When you think about it, professional footballers are strange subjects for sculptural art. Getting one's likeness preserved in bronze or marble is traditionally the preserve of Roman emperors, or Renaissance dukes, or extremely tasteless arriviste dads who live in obscene mansions on The Bishops Avenue. Picture it now: there's your dad, hanging out in a loose-fitting Hawaiian shirt, showing your schoolmates the erotic bronze of him entwined with your 23-year-old stepmother. There he is, lingering with a saucy grin as he gestures towards his comically oversized phallus, then suddenly turning all serious and asking why you never return his texts.
Back to the point, though: emperors, dukes and arriviste dads are the natural subjects of sculpture. Professional footballers are not. While the former are naturally narcissistic, entitled to the point where they will actually commission, and pose for, a permanent effigy of their heads, shoulders and perhaps even penises, the latter spend their lives in constant motion, and are somehow unsuitable for an immovable art. Footballers are meant to run free, to gallop across the pitch, to sprint to and fro with incalculable grace. They are not meant to be encased in stone and metal, made inert and set up as a permanent fixture outside a football ground, there to be used as a selfie plinth for grown men in bobble hats, or an occasional pissing post for passing fans.
Nonetheless, in the modern age, artists seem to be making statues of footballers at a faster rate than ever before. We're not talking about posthumous statues, mind, or memorials to past legends; we're referring to the strange new trend for football sculptures of fortysomething retirees. So, on Monday, Newcastle unveiled their new statue of Alan Shearer. Naturally, within minutes, people on Twitter were comparing its likeness to the bronzed good looks of everyone's favourite Hole in the Wall host and Donald Trump sympathiser, Dale Winton.
Shearer's statue isn't the first to get mixed reviews from the general public. Footballers are incongruous with sculpture, but artists keep taking commissions to sculpt them anyway. In an attempt to get to the bottom of this bizarre phenomenon, we've decided to rate these famous statues of footballers purely on artistic merit. Do sculptors do it simply for the money, or is there something else going on here? Is there something we're missing, something which makes the famous football sculpture secretly sublime?
ALAN SHEARER'S STATUE, 2016
Looks nothing like Shearer
To our first exhibit, then, and let us critique this graven image of Alan Shearer. In terms of actual likeness, it's problematic in that it seems to portray the Newcastle legend with the hair of early nineties Vinnie Jones. We're sure Shearer wouldn't mind us saying that he is emphatically bald, and has been losing his hair since his time at Blackburn Rovers. At no point in his Newcastle career was he this hirsute, and as such the sculpture loses points for realism and authenticity.
With no real evidence to suggest that this sculpture is meant to be surrealist – Shearer's face isn't upside down, nor is there an outstretched arm reaching ominously out of his navel – we have to assume that it is meant to be a faithful representation of the world's most famous Geordie, and as such knock it down further for, in our opinion, looking like a cross between Nigel Pearson and Oakie Doke. That said, it does at least capture his trademark celebration, and we like the fact that the shirt he's wearing looks like something out of the 1930s. That was a notoriously good time for artists, what with all the war weariness and incurable syphilis, so kudos for the vintage attire, and a respectable score all round.
DENNIS BERGKAMP'S STATUE, 2014
Looks nothing like Bergkamp
Though we have set ourselves up as critical arbiters here, we're quite aware that artistic interpretation is subjective. The Dennis Bergkamp statue exemplifies this perfectly, in that it is either magnificent or quite shite, depending on the eye of the beholder. If it is interpreted to be a naturalistic portrayal of the Dutchman, it succumbs to the obvious pitfalls of looking like Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and having a massive great pole shoved up its arse. It has attempted to capture the smooth motion and delicate first touch of 'The Iceman', but has been thwarted in this noble endeavour by the limitations of gravity and several tonnes of cast bronze.
