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Football News: Legends Of The Game Part 6: Edgar Davids

Legends Of The Game Part 6: Edgar Davids
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Legends Of The Game Part 6: Edgar Davids

Edgar Davids 'The Pit Bull, The Mayor Of The Street, The Piranha, The Shark'


"There is only one Edgar Davids, and there will never be another one." - Edgar Davids

Edgar Steven Davids was born on 13th March 1973 in Paramaribo, Suriname to an Afro-Surinamese father and Jewish mother but moved to Netherlands when he was just an infant. He is from a family who have become footballers, with a cousin Lorenzo Davids and two nephews, Royston Drenthe and Giovanni Drenthe who are all professional footballers. Davids is intensely private and very little in the way of details of his life outside of football are known for sure, one of the few things known is that he was so skilled at street soccer and freestyle in his youth that he was given the nickname of 'The Mayor Of The Streets' due to his skills.

Despite being a street soccer starlet, the young Davids was rejected twice by Ajax before he eventually joined them at the age of 12. He quickly rose to take a place in the first team ranks while still a teenager, making his debut on 6th September 1991 in a 5-1 win over RKC Waalwijk. Early on he was utilised on the left wing and he struggled, despite his beautiful left peg, pace and skill on the ball, he was not entirely suited to the role.

What changed everything for him was the emergence of Marc Overmars, who took over the spot on the left wing and that saw Davids move into the centre, where he excelled. His determination, workrate, ability and the bite in the tackle he showed saw him pick up his 'Pit Bull' nickname from the manager of the time, Louis van Gaal. In partnership with Clarence Seedorf, Davids dominated opposing midfields as Ajax won the Europa League, Champions League and 3 Eredivisie titles in 5 years.

He was soon involved in the international scene, making his debut for Netherlands at the age of 21 on 20th April 1994 in a 1-0 win over Republic of Ireland. Davids was a regular for his nation, in partnership with clubmate Seedorf as they qualified for Euro 96. 1996 was not the best of years for him personally though as Ajax lost the Champions League final to Juventus on penalties, with Davids missing a penalty in the shootout. Following this game the Ajax team was ripped asunder as vultures picked off their best players, including Davids, who signed for AC Milan.

The summer was even more difficult for Davids who was involved in a huge controversy as the Netherlands squad fell apart amidst bickering and infighting as senior players Ronald de Boer and Danny Blind convinced coach Guus Hiddink to leave Davids out of the opening game against Switzerland. Davids blamed their motives on racism and gave an interview saying, "Hiddink should stop putting his head in some players' asses". Hiddink asked Davids to apologise for what he said, Davids agreed to do so but said it would not change how he felt about the situation, so Hiddink sent him home.

Edgar Davids

Hiddink: "This wasn't an easy decision to make and anybody who suggests it was is lying. But there are times when you have to take such decisions, however difficult they are, for the good of the team. In a tournament as short as this, where there is a lot of tension, you cannot allow such situations to harm the team." However the problems could not be solved that easily as Ajax team-mate Seedorf was furious with what happened as well, and the bickering within the team cost them badly.

Seedorf: "It is appalling what is happening behind the scenes. I know I was brought off because I had already been booked, but I should not have been playing in that position. I want to be involved in the build up, not marking at the back. I was up against a guy who was much bigger than me. It was ridiculous. I was pleased we won but not what happened before. We had a three week build up where we settled on a style of play and it has been turned upside down after just one match. There were six positional changes for the team for the match against the Swiss and I could not understand why Davids was left on the bench."

Back in club football Davids was having a difficult time adjusting to life in Italy, not helped by the broken leg he suffered and an inability to understand Italian, which made it even less bearable. Passing the time while recuperating was tedious as even watching TV provided no relief due to his inability to understand a word that was said. Luckily for Davids he did get to go back home regularly to visit his physiotherapist, who also worked with Dutch tennis player Richard Krajicek. Krajicek remembers his first meeting with Davids, when the then Ajax youngster approached him and said: "Hello, my name is Edgar Davids. You'll be hearing a lot about me soon."

