I was initially tempted to write an exploratory piece on Ramsey-on-the-Right but I think there are several quality posts lined up on that topic – including one already put up by Andrea and a bloody good piece by Dave Seager; so, I’ll do what I do in times like these and go off on a tangent!
My last post pondered over why, as fans, we tend to look at individual players when football is a team sport whilst advocating that should have a more holistic view of things.
Today, I’ll sort of branch out from that and think-out-loud on our judgements of individual players.
There’s a saying in my language which goes
Jo dikhta hai, bikhta hai!
When translated, it says
What is visible, sells!
It’s a phrase associated with the promotional aspect of marketing – the more your brand is visible to consumers via TV adverts, billboards, online presence, and smart placement in stores; the higher the likelihood of your brand being consumed.
The same logic, about visibility, can be applied to football.
Visible players sell. Not necessarily sell to other clubs; but, sell to spectators/fans.
Before I started appreciating Cesc Fabregas and regretting that I never watched much of Zidane or Pirlo, my favorite players included Overmars, Henry, and Bergkamp. I would have included Pires as well if I had the chance to watch full games during that era.
Clips of Riquelme made me want to watch Boca Juniors, then Barcelona, then Villareal. Alas, none of those happened. I would have liked to have seen Inter Milan when Adriano was leading their strike force only in the hope to catch Adriano execute some outrageous skill and score! The Galacticos were another string of teams I wanted to watch just to see football’s stalwarts run through teams because of the immense individual talents they had. Of course, we know that didn’t happen.
Pace, dribbles, fancy footwork, and flicks – all catch the eye. They’re easy to spot. They’re great to watch – it can seem like magic! The successful use of any of those traits ensures a battle is won; albeit an individual battle in most cases.
We love the idea of he owned him on pitch out there today! Why is that? I’m no psychologist so I can’t answer that but we do seem to like the idea of individual glory – innate self-centeredness perhaps?
Anyway, the idea of one player being better than another brings me to one of the most common topic that is debated among fans – our player is better than yours.
In recent times it has been the rating of Coutinho as better than Ozil. Or Silva better than Ozil. Or Hazard better than Ozil. Or Hazard better than Sanchez. The list goes on. To be fair, the argument is made vice-versa as well.
Stats are then thrown left-right-center on distance run, take-ons completed, goals scored, assists, chances created, and passes completed. If defenders are compared, then a bunch of other statistics is thrown back and forth.
So, what makes us make such statements? In my opinion, the following:
- Price tag that the player came with
- The discernible elements – pace, dribbles, fancy footwork, etc.
Interestingly, the first two points are interrelated – a player with a heavy price tag that doesn’t show much of the discernible elements may be considered a flop; because, for some reason, we expect to see those elements.
There are so many elements that we tend to overlook though; here are some of them:
Manager’s Instructions and System
Fabregas shone at Arsenal; but not so much at Barcelona. He’s sort of shining again at Chelsea, as much as I hate to admit it. Did he have a bad patch? Not necessarily. At Arsenal he was the playmaker, even when he was moved into a more advanced position on the pitch, he still managed to pull the strings to some extent. At Barcelona, he barely played in the role he was so good at; mostly found himself playing in wider positions. Nor was Barca’s style of play similar to that of Arsenal or Chelsea. Yes, Arsenal played a possession based game but Cesc had the liberty to hit through balls from deeper positions.
Would Coutinho be allowed to do what he does at ‘Pool, under Wenger? Would Ozil thrive in Brendan Rodgers’ system?
Managers want certain skill sets for certain positions. They also want certain skill sets for certain styles of play. If Wenger wants someone sitting in the middle to control play then he’ll want someone who is technically sound, brilliant at keeping the ball, accurate with passes, and intelligent enough to dictate play.
I’ll break here just to cite a personal example on system and player preferences. My university team didn’t have a coach; sport wasn’t a priority at my university, so the Captain called the shots. I played central midfield for most of my uni years, when my best years were behind me I dropped to DM – Arteta type, not Coquelin! The team’s style of play also transitioned from a direct style to more possession based over the years. The last Captain I played under was a Barcelona fan and was obsessed with playing a possession based game. He would, at times, stick me out wide on the left. I had no pace for the wing, I was right footed, my trickery days were over; but, he stuck me out there in some games or even brought me on as a sub for the same position. Why? This I know because he would explain this decision to the whole team – I never misplaced a pass. He valued ball retention over someone getting down the wing and hitting in a cross.