That said, one could interpret this sculpture very differently. Is the pole upon which Bergkamp is impaled a mere prop, or is it something more significant, something with greater meaning? The pole could be a metaphor for the support given to Bergkamp by his adoring fans, or the connection between himself and Islington, as symbolised by the plinth itself. In an even bolder interpretation of the work, it could be seen as a visual representation of Bergkamp's notorious fear of flying, in that, even when he is airborne, he is drawn inexorably back down to earth. Now that, that is some deep shit.
Rating: 3/10 or 9/10, depending on perspective
CRISTIANO RONALDO, 2014
Looks a bit like Ronaldo
With this sculpture of Cristiano Ronaldo, subjectivity again comes into play. On the surface, it seems like a half-decent depiction of CR7, barring that fact that he looks like he's smuggling some sort enormous bratwurst down his shorts. This could be seen as a simple attempt at aggrandisement, a crass display of sculptural machismo in the form of a burgeoning bronze monster schlong.
On the other hand, it could be interpreted as a nuanced comment on masculinity, and the objectification of the sportsman's body. When our gaze is inevitably drawn to Cristiano's big metal bulge, do we not see our idealised expectations staring back at us? We have created a world in which footballers feel that they must be physically perfect: toned, muscular and girthy of chode. So the artist has cast a bronze in the image of our collective shallowness, and held up a phallic mirror to our boorish souls.
Rating: 4/10 or 9/10, depending on how the penis is interpreted
ZINEDINE ZIDANE'S STATUE, 2012
Looks a bit like Zidane
Created by French conceptual artist Adel Abdessemed, this statue of Zinedine Zidane, entitled simply 'Headbutt' (or 'Coup de tête'), is highly unusual for a statue of a footballer. Rather than immortalise Zidane at his most godlike, it captures him at his most mortal, and shows him at the conclusive nadir of his career. It is an ode to defeat, not victory; a eulogy to loss as opposed to triumph.
In a conceptual sense, it is both non-conformist and extremely interesting. Unfortunately, Zidane looks like Lex Luthor, so we have to take a few points off.
THIERRY HENRY'S STATUE, 2011
Looks vaguely like Henry
Now, it's fair enough to have one statue of a club legend outside a football ground. Two statues, however, is a bit much. We're not going to get into an argument about which of Henry and Bergkamp is most deserving of statuary but, as far as we're concerned, their joint presence outside the Emirates is a bit excessive. Before long, the concourse outside the ground is going to resemble some sort of massive Antony Gormley exhibit, with hundreds of diametrically opposed statues staring eerily at each other from various vantage points, including a little sculpture of Patrick Vieira spitting at Neil Ruddock on top of the ticket office.
When it comes to the statue of Henry itself, it's hardly the most recognisable likeness. The pose nicely captures his iconic celebration against Tottenham in 2002, though the sculpture itself could be basically any bald man. We have a theory about the accumulation of sculptures outside the Emirates, however. Unveiled at a time when the club was spending barely anything on transfers, the outlay of thousands of pounds on a statue was a form of artistic subversion. In beautiful defiance of the increasingly restless fans, the club decided to blow a load of their hard-earned money on bronze footballers, while singularly refusing to buy any actual ones.
Rating: 4/10 or 9/10, depending on whether our subversive theory is correct
TONY ADAMS' STATUE, 2011
Looks like a man with an exceedingly small face
"Tony Adams, one-club man. Tony Adams, Arsenal legend. Tony Adams, captain of the club" – Arsenal fans, 2002.
"STOP SPENDING ALL OF OUR FUCKING MONEY ON STATUES" – Arsenal fans, 2011.
BONUS: MICHAEL JACKSON'S STATUE, 2011
What the fuck is actually even going on here?
Okay, so this isn't a statue of an actual footballer. It's a statue of Michael Jackson, which Mohamed Al-Fayed unveiled outside of Craven Cottage in 2011. For complete surrealism, this deserves to be included in any article about sculptures in football. It is better than Picasso, better than Dali, better than Giacometti. It is a modern wonder of the world, the perfect realisation of human art.
It is absolutely magnificent, and Fulham fans fucking hated its guts.