After his recovery he became known for wild nights out and fights, including one famous episode which happened when he returned to his brand new Ferrari to find three lads lounging all over it. After a quick argument Davids ended up giving them a good hiding. After 18 months with Milan, and just 12 appearances under his belt, Fabio Capello believed he was a bad influence in the locker room and sanctioned his sale to Juventus, where Marcello Lippi believed he could tame Davids, despite Alessandro Costacurta calling the Dutchman "a rotten apple".

It all turned around for him at Juve, starting with his initial statement on signing for the club: "I chose Juventus because in the last four years it has been the company that has won most of all: in Italy, Europe and in the world. The dream of every player, the football paradise. I have reached the maximum: now it is up to me not to squander this fortune." Davids made sure not to squander his fortune, establishing himself in midfield alongside Zinedine Zidane, with who he built up an excellent partnership.

"A lot of it was down to Lippi. He had confidence in me and, when he has confidence in someone, he puts them in straight away." - Edgar Davids

Lippi described him as "my one-man engine room" as Juve got the best from him. Davids signed in December 1997 and did enough to earn a place in Netherlands 1998 World Cup squad under Hiddink. The one and only world cup Davids was to play in. Despite once again sitting out the opening game, this time against Belgium, Davids went on to once again get voted in the 'Team of the Tournament' as Netherlands came 4th, in part thanks to his last minute winner against FR Yugoslavia in the 2nd round.

Edgar Davids

It was 1999 that really turned Davids into a huge star, not just because he was so good on the pitch either, it was two things that happened in 1999 that really moved him from just being a footballer to being a celebrity. Firstly there was the arrival of Thierry Henry and the story he told of his amazement at being in Davids' apartment and watching him making tea, brushing his teeth and other household tasks while juggling a ball non-stop. Davids used to keep a ball in each room, just so that he could continue to work on his technique no matter what he was doing. Even amongst world class footballers that is something that stands out as above and beyond.

The big change came from an injury to his optic nerve that developed into chronic open-angle glaucoma, which required surgery to save both his sight and his career. It was initially feared he would need to retire due to the glaucoma, which is why at this time he launched a street soccer fashion label called Monta Soccer. The glaucoma did not end his career as he was given special permission to wear protective goggles by FIFA. They protected his eyes against impact and the tinting shielded his eyes against the glare of the floodlights.

The orange-tinted (to go with the orange shirts of Holland) goggles, along with his dreadlocks, became iconic, legendary even, from the first moment they appeared in an international friendly for Netherlands against Belgium on 4th September 1999. With a large advertising contract signed with the company that made his goggles - the same ones basketball great and former Bruce Lee student Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wore - he was also part of a major Nike advertising campaign over the next few years. In large part down to the goggles, a case of turning adversity into success.

Juve were struggling though and Lippi resigned mid-season and was replaced by Carlo Ancelotti. However Davids did well enough to make the Netherlands squad for Euro 2000, where he once again was named in the 'Team of the Tournament'. The following season was a difficult one for Davids as he tested positive for anabolic steroid nandrolone and, on 17th May 2001, Davids was suspended by FIFA.

Davids and Juve argued that the glaucoma eye drops he had to take had caused the positive test, which was accepted by FIFA and he was able to return to playing, with a Therapeutic Use Exemption for the eye drops, after 5 months. A lot had changed when he returned, Lippi was back in charge, Zidane was with Real Madrid and Lippi's team had two players who liked to play to the left in Pavel Nedved and Alessandro Del Piero, meaning there was little obvious space for Davids, who also liked to drift out to the left side. Lippi did not see it that way though and pushed Del Piero up front and gave Nedved a free role while slotting Davids back into midfield. Juventus went on to win 2 Serie A titles in a row.