So, going back to the Wenger example, Cazorla may be a better pick for some games whilst Ramsey or Jack may be better for some other games. The question is one better than the other? All of a sudden becomes subject to what a manager wants to see from different positions on the field.
Samuel Eto’o was mostly played out wide at Inter Milan under Mourinho, if no one had seen Eto’o at Barca; imagine the conclusions that would have been drawn about the former African Player of the Year.
A manager’s instructions, system, and subsequent player selection is even more likely to be overlooked if a player comes with a hefty price tag.
The Price Tag
The price tag itself we never actually overlook, sometimes it’s all we look at! I’ll admit, when Real Madrid signed Gareth Bale for that astronomical fee I may have either put out a tweet or a status on Facebook on what I would expect Bale to do if I was a Real Madrid fan. The expectation was for Bale to be scoring a brilliant individual goal every game!
I’ll admit I had barely watched Ozil before we signed him. Of course, I had heard his name, but never really seen him play. However, did I expect him to set the world alight with a lot of skill, dribble, and dazzle? Yes, I did, simply because of the transfer fee. When it became known that he’s known for assists, my expectation shifted. Then it became apparent even that would be a tough ask for him either because where he was played or because we lacked pace in the side.
However, I don’t know what to expect now. Perhaps my observation skills need to improve because I think it would be easier to appreciate him if one is in the stands rather than watching on the television screen. I still appreciate him; don’t think he’s a flop and I’m glad he’s with us. I won’t go into details as to why he needs to be praised, plenty of that out there; including Umar Choudhry’s debut blog.
My point is, Wenger obviously has different expectations from him. He probably needed a different type of number 10 which is tailored for Arsenal’s system. What Ozil brings, perhaps no one else can, and that came at a cost.
The other aspect of transfer fees we need to consider now, unfortunately, is the role of wealthy owners and/or super rich clubs. It’s those clubs that pay the ridiculous fees usually because the selling clubs know they can demand a premium. Would Chelsea have been able to fork out 50m from any other club for David Luiz? Would Arsenal have been able to extract the price paid for Adebayor from anyone else? If I know the buying party has deep pockets and desperately want something I have, I will maximize that opportunity.
So, even transfer prices can be a result of circumstances but tend to help cloud our judgement!
This is related to manager’s instructions and system preference so I won’t repeat all of that. However, I’d like to quickly discuss three examples.
Santi Cazorla, we all knew once we saw him play, is special. How extra special has he become ever since he moved to the center of the park? Extremely special, in my opinion; if he hadn’t moved to the middle then perhaps our final conclusion about him would include some finger pointing at his ineffective defending on the flank and how his talent got wasted by not being played behind the striker.
The second player fell on the other end of the spectrum. I’ve discussed him before over here and that’s Emmanuel Eboue. Suited for fullback, not for right wing; he just did not have it in his skill set and I feel that the final judgement on him by many fans has been unfavorable because of that.
I wouldn’t have thought of the last example if Tim Stillman of Arseblog fame hadn’t mentioned it in one of his posts – Denilson. He mentioned the possibility that had Denilson played with better players around him or if his role was slightly altered, we may have seen a different player. He definitely was not suited for the defensive midfield role so Tim probably has a point there.
All in all, some players thrive in certain areas of the pitch; whether from a positional point of view or from a situational point of view. The latter refers to moments in a match; for example, would the Ox do what he does on the wing, as well, if he was more central?
Wrapping it Up
Are some players just not good enough? Sure. Either way, I’ve tried to offer perspective on the way we judge individual players. There are probably other considerations that I haven’t considered but taking the length of this post into account, I would have lost you by now if I haven’t lost you already!
Looking forward to a win versus ‘Pool on Monday night, COYG!
If you have any thoughts or comments then do share them, I always reply [hint: check the ‘notify me of follow-up comments by email’ box to be notified when I reply].
Or you can tweet me and we can attempt a discussion limited by 140-character statements!