THE ODD COUPLE: BARNET AND EDGAR DAVIDS

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November 9, 2012 by mapperleystag1

The motivations for Edgar Davids, one of the most influential and respected players of the last twenty years, to play for and manage perennial League Two strugglers Barnet, are not easy to identify. This article seeks to understand the reasons for this unusual union.

The career trajectory of Edgar Davids from international superstar to a League Two player-manager could hardly be described as normal. Born in Surinam, Davids moved to the Netherlands at an early age, coming through Ajax’s legendary youth academy. For the vast majority of his footballing career, Davids graced the highest echelons of European football, playing for Ajax, both Milan sides, Juventus, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur. Moreover, he was an integral part of the Dutch national side’s midfield for the best part of a decade, with his combination of creativity and tenacity in the centre of the park admired throughout the world, leading to manager Louis van Gaal christening him ‘the Pitbull,’ for his recognisable style of play. Furthermore, his unmistakeable dreadlocks and protective goggles ensured that he was known worldwide by even the most casual of observers. This makes his move to Barnet, a club who seemingly face a desperate annual fight to stay in the Football League, all the more strange for such a famous player, who surely could have finished his playing career in far more illustrious surroundings than Underhill.

Davids in action in Euro 2004, making one of his 74 appearances for the Dutch national side.

Whilst Davids made a name for himself as one of the most distinctive midfielders of his generation, Barnet for much of the same period languished in the lower reaches of the Football League, facing an increasingly challenging task to save themselves from relegation to non-league obscurity. Indeed, when Davids first broke into the Ajax side as an eighteen year old in 1991, Barnet were about to embark on the first season in the Football League. In the decade following, whilst Davids was busy becoming a favourite in Amsterdam, Milan and Turin, Barnet were firmly entrenched in the bottom two divisions of the Football League, losing their league status completely in 2001, finishing bottom of the old Division Three and, consequently, entering the Conference. Unlike other more prominent ex-league sides, Barnet were able to return relatively quickly to the league, spending only four years back in non-league football. However, the Bees have almost always faced a desperate battle against relegation, only finishing in the top half of League Two once in the seven seasons since their promotion. The last three campaigns in particular have witnessed Barnet stand precariously close to the drop, with the Bees securing their Football League status on the final day of each of these seasons, defying the odds with their successive ‘great escapes.’ In the first few months of this season, however, Barnet’s chances of survival appeared increasingly futile, with the Bees failing to record a single win in August or September, leaving them rooted to the bottom of the table. Whilst fans of the club acknowledged that something had to change on and off the pitch, they could be forgiven for not expecting the appointment of Davids as player-manager, alongside head coach Mark Robson, with the Dutch maestro captaining the side in typical style to a 4-0 victory over Northampton Town in one of his first games in charge, and his first game back on the pitch in over two years.

Davids has seemingly lost none of his appetite for the game, demonstrated by this crunching tackle of Chesterfield’s Jack Lester.

From Barnet’s perspective, it is not difficult to see why Davids was such a major coup for the club. His wealth of experience, added to his leadership abilities and natural talent, made him a draw that the club could not dare turn down. Equally, from a more cynical perspective, the revenue, recognition and coverage that the club will receive from Davids’ involvement will undoubtedly be beneficial, especially in these difficult economic times and for a club the size of Barnet, widely accepted as one of the smallest teams in the Football League in terms of fanbase and reputation. For his first game in charge against Plymouth Argyle, the financial benefits were clearly visible, as the attendance was more than double that of their previous game at Underhill, as well as being the biggest of the season. Therefore, it is patently obvious that Barnet are enjoying the rewards from this appointment, even if it is only on a short-term basis. What Edgar Davids gains from this venture though, is harder to establish.

Potential reasons for Davids deciding to become player-manager at Barnet appear to rest in two principal areas: location and his love of the game. Since 2010, Davids has lived in North London and has participated in street soccer and other forms of amateur football in the area. In accepting the job at Barnet, Davids is able to stay in London, where he seems to enjoy living, judging by his time in the capital previously with Tottenham. Equally, this job introduces him to the role of management, where he can learn his trade at a lower level, away from the daily national and international media spotlight and scrutiny. The parallels with Paul Ince, who took over at Macclesfield Town in 2006 under similar circumstances are hard to ignore. Ince performed miracles at the Moss Rose, leading the Cheshire club to safety after being seven points adrift of their nearest rivals when he joined. Although Ince’s management career has faltered in recent times, with failures at Blackburn Rovers and Notts County, Davids should be aiming to emulate him in saving Barnet from the clutches of non-league ignominy. Whether he is successful, however, remains to be seen.

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