Davids star continued to rise, his iconic goggles stared out at the world as he was one of three cover stars on EA's hugely popular video game FIFA 03, alongside Roberto Carlos and Ryan Giggs. He showed utter confidence in himself, once telling a journalist who dared to ask him for his thoughts on Del Piero, at the end of a game in which Del Piero had scored a hat trick, "are we talking about Del Piero or about Edgar Davids?"

Davids was vital to Juve's run to the Champions League final, where they faced his former club AC Milan. His performance in the final was being lauded as "inspirational" on the BBC coverage before he had to come off injured, bossing his former Ajax team-mate Seedorf. Juve ended up losing as they were not the same team after he went off. With Davids contract expiring, Luciano Moggi refused Davids demands for a substantial pay rise and Lippi decided his time was over, at the age of 30. The Turin club went out and bought Stephen Appiah as a replacement and Lippi dropped Davids, to the utter disbelief of the fans.

"With Juventus I learned to win. I do not know how it happened, it's something that is breathed in the air of the dressing room, are concepts that are handed down from player to player, it is the feeling that you send millions of fans and there is no club in the world that gives you the same effect." - Edgar Davids

Just to show another side to him, one of his friends, who is now a press officer at Telstar, wheelchair-bound Dennis Bliek, told journalists about their friendship. The pair met through the Spieren voor Spieren when Bliek was a child with a muscle disease and they kept in touch ever since: "Edgar has a golden heart. One day Edgar called me to ask if I would like to watch the match of his club Juventus against AC Milan. I know, if I had not been in a wheelchair, I would probably have been one of many for him. But Edgar thought about what such a disease and such a wheelchair with an adolescent do. My parents also had foster children. How they were doing interested him sincerely."

Edgar Davids

By January 2004 Barcelona were struggling in mid-table in La Liga, president Juan Laporta was under pressure after failing to fulfil his election promise in the summer. Worse was that his promise was to sign David Beckham, who had instead joined bitter rivals Real Madrid, the very worst thing that could happen. The league had evaded them since 1999 and new manager Frank Rijkaard was struggling to create a cohesive team out of a team which included Ronaldinho, Xavi, Carles Puyol, Patrick Kluivert and Javier Saviola, as well as an ageing Philippe Cocu and Luis Enrique. The team was being overrun in midfield, with Xavi barely able to get on the ball and Ronaldinho and Luis Garcia forced to drop deep in search of the ball.

So it was that Rijkaard turned to the out of favour Edgar Davids to save him from the sack, who Juventus were happy to loan for the rest of the season. Real Madrid were quick to pour scorn on the signing, with their sporting director Jorge Valdano dismissing him as "not a Galactico", while ex-Madrid winger Michel laughed off the signing in his Marca column, calling Davids a has-been who would bring "nothing" to Barca.

Davids joined a team that was 12th, 18 points behind Real Madrid, having won just 7 games in the first half of the season and been beaten by Madrid at the Nou Camp for the first time in 20 years, as well as a humiliating 5-1 thrashing at the hands of Malaga. The pit bull was unleashed on 17 January 2004 and it was clear that his arrival was just what was needed. Xavi was able to move forward and control the tempo of games the way we grew used to him doing in later years, Ronaldinho was freed up to run amok and Davids protected the flair players from those who tried to kick them out of matches. Opponents soon learnt that any attempt to do so would earn retribution at his hands and very few players wanted to take on Davids head-on.

Form immediately turned round, in Davids 18 appearances, they won 14, including a 9 match winning streak, which was part of 14 games unbeaten. Barca rose up the table to end the season in second behind Rafa Benitez's Valencia and 2 points ahead of Madrid, who they got revenge on at the Bernabeu in large part due to Davids smothering Zidane. His former Juve team-mate could not cope with Davids harrying and harrassing him into mistakes and Xavi scored an 86th minute winner in a 2-1 victory. In the first half of the season they conceded 25 goals, with Davids on board they conceded just 14 more goals. He also helped the team create more, with just 26 scored in the first half of the season, 37 after he joined.

