Free Agents: The Fine Wine of Football
Creative, hardworking and tactically disciplined are unique qualities that are rarely found in the modern player of today, many clubs lack that stabilising and assured presence in midfield, someone with the ability to dictate the tempo of a game like a puppet on their string. However, in Simon Lappin, it is hard to believe that someone to have played with illustrious clubs such as Norwich City and Cardiff City is still without a club. Most recently a pivotal figure for St. Johnstone on and off the pitch, Simon played a key role in helping The Saints qualify for Europe for a second successive season and made a total of 58 appearances for the club chipping in with 4 goals along the way. In an exclusive Network 90 interview, Simon opened up as to what life as a free agent is like and just how frustrating it is missing out on the game you love.
Still only 33, Lappin has already had inimitable success throughout his career but is hoping to continue his footballing adventure over the next couple of years and begin a new chapter of his journey on greener pastures.
“You have to be fit and prepared because a call can come at any time and you have to be ready for it”
Simon admitted that it can be difficult to gain match sharpness when training on your own but you have to stay fit no matter the circumstances. Regular visits to the sports scientist’s office and even yoga sessions in recent years has given him a better understanding of the fitness side of the game, allowing him to stay fighting fit over the last few months. Rather than just sitting on the sofa waiting for the phone to ring and letting his football career fade away into obscurity, Simon like many others, has been in the position where he has had to take it upon himself to be in the best condition possible ensuring he is ready to step up to the mark and seize his opportunity when that phone does ring. He conceded that, contrary to some people’s beliefs, football doesn’t last forever and that his playing career will have to come to an end at some point, nevertheless, he believes that he still has the ability to cut it at a high level, whether it be in the UK or abroad.
“When clubs call you have to listen to every offer, I’ve had offers from abroad but they weren’t the right one for me or my family so it has to be the right offer from the right club. It is flattering to receive interest from any club but it still has to be to right offer so you don’t just jump at it. Of course, I want to be training every day and playing every Saturday but if it doesn’t fit in with you, then you can’t accept.”
“I know that I can still play at a very good level. When I visited our sports scientist last season he advised that my heart rate and distances covered were always in the top 3 in training and games, so fitness levels have never been an issue. With that said though, you have to keep on top of it and stay as fit as possible. Teams now are getting fitter, stronger and quicker and you’ll very quickly be left behind if you don’t.”
When asked about why he is in this situation Simon concluded that:
“Nowadays, players who are thirty-plus are possibly being overlooked by some clubs for younger players, but I know I can still compete at a good level and provide plenty of experience. Younger players usually look up to the older ones and in a proper first team environment, their knowledge and experience can be priceless. In the dressing room and on the pitch, an older head who has been there before can be that calming influence and take on that bit more responsibility when things aren’t going so well or they can be the one to demand more with the use of a few choice words when required. It’s getting that balance and knowing when the right time is for either scenario.”
Many people believe that players in their thirties are reaching the end of their career but in Simon’s case, it is the complete opposite. Last year he demonstrated that he is still playing close to his peak helping St. Johnstone to a 2nd successive 4th placed league finish and a league cup semi-final by contributing impeccable technical attributes and priceless insights on the game of football. Nevertheless, Simon decided that he would move on at the end of the season when his contract expired with aspirations to move on and ply his trade once again in England - but no move has materialised as of yet.
“St. Johnstone hadn’t come to me with an offer but it was a decision that my wife & I had made regardless well in advance mainly for family reasons. The manager was brilliant with me and I enjoyed a great time at the club with a super bunch of boys. I don’t have a bad word to say about the place but it was a decision that was made and obviously I am disappointed to be without a club at the moment”
“It’s not easy to find a club but I’m still hopeful of one inviting me to come in and train for a week or two and have the opportunity to play in a reserve or bounce game. It might be my only opportunity so I have to make sure I take it”.
Alan Hansen once said that: “You can’t win anything with kids” and although he was eventually proven wrong by Sir Alex Ferguson and the Class of ’92, there was still an overwhelming element of truth to his comment. When push comes to shove, an experienced player can seriously facilitate any team in any league. Every team has a dip in form in every season but not every team has the ability to arrest that slump and come out the other side on top. You will find that the clubs that manage to find that equilibrium of youth and experience are the ones who quickly seize their loss of form and excel come the end of the season. This doesn’t just happen by chance though. The afore mentioned Sir Alex didn’t dispose of players like Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes despite them playing well beyond their twilight years because he knew the invaluable wisdom that they could impart on the younger players throughout the club and eventually inspire them to a record 20th English league title in 2013.
Experienced players are a rare breed. They don’t handicap a team, instead, they provide an advantage and can influence a game at the flick of a switch, so we should realise that the experienced players of the game are like the finest of wines, they can get better with age.
By Paul Arnold & Kieran Hamill