Crystal Palace take on Barnet on Tuesday 11th July (19:30 BST) – the only way to catch all the action is by tuning in LIVE on Palace TV+. Check out how to subscribe by clicking HERE.
In football, more than almost any walk of life, wildly different paths can come to cross one another with remarkable synchronicity. Think Edgar Davids, Crystal Palace and Barnet…
In 1998, Crystal Palace were reeling from relegation, having finished bottom of the Premier League in a season characterised by chaos. Barnet, meanwhile, were struggling for promotion from the fourth tier, soon to fall away from the Football League.
Just a few hundred miles away across the English channel, on football’s biggest stage, a very different story was unfolding. A young midfielder would light up the World Cup, and become a hero with his last-minute winner against Yugoslavia.
Having emerged as one of the brightest talents at the Ajax Academy – winning the Champions League in 1995 – he had moved to Juventus via AC Milan and sat at the top level of European football.
But the World Cup was something of a redemption mission. Having been exiled from the international squad during Euro 96 for a catastrophic fall-out with manager Guus Hiddink, he had been reintroduced for a tournament the Netherlands were among the favourites to win.
From Edwin van der Sar to Jaap Stam, Clarence Seedorf to Patrick Kluivert, Dennis Bergkamp to Marc Overmars, the Dutch had talent all over the pitch. But in the engine room they needed ‘The Pitbull’ back, and he duly delivered.
“I was just doing my job,” came Davids’ understated post-match reaction to his last-minute winner.
After leaving Juventus, Davids played for Inter Milan and Barcelona before heading to England with Tottenham Hotspur. Then, in 2010, a shock epilogue to a wonderful career.
"Let's just have fun,” said the then 37-year-old as he was presented as a Crystal Palace player. “I'll give it my all and see where it leads to. I can play left-back, I can play in midfield or on the left or right wings.
“I'll play where the team needs me. It is an exciting time for the football club, and it is an exciting time for me. I just want to enjoy football and show the best I can do."
Davids’ impact on the younger players was instant. They had a bona fide legend of the game alongside them in the dressing room. Former Palace man Ibra Sekajja remembers it clearly.
"When Edgar came to Palace we got on really well. He saw me doing these tricks and he came over to me and said: ‘I see you got tricks – show me something.’
“We went one-on-one and I realised that he has a lot more tricks in his arsenal! These sessions used to happen all the time after training and that’s how we got to know each other.”
Davids played just seven times for Palace before announcing his departure in November, declaring his short stint to be “one of the greatest experiences of my life”. For a man that used to share a midfield with Zinedine Zidane, that is some praise.
After two years outside the professional game, managing Sunday league side Brixton United and playing street football, he accepted an offer to become player-manager at Barnet. On his debut he captained the side to a 4-0 win over Northampton Town, winning Man of the Match in the process.
His bond with the fans grew: one story saw him send the Barnet team coach to pick up supporters stranded at a service station after a defeat at Accrington Stanley.
Relegation increased tensions, however, and when Davids was sent off in three of the first eight league games he played in the 2013/14 season it began to feel like the end was nigh. He resigned in January 2014, retiring from the professional game for good.
Among his 74 international caps, six league titles, Champions League and domestic cup winners medals, in Crystal Palace and Barnet Davids can always look back on a dramatic three-year final chapter to a career that had it all.
Watch Crystal Palace take on Barnet at 19:30 BST on Tuesday, 11th July - and Palace's complete pre-season schedule - by subscribing to Palace TV+ from just £19.99. Click HERE to find out more.