So, farewell then Kieron Dyer. There is of course a cheap crack waiting to be made about the news that Dyer, who has spent the last six years not really playing football, has this week retired from playing football. Something along the lines of the Pope formally renouncing Zoroastrianism, or Lee Bowyer indicating he is no longer available to perform publicly as a concert-standard solo bassoonist. If this seems a little harsh then the general white noise of public indifference that greeted the news was perhaps equally wounding: the absence of tribute and elegy, of Kieron Dyer memorial pull-out sections, the shrine of wilting flowers, the limited edition commemorative porcelain tea set.
Then again, perhaps it's not that surprising. Certainly there has for many years been a low-level yowl of affront at Dyer's disastrously well-remunerated struggles with injury and ineffectiveness. On top of this there is the passing of time to contend with, those long years of nothing-much since the humid excitements of his youthful not-quite-making-it, that far-off period where Dyer might once have turned out to be, in the end, quite decent. But still the lack of interest in his passing seems to overlook something more profound in this surprisingly poignant might-once-have been, a player who in a certain light starts to look like English football's own definitive shadow-dandy, a living, breathing, jinking embodiment of the squandered possibilities of the Premier League's gilded post-lapsarian years.
In many ways Dyer remains the standard-bearer for that first generation of English Premier League players to be derided, belittled, and even hated for their own apparently wilful moneyed yahooism. This is of course unfair. Dyer was above all an unlucky footballer, and an enduringly committed one too, well paid or not. But it is a distinction that has also been hard earned. It seems safe to say now that, plotted on a scale of fiscal reward versus actual achievement, Dyer's career is perhaps the most preposterously overblown in English football history. Those numbers again: in 17 years he played just over 300 matches, scoring 23 Premier League goals, including none at all between 2007 and 2013. In this time he earned between £20m and £30m in wages. He never won a trophy or any individual award of note. He leaves effectively no mark at all, his most memorable act on a football pitch being punched by a team-mate in 2005. His career is, in outline, a modern sporting absurdity.
And yet it is a sign of football's own capacity for hope against hope against hope that there is still a sense of loss at his passing, if only for the memory of his time at Newcastle where briefly he looked like a brilliantly energetic and complete central midfielder, able to pass and dribble and sprint, a jinking, swerving figure, chasing every ball with a frantic sense of purpose, like a man chased everywhere by his own personal cloud of ravenous midges.
He was also – and paradoxically perhaps – always a hopeful player, communicating to the end that same sense of doomed youthful zest. So much so that it still seems inconceivable that the season will be allowed to start without the certainty that somewhere, on some distant substitutes' bench, Kieron Dyer is still crouched beneath his knitted beanie hat, removing his headphones, doing some stretches, coming on as an 87th-minute substitute and darting about with that old compelling sense of skittish purpose, perhaps even putting together a run of games, scoring a few goals, staying fit at last, against all odds getting another England call-up, playing finally like the Kieron Dyer of the imagination, filling that problematic forward scamper-munchkin role, leading England to Brazil in triumph, conjuring a series of improbable victories against the head, and ending up captured forever in iconic pose, tears streaming down his face as he lifts the World Cup, borne aloft on the shoulders of Joe Cole, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jonathan Woodgate as behind him a weeping Kevin Keegan …
Except, it seems this won't actually happen now. Perhaps, on refection, it never was going to happen. Dyer was never that good – but he was, crucially, a player who remained always exactly the same: irrepressibly a product of the puppyish, overblown, but still somehow rather seductive 1990s. There never was a mature Dyer, or a late, seasoned, sober Dyer. There was simply Kieron Dyer, right to the end the most promising 34-year-old footballer in the country, like the last Japanese soldier still frantically fighting the second world war in a small jungle copse in rural Burma.
In the end though, Dyer's career was that of a man who so often seemed to be on the verge of doing something, before turning out not to be about to do it after all. Instead he became a kind of footballing Forrest Gump, a curdled everyman of the Premier League's early years, ever present as next big thing, false hope, bad boy, crock, attacking right-back, attacking midfielder, right-winger, left-winger, second striker and, briefly, solution to the Left-Sided Problem. And really Dyer always had the air of an ill-fitting part, out of whack and fuzzy-edged, seen through a prism of not-quite-rightness. He was by nature one of those players – a not quite midfielder, a nearly-attacker – by whom English football has traditionally been confused, joining that species of footballer whose destiny it is to struggle against rather than with the prevailing tide: Glenn Hoddle, for example, who always seemed somehow to be playing in a ruff and frock coat, handkerchief raised to his nose, or Matt Le Tissier, the Premier League's own captive man‑child genius, trundling about in his bath-chair yawning out his calculus, his impenetrable higher maths in between eating Pot Noodles and reading Mr Men books.
Dyer was some way short of these of course. He was more an example of something hidden and systemic, a lost middle tier of the quite good, the potentially decent, the undersized but differently skilled, English football's own lightweight lost boys. The fact is at any given time every top football nation should have its own disposable sheath of Kieron Dyers floating about the place: 20 Kieron Dyers, 50 Kieron Dyers, a hundred Kieron Dyers. English football had the one, remembered now as the definitive Premier League disappointment, a perfect triumph of monetary reward over actual achievement – and yet still containing at his centre a more-ish sense of trapped talent, wasted zeal.
In this sense he belongs to all of us, a product of our own sclerotic system. We are all Kieron Dyer – I am Kieron Dyer. You are Kieron Dyer. Joe Cole is Kieron Dyer – just perhaps not to the same extent Kieron Dyer has had to be Kieron Dyer. He could have been better. He could perhaps have been a little nicer. But really Dyer should be remembered kindly, a poster boy for English football's own grand and ravenous confusion, and above all a confusingly everyday wasted talent.