Please tell me when I've reached my peak

One of the cries, the sighs, the wants and wishes of our clever football pundits at present, on TV and in the press, and in fact among most know-alls on the terraces, is oh, oh, if only we had a really, really brilliant midfield creator in England today. Someone who could take charge, pass sublimely, but also do the unexpected, change the game and split open the stubbornest defence. Such as, wait for it, you know who I'm coming to, but here it is, the current cliche: "If only we had Gazza at his peak."

I'm not here to consider Gazza, though that new goatee beard is worth a few minutes' ponder. So that's what he's been doing while sitting on the bench, or is it stuck on, one of his little jokes, like his plastic boobs? You had to be quick to catch it in the Chelsea match. He ran on, late in the match as sub, and ran off almost immediately, red-carded for being, well, Gazza, scowling and howling, before I had a chance to examine his beardling. It did look one sheep short of a goatee.

It's the notion of a peak that interests me. In Gazza's case, did he ever have one? Crying for England, that was a peak, an image we will not forget, and being grabbed in the bollocks by Vinnie Jones, another peak. But those were peaks of mass recognition, not peaks in his professional career.

Some say he was at his peak at Spurs, but I never thought so. I often groaned when he got the ball, demanded the ball, unbalanced the team by hogging the ball, and it usually ended with him doing something either sublime or totally stupid. Going to Lazio, that was when we all thought he would truly reach his best, be lifted on to his peak by a combination of Italian professionalism and maturity at last. It didn't happen. It hasn't happened since. And won't now, not at his age, in his condition. It's all very sad.

I don't think Glenn Hoddle ever truly reached his peak. OK, so he got 53 caps for England, but he never seemed to be established. There were always as many against as for him. I was for, would always have had him in my team, but he could be a luxury. He should have had a peak, with all that talent, but he never fully flowered.

George Best did. He mucked up his life, mucked around in his career, finished long before he needed to, but he did have a peak, a spell of several years in which he was breathtaking, admired by all. No question.

I wonder if Steve McManaman will peak or has peaked? You can't know, can't decide, till fairly late in a career. At the age of 27, it's a bit too early to contemplate. The best could be yet to be. I hope so. I am a fan, and a fan of his girlfriend. I saw him on a TV programme, when he'd just arrived in Spain, walking around with this tarty-looking blonde girl with a strong Liverpool accent, and I thought, heh-up, a bit of Scouse totty he's met on the plane. Good job I only thought that disgusting, sexist thought and didn't say it aloud or I would have been duffed up. Turned out she's a barrister.

Matt Le Tissier, 31 this month, is of an age when you can look back on his career and decide if he ever peaked. He won't get better now. On paper he didn't peak, staying with the same middling-to-piddling club, showing very little ambition, with an England career that was laughable. If Hoddle never truly established himself for England then Le Tissier, with eight caps, hardly got through the door. And yet, if I were sitting where he is sitting, looking back at myself, I'd probably think that I did peak. His ambition was to play for his nearest big club, and from Guernsey that meant Southampton. He didn't want to travel the world, join a mega club and have all that hassle. He wanted to do well for them, be loyal to them, keep them in the top division. And be loved. So, Matty, you probably did peak. Well done.

Margaret Thatcher peaked. No doubt about that. It might have ended in tears, humiliation and failure, but she did reach a peak, which everyone saw, was aware of, even if they hated her. I don't think John Major peaked. He's probably still sitting, waiting for the call to come again and show the bastards.

One thing about peaking is that you don't always know when you are at your peak - and, having peaked, you are often the last to know. It is others who know, who see it, while you go blithely on - as Mrs T did - sublimely unaware that the best is over. This happens all the time in football, and sport generally. They say they'll know when the time has come, when their powers are waning, and they'll get out when still at the top, but alas they rarely do. Linford Christie tempted himself back when he shouldn't have done.

Actors, I suppose, can go on long after their peak, like John Gielgud, because they can act the parts of people not at their peak. With books, writers certainly do peak, but with a bit of luck you can carry on long after your peak because publishers are craven and two-faced and won't tell you, not to your face, not if they think there's some sales in the old body yet, despite the diminishing quality. That happened with Iris Murdoch. Is happening now to Doris Lessing. Has happened for years with Dick Francis.

Have you peaked? Have I peaked? I think this notion of peaking applies properly only to people hungry for success, with a burning desire to get to a certain place. That certainly applies to all Premiership footballers. Whatever you might think about their excesses, they are driven people. Most of us just roll along, feeling lucky to get to the end of the day in one piece, or, in this case, the end of the page. Thank you.

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