When Danny Rose talks, people listen. Not just because he speaks well, but because he's one of the few interesting voices in a sea of monotonous chat.
Unsurprisingly, this has become a double-edged sword. With it, the full-back has become one of the most divisive players in the country, simply for speaking his mind.
The England defender made back pages once again this week, after responding bullishly to questions about a strange summer in which he was left behind for Spurs' pre-season tour to "explore prospective opportunities with other clubs". In the end, he stayed put and was reinstated as Spurs' first-choice left-back. Ben Davies got a new contract.
“I don’t need to prove myself to anybody,” Rose claimed. “I have a manager at club level who knows me. Then if you look at international, I’ve got a manager that whenever I’ve been available for selection I’ve been chosen.”
Many Spurs fans will agree that Rose’s performances have been sub-par this season, however, and his response drew criticism from a collection of supporters who have struggled to warm to him over recent years.
Now 28, Rose is not a guy to go quietly. In football, he’s as close as they come to an outspoken radical; a player who wears his heart on his sleeve and, on occasion, allows emotion to get the better of him. Unlike many of his peers, he is unafraid to speak his mind on weighty issues. Self-worth, racism and depression have all been confronted and debated eloquently by him in the last two years alone. So why is there such disdain towards him?
At the beginning of 2017, Rose picked up the worst injury of his career: a knee problem that put him out of action for almost six months. As he neared his long-awaited return, an interview appeared in The Sun where the left-back admitted that he had been contemplating his future at Tottenham.
“Time is running out and I do want to win trophies,” he explained. “I don’t want to play football for 15 years and not have one trophy or medal.” He also made it clear that he considered himself – and some of his team-mates – to be underpaid by the club and questioned the validity of Spurs’ transfer business that summer (2017). “I am not saying buy 10 players,” he began. “I’d love to see two or three – and not players you have to Google and say, ‘Who’s that?’ I mean well-known players.”
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Admittedly, it was ill-advised. A media frenzy ensued, with the Lilywhites faithful and media alike questioning how a professional footballer had been allowed to say such things. Rose was fined by the club and given a warning.
The only problem? He was right.
Having gone close to the title in 2015/16, Spurs should have been aiming for a higher calibre of player back then. They should have recognised the value of one of the best defenders in the country, while bigger clubs lurked. What people failed to acknowledge was that Rose was simply echoing the thoughts and feelings of most Tottenham fans – however much it might have annoyed them. The squad needed investment and lacked depth. Kyle Walker had been sold to Manchester City for £50m, and of the five players Spurs brought in during the 2017 summer transfer window, only Davinson Sanchez can claim to have enjoyed any prolonged success.
Nevertheless, the damage was done. Rose was called greedy for wanting what every Tottenham fan in the country wanted: progression.
The following summer, after a campaign fraught with injury, he opened up about his battle with depression as a result. “It’s no secret that I’ve been through a testing time at Tottenham this season,” admitted the full-back. “It led to me seeing a psychologist and I was diagnosed with depression, which nobody knows about. I had to get away from Tottenham.”
Rose’s mental health deteriorated as he contended with the triple trauma of his uncle's suicide, his mother Angela being racially abused and an assailant shooting at his brother inside the family home. A horrendous year in anyone's book.
On the BBC One documentary A Royal Team Talk: Tackling Mental Health, Rose also revealed that his sanity had been questioned following those comments. “In the summer I was speaking to another club and they said: ‘The club would like to meet you, just to check that you’re not crazy,’ because of what I’d said and what I’d been through,” the left-back said. “I was embarrassed, as whatever I’ve been through, I like to think it doesn’t affect me doing my job. I still know I’ll always give 100%.”
It was a damning indictment.
In April of this year, Rose claimed that he “couldn’t wait to see the back of football” following racial abuse in England’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Montenegro. His comments were met with anger from some fans on social media; the type who believe that being a millionaire makes you impervious to racist abuse. In what other realm would you just be told to get on with it?
But Rose has every right to despise the game he clearly wants to love. "When countries get fined what I probably spend on a night out in London, what do you expect?" asked the defender, in a classic Rosesian turn of phrase. His comments merely represent those of someone who has fallen out of love with the game thanks to a prolonged lack of action from governing bodies, not those of a stuck-up millionaire waiting for retirement.
He's not alone, either. Only this month, 19-year-old compatriot Jadon Sancho echoed Rose's sentiments. "It just has to stop," said the England international a decade his junior. "It puts the confidence down in players and the love of the sport will go very soon if it doesn't stop."
We ask players to be more interesting, to not spurt the same clichés we’ve heard a thousand times over – “at the end of the day,'' “a must-win game”, “110%”. And yet when a player dares to step away from this safe territory, they are so often berated. Perhaps we've become so used to banality from our footballers that hearing one dare to be interesting strikes us as unprofessional.
Fans might want players to turn up, play well and go home, but – believe it or not – these are humans with real emotions. Money can’t solve depression, and it doesn’t stop you from being racially abused.
In short, be more like Danny: a player who should be commended for his bravery, not marginalised for his honesty. The sooner some fans realise that, the better.
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