me about my best moments, like I felt a year ago. My confidence was high after series of good results on and off the pitch. In my small world I felt almost like the Midas, everything seem to turn into what would be like gold to me. The games went well both in the Premiership and for the national team. The league table and other businesses looked promising. I was going out with a great wife candidate and even made peace with parking attendants. My New Yearís resolutions were somewhere around a plan for world domination.

It could not have gone more wrong. Year 2005 was rotten. Smoke from the fire works had hardly cleared when my calf resigned from duty. Soon we started to struggle with my beloved club and also the national team dreams to qualify for the World Cup were trashed. Health got worse and most seriously there were people leaving and dying close to me. Furthermore Iíve never received more parking tickets. On and off the pitch there were just losses and although my problems are nothing in a bigger scale, it got me down in all fronts. Final balance was so much in red that I suggest the whole year should be removed from the calendar and history as a mistake. When nothing went right. Without a reason. Uninvited.

When you are having a Sven, to be able to look that disaster and spare some peace of mind I had to start to accept that results will vary and unreasonable problems can change my life but still they donít change everything. Good times and bad times donít always have a reason, they just happen. What you stand for will shine eventually through, though. It hit me when I saw the warm reception Reading manager Steve Coppell got from our supporters. Everyone at the club still speaks about him and his time at Palace with passion although either results or other reasons eventually made him to go different way in football and life. Even as our opponent now, everyone respects and is happy for his success. He has surely made a huge impact in Reading but also in Palace his work is still appreciated. It is one thing I like about football: if you are an honest and hardworking man, you can always come back with no worries. In the long run everyoneís true colours will be found out and people usually will respond to what theyíve been given to. He has surely showed what it needs to win not just the league but also friends for life.

Iíve not done anything even near as much as Coppell, but few weeks ago I felt I got my share of the same good side of football. After a long injury I made a comeback from the bench in a cup game against Northampton. Our captain Michael Hughes, my midfield partner for the best times, wanted to give me the captains arm band and I got great reception from both the crowd and my team mates. On top of that I was playing against my first boot boy on opposite ranks and my another former boot boy on our side who both told me it was good to see me back. I realised it had nothing to do with the current game, old or future results - the things Iím addicted to. I felt it was an appreciation and respect for the work Iíve done for the club over the years. Iíve lasted here longer than most of the furniture and sure there have been bad results, injuries, dips in form, fallouts with management, times of unhappiness - like every player has sometime in his career. I donít think in life you can prevent these. In football you have no chance. However, itís not what happens but how you react to it what counts. More than results you seem to get reward from what you give and who you are. Also from yourself.

There is a saying that there arenít friends in football. I disagree. I realised my biggest win is that Iíve been surrounded by exceptionally good people. Some people can justifiedly question my performances, results or the quality of football hasnít always been the best. However, I will offer a pint or thicker glasses to anyone associated with the club that can question my commitment or work rate. I would like to believe this is a cheap round because although I havenít yet won any trophies for this club the response from people has been that my work has been accepted so far. It is the greatness of these people that even with my faults and varying results Iíve been supported at all times. The appreciation goes both ways. In return Iíve always competed with everything I have for my values and colours until whatever end it has brought. No matter how much results can vary, with people and life you always seem to get what you give. The ultimate end of this is someone like Steve Coppell, who Iíve understood by everyone who has worked with him is a rare person in football that can look backwards or forwards, and know he can anytime go back to all his clubs and be welcomed. He seems to have the winning formula in football and in life.

There are always more results and you can look at them in different light. Besides all the bad outcomes in 2005 I was also publicly chosen to be one of the biggest nutters of footballs history, I became Godfather for three children, saw four beautiful weddings, Iím waiting for academy award for my film debut and I met loads of great people and challenges. Most of all I havenít got any parking tickets so far this year. From these Iím proud to give myself points to balances the accounts. And as long as I can look the man in the mirror, everything counts to me. Like zebra canít escape its stripes man canít help his thirst for competition.

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