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Barnet FC reporter Adam Newson reflects on Edgar Davids' colourful and controversial reign with the Bees
Just over 15 months ago one of England’s most prolific goalscorers lamented: “Until last week I felt pretty confident in my boast that I was the only footballer to have played for both AC Milan and Barnet.
"I also reckoned I was the most-capped player to have turned out for the mighty Bees at Underhill. Well, thanks to Edgar Davids, those are two claims to fame that I’ve now lost.”
That man was of course sublime striker Jimmy Greaves – the winner of a World Cup medal who graced Underhill in his latter playing years and confessed in his Daily Mirror column in 2012: “I spent just about the most enjoyable two seasons of my career there.”
So what will the mercurial Edgar Davids remember of his time at Barnet?
After all he came out of retirement to become player-head coach with nothing to prove but potentially risked tarnishing his incredibly successful career by failing to stop Barnet being relegated. He failed to do just that.
What will Bees’ fans remember when looking back on his tenure? Did the one-time Juventus midfielder’s ‘stardust’ really rub off during his 15 intriguing months in charge? What did he achieve? And what will be his legacy?
Davids was a man of stark contrasts. Combative on the pitch with gung-ho attitude but he had a dreadful disciplinary record that hardly set an example to the younger players.
Perhaps time had caught up with him and he couldn’t keep up with the play? He nevertheless kept the referees busy.
He was undoubtedly idiosyncratic but often distant. Occasionally abrasive but assuredly charismatic. Difficult to fathom but great entertainment.
Davids initially professed to buying into the League Two ethos of a grass-roots club – but insisted on his players calling him Mister Davids both on and off the pitch. It’s not surprising he wasn’t the most popular of head coaches.
He sometimes appeared prima donna like, prompting Greaves to write: “I read that Davids might be taking a bit of a superior attitude towards Barnet’s players and I just hope that isn’t true.
"When you’ve played for massive clubs and at World Cups but find yourself playing in the game’s lower reaches, you simply have to become one of the lads and enjoy the place for what it is.”
Davids was a world class international footballer who might have had a lot of say about Barnet’s fortunes – but was often aloof and didn’t feel it necessary to talk to the media.
When he agreed to take over at Barnet, originally alongside Mark Robson, senior club officials must have thought the Gods had smiled on them.
One of the world’s most easily recognisable players of his generation – and one who wasn’t interested in picking up a wage packet – it must have been the shortest boardroom meeting ever to confirm an appointment.
But why would a then 39-year-old who played for Holland 74 times and starred for Ajax, Juventus, both Milan clubs, Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur want to turn out for a club at the bottom of the Football League?
Admittedly he lived nearby in north London but it emerged that the well-worn word ‘challenge’ was his motivation.
He was colourful and controversial. Causing raised eyebrows when it emerged he missed training sessions during pre-season and would not attend certain away games that required an overnight stay, leaving assistant manager Ulrich Landvreugd to take charge.
He wanted to work with the players left behind on a match day and stay with his family, he said. The club were reportedly happy with that.
Davids never scored for Barnet during his time at the club and has been dogged by disciplinary problems this season.
He was booked or sent off in each of the first five league games he played this season and ended up with three dismissals in ten appearances.
He claimed he was being targeted by referees and hinted he’d quit playing, bemoaning officiating in the fifth tier had taken the 'fun' out of playing.
“I am a target, but it is okay. I don't think I am going to play anymore because they are taking away the fun and I want the team to do well,” he said at the time.
He’d been at the top for so long, perhaps it was inevitable when he announced he would end the tradition of the goalkeeper wearing the number one shirt for the 2013-14 season by claiming it for himself.
He said he intended to “set a trend” of midfielders topping the squad list and wore the captain’s armband.
And he was always one for the unpredictable, becoming a hero after I informed him that Barnet fans were reporting on Twitter that their coach had broken down on the motorway just outside Accrington on the way south.
He immediately ordered the team bus to drop off the players at a service station and turn around to pick up the 36 stranded Bees’ supporters.
Davids was a captivating, quirky character. Perhaps flawed and certainly past his prime. But a player, manager, captain and leader who gave Barnet a footballing cachet which will be hard to emulate.
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