FROM David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes at Manchester United, to Mark Hughes, Neville Southall and the late Gary Speed with Wales, Robbie Savage played with some world-class players during his colourful career.

But when asked to name the greatest player he appeared alongside he has no hesitation in choosing the man he spent three years partnering in the Blackburn Rovers midfield.


The man he affectionately called Worzel Gummidge due to his bedraggled appearance. And the man he reverently called maestro due to his magical ability with the ball. That man, of course, is Tugay.

“He was amazing,” said Savage, who made 100 appearances for Rovers between 2005 and 2008.

“I was only saying to my pal the other day,  ‘just just imagine how good Tugay must have been at 25 or 26’.

“He must have been 35 or 36 at the time but I remember he did a stepover against Steven Gerrard at Ewood Park against Liverpool.

“Tugay then slid the ball through to Gamst Pedersen, he smashed it across, Benni McCarthy scored and we won 1-0. Doing stepovers to Steven Gerrard at the age of 36!

“Tugay was an unbelievable player. He could receive the ball in any area of the pitch and do something with it.

“And I always knew in the big games for Blackburn — and we did have some big games, finishing sixth, getting to semi-finals, Europe — if I was nervous I could see where Tugay was and give him the ball even if he was being marked by three people. He made it look so easy.

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“I thought we were a great combination. I did all his running and gave him the ball, and he did all my passing.

“He was an amazing guy as well, a lovely fella. I will never forget after I moved to Blackburn he knew I was number eight. One day he pulled me to one side and said, ‘you are number eight’. And I said, ‘no mate, it is yours’. But he went to see Sparky (Hughes) and he said, ‘Sav, you can have the number eight’.”

In his new book, I’ll Tell You What, Savage also recalls the time when he was at Birmingham City and he kicked the ball against Tugay’s head while he was on the ground.

The future team-mates exchanged words but it was not until they were united at Rovers, and they were travelling into training together, that it was brought up again — by Tugay’s son, who was also in the car, and who asked his dad, in Turkish, whether that was the same ‘horrible man’ who had kicked the ball against his head at St Andrew’s.

The book, Savage’s take on modern-day football, is also littered with more famous anecdotes.

From his Budweiser ‘whassup’ voicemail message that turned off Roy Keane from signing him for Sunderland from Rovers, to realising it was time to cut his trademark long blonde hair when, bound for Brazil and the 2014 World Cup, he reached the check-in desk and discovered he had mistaken his wife’s passport for his own, the BBC and BT Sport pundit and presenter is not afraid to poke fun at himself.

But the book also tackles more serious issues, including the pressure he feels pushy parents put on young players, and the dangers of going off the rails after retiring.

The former Wales international, 40, admits he was depressed after hanging up his boots.

But he has filled the void by moving ‘into the second-best job in the world after playing’.

“If I was not a pundit now I do not know what I would be doing,” said Savage, who dedicates the book to his late father, and mentor and inspiration, Colin, who had Pick’s disease, a type of dementia.

“When I retired, for the first three months I was depressed. Luckily for me I had an out, an escape — and that was punditry.

“Not because that was my only escape, I wanted to be one and I worked hard at it. People do not give you things. As a footballer people will give you things. They want you to be seen in their restaurant, they want you to be seen in their clothes. And as a footballer I do not think you know the word ‘no’. You have everything provided for you.

“As soon as you finish you are lost, and I can see how depression sets in. People think footballers live in a magic world and at times you do. But when you retire it is not that — you are the same as everybody else. It is really hard and I am one of the fortunate ones. But for every fortunate one there are a hundred who have not achieved what they wanted to achieve after football.”

Just as he did when he was a footballer, Savage has worked hard to make the most of his talent after moving into the media.

But while he spends most of his time gracing Premier League and Champions League grounds, Rovers continue to hold a special place in his heart.

“I love Blackburn and I think it is a fantastic football club,” said Savage, who will donate 25 per cent of the royalties from his new book to the Alzheimer’s Society.

“I hope Gary Bowyer can get it right because they deserve to be back in the Premier League.”

  • I’ll Tell You What, by Robbie Savage, is published by Constable, out now, £18.99.