The smile appeared charming enough. That’s what captured many people. The smile.
The ease with which he appeared to take the game and take life was endearing to those who watched him play.
Behind the smile, however, there was a player completely committed to being nothing but the best. When training finished for the morning and other players went home or looked after other interests, he stayed behind. He would practice, he would talk to the coaches, he would watch videos and study both his own game and that of his contemporaries.
He might well have enjoyed the benefit of having a natural talent for the game, but he never took that as something to rest on. He had to be better, he had to get better, he had to leave nothing less than his very best on the pitch. So he kept on training, kept on studying, kept on improving bits and pieces in his game.
It was not just about his game, in the match he would be calling out his teammates for sloppy play or when they appeared to let the standard slip. He would not be smiling then. It’s just that few people picked him up on those moments because he would make small comments on the pitch and save his venting to half-time or after the game if he felt it necessary. He was not just doing this to push himself, he felt that the team doing better was the only way that he could progress.
This is how he was recognised by bigger and better clubs and was snapped up by one of them where he was able to even lift the performance of those more experienced than him. International recognition was inevitable and he excelled there, but it was at the club level as he worked there on the day to day basis, that he felt most at home.
When he experienced winning a trophy for the first time, he did not dwell on it. It only made him think that this should be an experience he should have far more often. It was that which made him the obvious choice to be the next captain of the club and in his time at the club many saw it more because of him than because of the manager why the team would experience winning trophies more than they had before him.
As a result of his commitment and approach, he didn’t have time to entertain feuds with others. He didn’t have time to get irked by the managers and coaches who he felt were below the standard. He didn’t have the time for media projects, he didn’t have time for the marketing campaigns his agent and club wanted him to be a part of. They were distractions to what he wanted. His wife understood this from the start and ensured the environment was suitable for him knowing full well that once the football season was over she would get her husband back full time and he would show her the same level of commitment that he showed the game.
He finished his career on his own terms and knew it was time to finish that one game when his best fell below his own standards. Not even his teammates thought he was finished, but he knew he would want to go on deteriorating and lowering his standards as though it would be acceptable. He went on to win a final trophy with his team and although he had passed on the captaincy to another player who was likely to play more often, that player gave him the honour of lifting the trophy one more time.
When his manager was asked to sum up his remarkable career, he only had one word to describe it:
For His Name’s Sake
C. L. J. Dryden