They say football is a game of opinions.
That couldn’t be any more true when it comes to the divisive figure of Liverpool defender Mamadou Sakho.
A tall, commanding, imposing and flamboyant leader, some say.
Djimi Traore reincarnated, others argue. Clumsy, ponderous, error-strewn and anxious.
Assessments of the French international’s credentials couldn’t be more polar opposite from fan to fan.
For the record, I lean more towards the latter side of the debate. I’m not quite sure how a player who can turn you into a nervous wreck as a supporter every time he goes near the ball can be considered a “good thing”.
The debate, however, does lead to a wider point about opinions and perceptions in general.
Why is it that supporters can watch the very same player week in, week out and yet have an entirely different view to the bloke* sat next to him?
Sakho is an extreme example of divisiveness, of course. Everyone rates Lionel Messi, for instance. Anyone who doesn’t is most likely to be mentally unstable.
In the case of Sakho though, I sometimes wonder whether it’s his reputation and image that proceed him rather than his genuine footballing ability.
Sakho was signed for £18m from leading Ligue 1 outfit PSG and is a regular for the French national side.
He also often sports white-coloured boots and some crazy patterns in his hair. Oh, and chanting his name is relatively uncomplicated and to the point.
I’m not saying this makes people think you’re a good footballer. However, it does generate an image that, perceptively, is more enticing than someone signed from Southampton, for arguments sake.
There is always a degree of mystique about a player who arrives from abroad. Having captained PSG as well as featuring for France on numerous occasions, there is a level of glamour – as well as expectancy – attached to Sakho’s signature.
Meanwhile, you already know about “Jim Smith” (first generic name that came to mind) from Southampton. He’s been on Match of the Day , the club have likely paid over-the-odds and the scrutiny has begun barely before a ball is kicked.
Roberto Firmino, who is just now starting to hit form for Liverpool, is perhaps another case in point. You wonder whether because he plays upfront for Brazil and has a name ending in “ino” affords him more time than, say, Christian Benteke – a bruising centre-forward – who signed from Aston Villa for far too much money.
Firmino has five goals from 14 Premier League starts while Benteke has six goals from 12 starts. Three of which have been match-winning goals against Bournemouth, Leicester and Sunderland.
Whether Benteke is actually up to scratch or not is another issue, but it does highlight how when you lay out the bare facts, his impact doesn’t appear all that bad despite the strongly negative perception of his time at Liverpool.
Be it Sakho or Firmino, reputation and image alone can only take you so far. Being consistently bad ought to dampen any lingering enthusiasm.
But it does give you time, perhaps. A rationale and reasoning behind the sheltering of certain players against criticism.
In relation to Sakho, mind, I find it increasingly difficult for a genuinely constructive argument in favour of his ability when he is so integral to (and often directly involved) in Liverpool’s consistently poor and inept defensive displays.
Then again, I could be talking shit.
After all, football is a game of opinions.