Davids arrival is often cited as the catalyst for Barcelona's future domination as he saved Laporta from being removed as president, Rijkaard from losing his job as manager and made Barca realise that they needed a midfield enforcer to protect their flare players. More than that, Xavi and Andres Iniesta learnt their harrying and pressing game from Davids. Something that transformed their play from extremely good players to truly great ones. Despite that, his move was not made permanent.

"It was the opponent that I liked the most, he gave me a kick and I got up without saying anything, I gave him a kick and he got up without saying anything, he left, I right: we always collided. A war: once in an interview I exposed my way of thinking, before the next game Davids came to meet me, I thought it was time to fight, but he shook my hand and told me: 'Bravo, I think exactly like you.' We could have become friends." - Matias Almeyda

Instead of a move to Barca, Davids decided to get back at Moggi by joining Inter Milan, then managed by Roberto Mancini, signing a 3 year deal with Internazionale in summer 2004. His summer continued to seem full of hope as new Netherlands coach Marco van Basten appointed him captain of his nation after Euro 2004. However Mancini barely used him and he was dropped by Holland in October with Edwin van der Sar replacing him as captain. In August 2005 Inter terminated his contract, as Mancini saw no way back into the team for him.


His next move was to move on to Tottenham Hotspur on a free as Martin Jol looked to him to add "a winning mentality" and he quickly became a cult hero amongst the fans, despite a training ground bust up with Robbie Keane. The pair got into a fight on the training ground, despite Keane being known for his boxing skills Davids was quick to suggest they finished it outside after training. Jol admitted he was powerless to discipline him as the maximum fine he could give was £30,000 and Davids had said to him: "30 grand? I go to the city centre and spend 30 grand!"

His performances in his first season won him a recall to the Holland squad in October 2005 for the latter stages of qualifying for the 2006 World Cup but, despite making 31 appearances for Spurs as they finished the season in 5th, he was left out of the finals squad. The following season was injury ravaged and he left in the January transfer window to rejoin his first club Ajax.

Edgar Davids

Even in his 30s Davids was a key midfielder in the Ajax team that challenged for the Eredivisie title right up until the final day, when they missed out on the title. However they did lift the KNVB Cup, needing a penalty shoot-out win over AZ Alkmaar in the final, in which Davids, never short of confidence in his own ability, scored the last penalty. Preparation for the next season was badly disrupted by a broken leg he suffered in a friendly against Go Ahead Eagles, which ruled him out for three months. At the end of the season his contract expired and he left the club once more.

His career was drifting away from him now, he was mid-30s and coming towards the end, that winter, 6th December 2008, he played in an exhibition match in Auckland for an Oceania XI All-Star team against LA Galaxy, despite not being from Oceania nor having ever played for a team from Oceania. That European season ended with him without a club, but the following season he received an offer from then-Championship club Leicester City on 22nd October 2009. However they got fed up of him being unable to make up his mind about their offer and withdrew it on the 30th.

The 37 year old Davids trained with Maccabi Tel Aviv but decided against joining them. Crystal Palace had just come out of administration and made him an offer to join them in South London. On 20th August 2010 Edgar Davids became Palace's first signing after their admin when he signed a pay-as-you-play contract with them. Four days later he made his debut for them, oddly at left-back, in the 2nd round of the League Cup against Portsmouth. Unfortunately his father died in September and he returned back to Netherlands for a few weeks to deal with his loss.

On his return Palace manager George Burley finally used him in central midfield in a game against Championship leaders QPR but he made a bad backpass which cost the team a goal in a 2-1 defeat. His time at Palace was shortly to come to an end as he announced his departure in November, calling it "one of the greatest experiences of my life." Davids had made less than 10 appearances in total, but he had settled down to life in London and semi-retirement from playing.

