One of football’s most tired clichés is that George Graham’s Arsenal was absolutely dire to watch and devoid of entertainment. Perhaps there was a case to suggest that in his later years; however the two Championship winning times were anything but and was full of goals and entertainment. This was down largely to the creative abilities of David Rocastle; an extremely talented football that didn’t get the credit outside of N5 that he fully deserved.
I read tributes upon tributes, watched countless YouTube compilations of the man in the run-up of the 11th anniversary of his death; however I don’t think I saw one that really captured the sheer essence of what an extraordinary talent he was, and in my view it was Graham’s decision to sell him to Leeds that saw the downturn in his reign, certainly in the team’s style and creativity. Rocastle provided the creative spark, something that would be missing from Highbury until the arrival of Bergkamp some years later. It made no sense to cash in on him when he did and I wonder if George Graham privately that rues the day that he did.
Rocastle was one of the most dynamic wingers of his time and if he was playing in the Premier League today he would be considered one of the country’s very best. That isn’t a throwaway comment but the very fact that there was very little that Rocastle couldn’t do with a football and his dribbling skills and famous step-over were ahead of their time. That famous lobbed goal at Old Trafford was an illustration of his great ability and we can only imagine what the media would be making of it now had it been scored by a Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, especially against a goalkeeper of Peter Schmeichel’s ability. In many ways you could say that goal is the perfect parallel to his actual career in it was totally unsung and was only really appreciated some years later.
Unfortunately that is football for you and we only tend to appreciate things when they are retired or in David Rocastle’s case, sadly passed away. The term ‘great’ or ‘world class’ is embarrassingly overused in football and few deserve to be showered by such praise; however for four years from the late 80s and early 90s there weren’t many players, other than him and Paul Gascoigne, who were worthy of such an accolade. It is a shame that he didn’t get the appreciation within the game his ability deserved; or had to pass away to get the widespread recognition as to what a worldly talent he actually was. They say only the ‘good die young’ well David Rocastle was very, very good – not only as a footballer, but as a person as well.