Occasionally, a player comes along who makes you stop and stare in wonder. A player whose silken, wispy movement and almost ethereal vision transcends the very sport in which he makes a living. A player whose earthly gifts belong not to himself, but to all of us. A player whose clinical passing, heavenly first touch and masterful positioning make you realise that most religions are worshipping the wrong idol.
That man is Glenn Whelan.
Over the past day or two, much has been made of the retirement of a would-be pretender to the Throne of Whelan, Andrea Pirlo. But the flaxen-headed, vino-guzzling Italian charlatan could never hold a candle to the ginger grace of the man known in some circles as Golden Glenn.
Pirlo is to Whelan as Paul Potts is to Pavarotti – little more than a slightly fatter imitator with a far less glamorous name.
Of course, some people will point to the fact that Pirlo led Italy to a World Cup in 2006 – and Juve and Milan to scudetti on six separate occasions – as somehow proving his superiority over a player whose finest achievement so far is being named Sheffield Wednesday Player of the Year in 2007. And that’s all well and good – but can Pirlo do this?:
No. No he can’t. And, therefore, he can never be considered as complete a midfielder as Whelan.
To paraphrase a famous Irish commentator: Pirlo is not reality, Glenn Whelan is reality.
There’s something indescribably beautiful about the Dublin-born midfielder’s three-yard sideways or backwards passes, his thumping challenges and his cunning, incisive defence-splitters. He is a regista for the ages: a gossamer, elusive presence who has served as the beating heart of several thrillingly flamboyant sides, such as Stoke City, Aston Villa and Ireland.
Whelan leads by example, through the force of his iron will and his precocious skill.
Pirlo, on the other hand, is little more than a flaky trickster – a man who would approach a game of chess by carefully planning and executing an intricate strategy. Rather than the more direct (and correct) approach of simply sweeping the pieces off the table, throwing the board at the wall and jabbing your pawn into the eyes of your opponent while declaring loudly, ‘I win’.
Pirlo truly is the Italian Glenn Whelan
— Shivam Manghnani (@shivamLM) May 13, 2015
So here’s to Glenn. There’s plenty of life in the old dog yet.
Let’s hope that he eventually gets the recognition he deserves, and that the World Cup gets one last look at him in 2018.