EMANUEL Pogatetz has picked up 23 yellow cards in his short time with Boro. The Alpine hardman was voted supporters’ player of the year. The two are not unconnected. The crowd love a player who is willing to take a few knocks – and dish a few out – in the service of the shirt.
No matter how much you try to sanitise the game as a fluffly foam fingered family entertainment there remains a brutal kernal of primeval conflict about it and our innate tribalism demands a champion ready to shed blood for the cause. In Mad Dog we have such a man.
Alongside Jonathan Woodgate the battle-scarred Austrian stopper has completed a dramatic transformation from a suspect left back barracked for his rash tackling to rock solid central defender hailed for his all action style. He has put his head in where the boots are flying, dived in to 40/60 challenges at great personal risk and thrown himself in the way of thunderbolt shots where lesser players would bottle it.
We knew he was hard. He arrived with a world wide six month ban hanging over him for a leg breaking tackle in Russia and at first that seemed like the inevitable result of his recklessness, a fatal flaw in a poor Steve McClaren purchase that could only harm the team by conceding stupid free-kicks in dangerous positions.
But from a blood spattered bust-up with Kevin Davies to six stitches at Old Trafford shrugged off as an occupational hazard Pogatetz has shown himself to be totally committed and won over the crowd with his passion, enthusiasm and bravery. The end of season stats showed him to have put in more tackles, more blocks and more clearances than any other defender so the rough stuff is crucially allied to an increasingly important player too.
To be fair, there has to be some moral reservations over a player that can pick up 23 bookings in 79 games, mostly for very physical challenges some of which are enough to make even hard men wince. He is already the fifth most booked player in the Riverside era, which against some stiff competition isn’t bad going. And if you go through them there are few for wimpy offences like encrouchment. It is all good, “honest” hard-as-nails tackling and in what is still nominally a non-contact sport easier to far easier for a no-nonsense working class crowd to rationalise than the foreign infections of diving, feigning injury and shirt tugging.
So Manu Pogatetz has become a fans favourite with his card count a visible measure of his commitment and, of course, that is a part of a time honoured terrace tradition. There have always been tough tackling enforcers who struck a chord with the darker parts of the fans pysche, players who would tackle their nana, two footed, throat high and from behind. For all the crowd pleasing mercurial magic of the Fancy Dan forwards it is the broken nosed bruisers who do the dirty work that earn the right to play and who dig in when the pressure is on that really press the buttons of the crowd. A crunching tackle from Boam, Souness, McAndrew, Mogga, Glover, Hamilton, Pearson or Ince is every bit as inspirational as any dribble. It gets the blood pumping and sparks an instinctive reaction from the crowd.
A creditable card count is the quickest route to football cult status. Getting booked on a regular basis – or even better, getting sent off – can be a tangible measure of total commitment to the cause that a partizan crowd demands.
Pogatetz has filled the void left by the previous champion Franck Queudrue. French Franck had his critics but there was no doubting that his willingness to launch himself into a tackle that was barely legal was popular with whole layers of the crowd. Queudrue’s commitment could also be measured: in his five years he picked up 33 yellow cards and a club record six reds – including three in one crazy campaign. Leaving the team with ten men may be a tactical nightmare for the team and unforgiveable for a coach but it seems to play well with fans as he twice won the supporters’ player of the year as well as building a massive personal fan base.
Before Franck the crowdÃ¢ÂÂs card collecting cult hero was Gianluca Festa. The tough-tackling Italian martial artist picked up 35 yellows and four reds in his spell, including a sending off at Sunderland for “clearing the blood from his nose” all over Kevin Phillips.
The booking count seems directly related to popularity. Dean Glover, Ian Baird, Paul Ince, Andy Townsend, George Boateng have all enjoyed a spell as the team’s destroyer and revelled in the worship that comes with an ability to trip, kick, spoil and break up opposition play. If you can shed blood and limp off along the way, all the better.
Here’s some stats to play with, but don’t dally on them because here comes a two footed lunge:
BORO BAD BOY CULT CHART
Festa 34 Y 4 R
Queudrue 33 Y 6 R
Ince 30 Y 1 R
Boateng 24 Y 2 R
Pogatetz 23 Y 0 R
TEN YEARS OF TERRIER LIKE TACKLING
2006-07: Cattermole 12; Pogatetz 11; Boateng 7 (2 reds – one later rescinded)
2005-06: Pogatetz 12; Queudrue 7; Rochemback 7
2004-05: Parlour 12 (1 red); Zenden 8; Boateng 8; Queudrue 7 (2 reds)
2003-04: Mills 11; Boateng 10; Zenden 6 (1 red); Queudrue 6 (1 red)
2002-03: Boateng 6; Greening 6; Queudrue 5 (3 reds)
2001-02: Ince 12 (1 red); Queudrue 8 (1 red); Greening 7; Festa 1 (2 reds)
2000-01: Cooper 10; Ince 9; Summerbell 6
1999-00: Ince 9; Ziege 9 (1 red); Stamp 7
1998-99: Gascoigne 13; Townsend 10; Festa 9
1997-98: Festa 9 (2 reds); Townsend 8 (1 red); Emerson 7
1996-97: Mustoe 11; Cox 10; Festa 8