I used to play basketball for a bounce team we had at uni. Due to having one very bad eye that severely hampered my depth perception and walking with a pronounced limp, I was no good at the dribbling and shooting parts. What I could do, though, was run and barge people off the ball. This proved to be a very useful ability, for it meant I could cause chaos among the opposition defence. I couldn’t do anything once I’d caused the chaos, mind you, but it was chaos nonetheless. And sometimes that carnage was all that was needed for one of the better players on the side to nip in and score a basket.
Gregory Tadé operates on a very similar basis. For the uninitiated, Tadé is a French striker with the body of Didier Drogba and the ball control of Jean-Alain Boumsong. That probably still doesn’t mean anything if you don’t know anything about football, right enough, in which case just try to imagine a man with the physical presence of Tyson Fury, the speed of Usain Bolt and the coordination of Tommy Cooper. That probably covers it.
Tadé played for Raith Rovers – my team – for the last two seasons, before leaving to join Inverness Caledonian Thistle in the Premier League over the summer. He was at the Rovers at a time when the team reached the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup and came close to winning promotion to the top flight, losing out only to better-funded (allegedly) clubs. Since Gregory left for the Highlands, the Rovers have tanked. I believe these two incidents are more related than one may think.
On paper, a six-foot something, built-like-a-brick-outhouse powerhouse of a man seems like something any sports team would benefit from. In the case of Gregory Tadé, however, that did not always prove to be true. The first time I saw him in a Raith shirt was in a friendly against Norwich City, when he started a sprint from the halfway line in order to latch on to a through ball, outpaced three defenders who now play in the English Premiership, opened up a good six yards of space, closed the angle to the stranded goalkeeper, and lined up for a shot at goal. With the ball at his feet, he went to shoot, missed the ball completely and slipped and fell on his backside.
Many similar corkers ensued over the next two seasons, including blasting into row K of the stand from the lofty distance of three yards, shooting at an open goal yet having the ball end up further away from the nets than before he touched it, and (painfully and accidentally) kicking the Stirling goalie’s head instead of the nearby ball. Even the now-legendary goal at Pittodrie that saw the Rovers dump Aberdeen out of the cup was a mis-kick, one that would have ended up going out of the ground had Tadé connected with it more than 6cm from the goal-line.
In short, Gregory Tadé was (and by all accounts, still is) a hopeless, hopeless footballer. And yet he was a huge asset to the Raith team. Take, for example, the New Year’s game against Dunfermline Athletic, when he burst through two stocky defenders to volley home the winning goal. Or a wet and windy away game at Dingwall, where he ran and ran and ran to the extent that when he was substituted – exhausted – after 75 minutes, the Ross County left-back who was preparing to take a throw-in put the ball down to applaud as the Frenchman left the pitch. Tadé’s pace and strength caused havoc with opposition defences, nobody – least of all the man himself – being able to figure out where he was going to go next or what he might try to do.
As much as anything else, Gregory got the fans going. Every run that ended up with the centre-forward on his backside, every air shot from six yards, every miss in front of an empty net was followed by a resounding chorus of encouragement from the home stand, the fans chanting Tadé’s name over and over or substituting his surname for the ‘way-o’s in the mid-90s Outhere Brothers hit. The boy even managed to receive a standing ovation when he came out to warm up for the Scottish Cup semi-final.
At the very top levels of football, speed and strength alone are not enough, quite simply because every player at that level possesses such attributes. But in the lower echelons of the game, one can always make a nuisance of oneself if one is quick enough. Raith Rovers are really struggling this year, and I reckon one of the reasons for this (among many others) is the lack of someone that can, and just as crucially is also prepared to, run and run.
I realised this at the dismal Queen of the South game a few weeks back as I watched players trotting casually after the ball and cantering towards the goals. Pace and effort don’t just make life difficult for the opposition, they also raise the fans – everyone likes to see a player putting in a lung-bursting run for a hopeless ball or running the goalie all the way for the wayward pass that’s trickling to the line. And when the fans are on-side and on-song, the rest of the team’s game tends to lift as well. Basic psychology that one doesn’t need a series of experiments involving dogs, bells and meat to figure out.
Although there are a fair few teams in football receiving wads of cash from rich benefactors, there are plenty more – like Raith Rovers – who are missing out and are having to make cutbacks to survive. And whilst Gregory Tadé (perhaps amazingly) has shown he has the skill to play at a higher level, the effect of his departure on Raith’s performance gives an insight into what it was that helped my team to punch well above their weight for the last two seasons.