It’s interesting how, considering football is a team sport, we tend to idolize or castigate individuals on a regular basis.
Why is that?
This thought and question entered my mind during pre-season when Arsenal Twitter went gaga over a certain Jeff Rene-Adelaide and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. I would have written about this earlier but at that time I wasn’t sure if my post would have a point to it!
Some reactions after the opening day loss to the Hammers brought that thought to the surface again. I’m still not sure if I’ll have a point by the end of this!
Targeting the Individual
Usually the term ‘target’ has a negative connotation; but, in this case my intention is both negative and positive.
A player full of tricks, flicks, and everything nice has us drooling and wanting more – even if the said trick, flick, or anything nice is done somewhere near the halfway line and results in a routine pass to a teammate.
The frequency of those tricks, flicks, and everything nice leading to something more productive usually isn’t that high; yet, we adore players who have that ability to pull that rabbit out of a hat.
Is it because it’s easy to see? Easier to understand?
Don’t get me wrong, beating a man or two has its value; but, we tend to undervalue the events that lead to and come after the execution of a fancy bit of skill. Sometimes, what comes after a bit of skill is not worth valuing. Yet, what a player! What ability!
I’m not undermining the value of close control, quick feet, and quick thinking either.
Then there’s the other side of it; the glaring mistake or pathetic performance that made a player undeserving of wearing the club’s shirt. The player’s stats were down, or have been down for a few games – he simply isn’t quality.
Never mind that he may have not been supported by teammates on the pitch when required, he’s at fault.
Again, is it because it’s easier to see? Committing too early, shooting when he should have passed, passing when he should have shot, standing off when he should have gone in, gone in when he should have been standing off, and the list goes on. Rarely do we go deeper into the decision the player makes but are quick to brand them negatively for any detrimental decision. Why?
Yes, individuals make a team, and sometimes it really is a glaring individual mistake or noticeably beautiful piece of individual skill that change a game; but the perceived frequency of both is probably higher than the reality.
Of course, this is not to say that teams aren’t heralded or slated either; eventually they are. However, we tend to seek a hero or a villain. Maybe it’s human nature to seek out individuals; we aspire to follow our role model(s), not aspire to replicate a team because on your own that’s not possible. Or is it? Depends on your situation.
Nonetheless, as football fans, I feel that targeting individuals removes an element of reality from the whole perspective – whatever that perspective may be.
Cogs of a Machine
Don’t worry, I’m not going to go all I’m-an-expert-and-you’re-not on you and try to explain how a team works in football. I’m not that full of myself!
I’m sure all of you know it’s a team effort at the end of the day. However, I get the feeling that ‘team effort’ is interpreted in various ways by fans and I won’t get into those either; but, I’ll share one aspect of my interpretation to offer some perspective on our tendency to target individuals.
That one aspect pertains to understanding each other’s strengths and weaknesses. If team members cannot help each other out because they have not either leveraged their strengths or compensated for their weaknesses, individuals will become noticeable.
Since the opening weekend loss to the Hammers is fresh in the memory; I’ll use that as an example. Fans are calling for Santi to be placed in the center of the park because Ramsey just is not good enough apparently. I feel that Aaron is a player who works off others and less of a dictator of play; IF that is the case or any other skill set is more apparent, his teammates should know that and probably do. The let-down was not Aaron’s poor showing in the centre of the park; the let-down was the players’ inability to work with what Aaron offers.
Not just Aaron Ramsey, mind you; any player for that matter. The Ox put in a shift yesterday going forward, yet he was only able to create one clear chance when Giroud found himself in the right area – only to hesitate before taking a shot. The shot goes in and Giroud is hailed for a great finish from the edge of the area and the Ox’s role is then praised as an afterthought.
Coquelin was another player fans thought wasn’t effective. Le Coq is relatively static and isn’t used to being part of the possession play; considering the Hammers weren’t exactly looking to dominate possession, Coquelin found himself in unfamiliar territory but our players did not help him out enough – whether that meant being in the right positions for him or telling him to move around more.
The team seemed so disjointed. I was confident, on the back of the second half of last season and the pre-season, of a cohesive team. I was confident going into the game, expecting to win at least 2-0. The team just somehow, all of a sudden, did not seem to understand each other during those 90 minutes.
Anyway, I am digressing now. This wasn’t supposed to be particularly about the weekend game. It was the easiest example to cite. Last season’s FA Cup final is an example of a cohesive team. The team was heralded for that victory, not an individual, and that was justified.
I believe Ray Parlour, please correct me if I’m wrong, in the Official History of the Arsenal documentary, stated that he thought that the ’98 Double Winning side was the better than the ’02 side because everyone knew their role. Not sure if his opinion changed after the Invincible season but this is indicative.
Knowing your role also ensures you know everyone else’s role, you develop an understanding of each player’s preferences – does he want the ball at his feet or hit in front of him? Who needs more cover? Can I forage forward without having to worry? Will my forward make a run into the box? When will he make a run into the box? And so many more questions whose answers are known when a team members understand each other.
Players may stand out time to time, but make no mistake it’s a result of different elements coming together. Exceptions are always there of course.
Wrapping it Up
Football is not a game of individuals and let’s not make it so. Was it Arsene Wenger who said he wasn’t a particular fan of awards such as Ballon D’Or because it discounts the team?
Individuals are more likely to shine if a team is cohesive. Cristiano Ronaldo is the biggest example of a beneficiary of a great team when he was at Manchester United. United, under Sir Alex Ferguson, were always a brilliant team. You could never pinpoint a certain player who may turn it around for them; it would be United who would turn it around. He’s benefitted at Real Madrid in terms of goal scoring exploits; but, his exploits to trophy ratio would seem a bit odd to someone new to football – so many goals with little to show for it?
That is why Wenger keeps stressing the point that a particular signing never guarantees anything. If, on the day, or for a more extended period than a day, the team does not perform; the new signing(s) are less likely to make an impact.
The other plausible scenario is a team performing whilst an individual let’s a team down. That can happen and does happen; but, as I stated earlier about individual bravado, its frequency is probably lower than actually perceived.
Since I mentioned West Ham, I’ll end this by saying yes, the result was disappointing but it was only the first game of the season and I hope it served as a reality check for the team. To be honest, I’m not too concerned with team selection/formation for the upcoming game against Palace unless half the squad gets injured, my concern is that most of the squad has been together for three years now and the risk of them not clicking on the day has not yet been minimized. Of course, my concern itself may be very premature since the season has only just begun and this was the incident outside the probability!
I believe I’ve sort of made a point but definitely hope I’ve offered some perspective.
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