Give some people flowers, as the saying goes, and they start looking for a coffin.
I have often sat next to these guys at sporting games. Maybe you have too.
They are the folks who gleefully suggest, while Brian Lara walks to the crease, that the bowler should deliver a bouncer. The great batsman can’t handle the short pitched stuff, you understand.
Stern John does not harass defenders. Dwight Yorke was too slow. David Nakhid never dribbled. Diego Maradona could not use his right foot.
The beauty of life for haters is homing in on the perceived shortcomings of others and then hoisting them up a flag pole.
So now I’m going to say something that may have them frothing at the mouth. You had better sit down if you are one of the persons who enjoy misery with your cereal.
My name is Lasana Liburd and I am a Densill Theobald fan.
Are you still there? Don’t forget to exhale now.
I suppose to most readers, the name “Theobald” bears an odd familiarity—like Betamax or typewriters. Let me jog your memory.
Theobald is the “nashy” guy who, at the age of 24, travelled to Germany with the “Soca Warriors” and started all three of their 2006 World Cup group stage matches.
None of the Trinidad and Tobago football players involved in Germany may ever enjoy such heights again. But at least the likes of Stoke City striker Kenwyne Jones may conceivably come close due to his employment in the popular and exciting England Premier League.
For Theobald, who, at 28, no longer enjoys a secure place in the national team, the odd knock out triumph for Caledonia AIA in the domestic Pro League competition is as good as it gets.
It sounds cruel but his professional life, ever since his 24th birthday, might be considered an anti-climax.
He is, at the same time, the perfect target and the best response for the haters in the football stands. While Yorke can point to a remarkable haul of European club trophies and Lara is buoyed by staggering individual successes as a player, Theobald is harder to defend due to paucity of tangible honours.
Even at his crowning moment in Nuremberg, when Theobald was asked to nullify England captain and icon David Beckham and did a commendable job, it was Peter Crouch’s fiendish tug on Brent Sancho’s dreadlocks that stole the post-game headlines.
Thereafter, criticisms of the versatile midfielder have ranged from the absurd—“he runs like Yorke, who does he think he is?”—to the more justifiable queries about his inability to finish off attacking plays or break up those of opponents.
Theobald, you see, is neither fish nor fowl.
He is not a particularly effective tackler or ball winner in midfield neither is he a goal scoring threat—as his two international goals from 69 appearances aptly demonstrates.
But what Theobald can do is pass.
He can transport the football from one part of the field to another in the same precise and meaningful manner that a grandmaster moves chess pieces. He can diagnose the motions of 19 outfield players around him and, more times than not, find the right prescription.
“Have a short pass… Let’s keep them guessing and give our attackers time to find the right patch of grass.”
“Here you go, this 20-yarder should take you clear through the opposing defence.”
If his feet could talk, they would probably sound like that wise, old uncle who always seems to have the answer.
In less time than it takes the average person to find their front door key, Theobald can not only calculate angles, speed and distance for over a dozen bodies but also deliver a football with almost flawless trajectory over short or long distance to provide maximum gain. Trinidad and Tobago’s more celebrated attacking players must feel a tinge of excitement when he is in possession.
Sport, at its best, is a sort of physical art. And Theobald’s brush strokes are as good as anyone’s.
I have been a sport writer for the past 15 years. There are, in my opinion, three components to success in this business.
You must understand your sport. You must have good language. You must be a good story teller.
From time to time, I come across someone who is more capable in any one of those skills than I am and I smile and nod in acknowledgement at a craftsman.
There is a magic for me in a job well done—no matter the profession. In fact, a dirty jewel, filled with endless possibilities, can be more bewitching than a polished diamond.
And so, Theobald might never compete at another World Cup finals or even score a hattrick in a Caribbean Cup fixture. But his uncanny ability to manipulate a football—a trick that surely combines natural ability with years of practice—will always brighten my day.
Theobald might not be the complete package but there is much to appreciate in the things that he does beautifully.
I pity the haters who miss the point.