Hall of Shame #2: Eric Sabin
Not many player’s careers can bear comparison with Thierry Henry’s, writes Alex Cooke. To do so they would need to be a club-record goal scorer, a World Cup and European Championships winner, an inspirational captain, an ad-man’s dream and, an aesthete. Swindon’s Eric Sabin – entry #2 into the Hall of Shame – was none of these things.
Instead Sabin toiled in France’s third division, sometimes. Sometimes he played as a winger, but usually as a substitute. He scored some goals too, but not very many.
Despite Thierry’s astronomical career at the pinnacle of football, and Eric having spent more time at the bottom of the pyramid than Tutankhamen, it was Eric’s own manager, Andy King, who chose to compare the two.
But then King did say he played defender Antoine Van De Linden as a striker due to him being Dutch, so we can’t be surprised that the fact that Sabin wasn’t a striker, French* or actually any good, getting in the way of King’s hyperbole.
Eric was, however, dreadful. 9 goals in 67 starts for Swindon proves it with numbers and your brain probably confirms it with the winced agony of memory.
Sure, he had a touch of pace, but he had the touch of a radiator. When he shot he didn’t so much pick a corner of the goal, as pick a corner of the ball to try to kick. If Eric could scuff, tap, miskick or waft at a six-yard chance away, he would. His one natural asset was straight-line speed, but he lacked the positional awareness to drift away from his marker or the football schooling to time his runs.
When he had moments of success they were usually the result of other’s excellence, or another’s failure. During most of these brief pauses of productivity, Irish midfielder Keith O’Halloran was the conductor and Sabin galumphed to his tune. With the maestro providing clever side-footed passes between rival centre backs, and the Frenchman applying his acceleration, defenders were often drawn into a clattering challenge. Hopefully before Eric could apply a leaden boot to the ball.
And once the referee peeped his whistle, Sabin’s two seconds of involvement were over as O’Halloran would dispatch the resulting penalty – Eric couldn’t be trusted from that range.
Once injury robbed Swindon of O’Halloran’s talent, and scouting robbed Sabin of the element of surprise, his effectiveness collapsed. He remained an eager and an energetic player, but never became a good one. Instead he played as anyone who was hideously over-promoted would, by trying his little, hopeless, heart out.
Many Swindon fans took to him though too, partly because to lambaste a player so horribly out of his depth would have been cruel. Except when he tainted himself with yellow, then we could all laugh at him. For Sabin, via an inexplicable move to QPR and then Northampton, betrayed that good-will when he went to play for the hated rivals – and Thierry Henry has certainly never done that.
Eric Sabin – Take your place in the Hall of Shame!
* Okay, he is really as his three international caps are for Martinique, which is technically a French overseas department.
PS – Before anyone asks…entry into the Hall of Shame is unordered. The numbering is purely to keep tabs on the total inducted and doesn’t mean Sabin is the second most shameful thing ever at STFC.