BROWNE ON THE BALL: Zidane, Ronaldo and co... overpaid or good value the world over?

These Bedouin men may live in the desert, but they're still up to date with Zidane and Ronaldo.
These Bedouin men may live in the desert, but they're still up to date with Zidane and Ronaldo.

“I’m a Formula One fan. Footballer’s are all overpaid in my opinion,” said Craig, completely missing the irony of his statement and the zeroes in his favourite drivers’ bank balances.

All I know about Craig is that he’s from Blackburn and hates football. I would probably never have encountered him in my life were it not for the fact that we both booked overlapping holidays at the same hotel.

But there we were, sat by the pool in the sweltering 44C heat of Sharm El Sheikh; Craig bemoaning the salaries of people he claims not to bother about, and me desperately searching for the feintest of wifi signals so I could check that day’ football results.

You may think it’s sad that I would travel 2,500 miles and still spend my Saturdays and Tuesdays glued to my phone, caring about sport.

But I’m afraid you’re wrong. That’s the power that sport - and football in particular - can hold over you.

If I may, please permit me to share a story with you.

While in Egypt I was offered the chance to take part in a quad biking excursion.

And because there were no matches and no wifi that day, I couldn’t say no.

After an hour of riding out into the wilderness of the Sinai peninsular - where Moses wrote the 10 Commandments, and later led his people from the shackles of slavery - my party was taken to a Bedouin encampment.

The Bedouin are desert-dwelling Arab tribes who live sporadically across the north of Africa and in parts of Asia.

Yes, money from tourists is now vital to their existence, but these people still live off the land. A camel, as well as a healthy number of goats, can be found tied outside of almost every home, which in turn are built from reclaimed doors, fridge panels and anything the dwellers can get their hands on.

So there I was, in the middle of nowhere, with a keffiyeh that had come loose from the previous journey.

Kindly, one of the locals offered to re-tie it for me. But as he undid the scarf from my head, he clocked (and I swear I saw him smirk to himself) the fact I don’t have the fullest head of hair.

Turning to his pals he pointed at me and declared: “Zenedine Zidane.”

They all laughed.

Anyone who has seen me kick a football, or even throw a headbutt, knows the only resemblance I have to the former France international is a slaphead.

For the next few minutes, my host told me - eagerly in pidgin English - that his favourite player was ‘Ronnie Ronaldo’ and that Manchester will finish above London this season.

If this job has taught me anything, it is that everyone who participates in sport deserves full respect.

From dominoes to darts, to bowls to tennis, from rugby to golf and netball to track and field. Whatever your sport, it takes real hard work and devotion to improve your game.

Last year’s Olympics once again proved that sport crosses boundaries, whether they are geographical, racial or religious; that desire and dedication will triumph.

But no sport unites as much as football.

The chap out in the wilderness, serving me up a sweet-tasting tea and offering to take my picture on his camel, could have likened my balding bonce to that of Andre Agassi, Duncan Goodhew or a folically-challenged Grand Prix star (I’m sure Craig could name me one).

But he didn’t, he chose a footballer.

Yes Craig, the money players can take home is bonkers. But it is earned due to a lifetime of dedication.

The game’s top stars may earn a ridiculous wedge, but that doesn’t stop them bringing joy to the have-nots in deserts of Asia, slums of Soweto, favellas of Brazil and to baldys on holiday... when they can get a signal, that is.