"It is important to be gritty and strong to win back the ball and give consistency to a team." - Edgar Davids

While out of work and living in North London Davids took charge of a local Sunday league side Brixton United and later told 'Goals on Sunday', to the acute embarrassment of the presenters, that he was sat on the bench, "and I thought, what am I doing here? I'm fucking Edgar Davids!" That feeling was probably compounded when, in 2011, he was given a star on the 'Walk of Fame' at the new Juventus stadium in Turin.

Davids was also elected to the new supervisory board at Ajax, alongside Johan Cruyff, in June 2011, but the experience turned sour as the two bickered and Cruyff upset Davids by telling him that he was only on the board because he was black. Davids said Cruyff's statement was racism, though Cruyff denied it and refused to apologise and Davids was extremely unhappy with the lack of backing he received from the Dutch FA.

His next move was a shock, when he took a co-manager/player role with League Two side Barnet alongside co-manager Mark Robson. Barnet were bottom of the Football League and the following day, 12 October 2012, Davids made his managerial debut in professional football and left himself out. His team lost 4-1 at home to Plymouth Argyle without him. Davids put himself in the team for the next game and made himself captain. He was man of the match as Barnet thrashed Northampton Town 4-0 at home.

Lower league journeyman Mark Byrne, who played under Davids at Barnet said: "One-on-one, he was top drawer but in front of the group he'd be different. He had such a winning mentality with everything he did. No matter what he'd be doing, in the gym or in little drills on the training pitch, he would always challenge you. He'd do passing drills and every time he did it he would get it perfect. I remember one time, one of the young lads passed it into him and he turned around and goes, 'fuck sake man, I played for Barcelona. Play it in harder to me!' He was a bit of a nightmare to the young lads. He'd always be on their case, which I didn't really like. But you could see why he won as many things as he did over his career. He was 40 or 41 at the time and was still playing."

Robson did not last long and left in December, leaving Davids to take sole charge. That started well initially, as he lifted the team off the foot of the table and out of the relegation zone. In March, on the way back from a game at Accrington, the team bus passed a coachload of Barnet fans broken down on the M6 and Davids made the driver pull the coach over at the next service station. The team were told to get off and the bus was sent back to pick up the 36 stranded supporters and bring them to the services to await their replacement coach. Davids bought them all coffees while they waited.

Unfortunately he was never able to get them clear of danger and a final day loss to Northampton saw them drop back into the bottom 2 and out of the Football League. Despite the relegation, Davids decided to stay put and took the number 1 shirt for the new season in the Conference, stating he wanted to start a trend of midfielders wearing the number 1. However he only agreed to continue on the proviso that he did not have to travel to away games that required an overnight stay. Those games were to be left in the hands of his assistant. That did not go down well with the fans when they found out.

Edgar Davids

The start of the season did not go well for him personally, as he found his aggressive style made him a target for referees. In his first 8 games in the Conference he was booked in each of them and sent off 3 times. That made him contemplate his future saying: "I am a target but it is ok. I don't think I am going to play any more because they're taking away the fun. I want the team to do well. If you look at the red cards, some are definitely red cards and some are exaggerated. It is hard to complete our tasks when a lot of decisions are against you." Certainly at least one of his reds was fully justified, as he elbowed an opponent full in the face sparking a mass brawl between the two teams. Davids did quit as manager on the 18 January 2014, but he still sometimes attends their matches and was there to see them make their return to the Football League.

In June 2014 Greenwich Borough announced they were in advanced talks with Davids and their chairman stated he was 70% sure of getting Davids, but it never happened. Since then he has mostly been concentrating on getting his UEFA Pro License, which he finally got in March 2017, as well as working for an ad agency called Anomaly on sports and pop-culture related projects. Davids has also worked on protecting his iconic image, which saw him sue Riot Games, who used his likeness to create a characted skin called 'Striker Lucian' in their online game League of Legends. After Davids won in court, Riot were ordered to pay him a percentage of all their earnings from the skin by way of recompense.

For the previous Legend of the Game article on Jack Charlton click HERE

Written by Ed001 November 22 2018 16:40:24


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