Football in 2021 is defined by statistics and roles on the pitch more than ever before in the past.
There is no such thing as just being a defender, or just being a midfielder any more. Now you’re either a ball-playing defender or a no-nonsense centre back, you could be a box-to-box midfielder who excels defensively or a technical wizard going forward.
It’s all more specific now, but one player from the 90’s and 00’s that fits into any central midfielder role that you want to put him in is Edgar Davids.
A combative defensive midfielder, with the flair and personality of a number ten, Davids represented some of the biggest clubs in Europe and won everything at club level there was to win.
With his flowing dreadlocks he was always a stand-out player on the pitch. He had an ability to make everything look simple and easy. Despite being a defensive midfielder by nature, he had that aura about him that struck fear into the opposition. He was fleet of foot, creative, expressive and an absolute joy to watch.
The best comparison I could possibly give to anyone that hasn’t watched him would be to say he was N’Golo Kante mixed with a bit of Riyad Mahrez. His left foot was special and his attacking skills were great, yet it was defensively where he pulled up most trees in his career.
He broke into the Ajax team back in 1991 after joining the club as a 12-year-old, overcoming two previous rejections from the club. His fierce style of play in the middle of the park saw him nicknamed ‘The Pitbull’ by Louis van Gaal during his time in Amsterdam and the energy he displayed in the infamous 3-4-3 system helped bring the club a UEFA Champions League title in 1995.
The following year in 1996 when Ajax reached the final once again, Davids missed the first penalty of the shootout as the club went on to lose but he never let that affect his career. It was almost a pillar of what he stood for on the pitch for the rest of his career – keep going, never stop going.
He also helped the Dutch side to three Eredivisie titles, a UEFA Cup and a UEFA Super Cup before he decided to move on at just 23-years-old having already been part of so much success.
It wasn’t all roses for him when he made the move to Italy initially, joining AC Milan under Oscar Tabarez. Milan struggled and Tabarez was sacked in December, replaced until the end of the season by the legendary Arrigo Sacchi. He made 25 appearances in all competitions as they finished in 11th place, then after just ten appearances under new boss Fabio Capello he was allowed to join rivals Juventus.
The legendary Marcelo Lippi referred to him as “my one-man engine room” and often used him in the centre alongside French playmaker Zinedine Zidane, with the two striking up a super partnership and friendship. Even after Zidane left for Real Madrid, Davids continued to have great success with the Turin side.
He won three Serie A titles, two Supercoppa Italianas and even an Intertoto Cup, while also reaching yet another UEFA Champions League final which he lost on penalties.
Following that loss, Davids found himself on the fringes of the Stadio Delle Alpi and in January 2004 he joined FC Barcelona on loan for the remainder of the season. At this point Frank Rijkaard was under immense pressure, with Los Cules sitting in fifth in La Liga.
Davids’ arrival sparked an upturn in Barca’s fortunes that season and while they didn’t quite make it to the title they did end up finishing in second place behind eventual champions Valencia.
Davids completed the trifecta in Serie A by joining Inter Milan after his loan wasn’t made permanent. He only stayed there for a year before joining Tottenham and succeeding in the Premier League during his 18 month stint at the club, finishing in fifth before returning back to Ajax and ending his club career with Barnet as a player-manager.
His international career was also tremendous, representing the Oranje 74 times over 11 years. He was known for being outspoken, once saying in a radio interview that manager Guus Hiddink “had to take his head out of some players’ asses.”
He was named in the team of the tournament at the World Cup 1998 as Holland finished fourth, as well as at Euro 2000 and then in 2004 he was named captain of the national team by the legendary Marco Van Basten.
There are some players that will always be remembered for what they do on the pitch and some will be remembered for reasons nothing to do with football.
Davids is one who will be remembered for skill, tenacity and ability, as well as his trademark dreadlocks and glasses. If there was ever a footballer that defined the ‘streets will remember’ moniker it’s him.