Analysis Opinion Insight

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Perils of World Class Players

A couple of weeks ago, Harry Redknapp made a few comments to the football press after his side's 2-1 home victory against Aston Villa raised an interesting point. He claimed he took his "in form" striker, Roman Pavlyuchenko off at half time, and replaced him with Aaron Lennon, to maintain the balance of his side as Rafael van der Vaart was "all over the place, but in a good way". He sacrificed one striker to allow Rafael to operate in the "hole" behind Crouch, while not losing his sides width, having Bale and Lennon working in the wide areas. The move worked a treat, with Crouch supplying van der Vaart the decisive second goal on a plate. However, the two goals were not his only contribution to the game, alongside Lennon, Modric and Bale, van der Vaart drove the Tottenham midfield forward and acted as the extra man all over the field.

Let me explain how I define the term "world class player", before progressing.
A truly world class player, is one who can change the course of a game on his own. A player who can rescue his team with a piece of inspirational skill or creativity when his team-mates are not performing to their usual capabilities. A truly world class player makes his position key to the success of the side, and forces the opposition manager to focus his  efforts on him, either by needing to be double marked, or force him into some other tactical change to combat his skills. A truly world class player doesn't shy away from the responsibility of taking possession of the ball. His team-mates look to give him the ball, and he is trusted not to lose it, whose technique is trusted even when under pressure.  A truly world class player is notable by his absence, and his manager builds his team and bases his tactics around him. This notion of being a "lynch-pin" of the side is what is most noticeable.

This leads me to ponder the question, do "2-man" teams, supported by nine above average others, lead to more successful sides? Or does it take more than 2 truly world class players to build a side with trophy winning potential.Obviously 2 men can't lead a team to trophies by themselves, so take nothing away from the collective strength of the other 15 or so other squad players, but with 2 world class stars in the team, they do tend to get out-shined.

 Evidence for 2 'Stars'  team systems::
1) Ronaldo & Rooney at Man United; set up a trio of Premier League titles, back-to-back Champions League final appearances (including a fortunate victory in Moscow), and four Cups.
2) Drogba & Lampard at Chelsea; were the creative force for Chelsea's back to back Premier League titles, last season's triumph and 5 consecutive Champions' League semi-final appearances. 
3) Torres & Gerrard at Liverpool; were the attacking head of the first Liverpool side in a decade to come remotely close to winning the Premier League title.They were only thwarted by a incandescent United side that  saw Liverpool get the highest points total to not win the league title.

Evidence for 5 or 6 good players::  
1) Arsenal  Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri, Arshavin, Walcott, Diaby.    

Although Fabregas is a top quality player, having been a part of the Spanish world cup winning side, he's yet to orchestrate prolonged greatness on his own. World Cup finalist van Persie  is not a regular starter, and spends more time in the physio's quarters than on the pitch, and is literally a liabilty on the club's books. Having not won anything for 5 years, they've added central defensive fortitude and a decent forward in Chamakh, they're don't have the fortitude to outwit and overpower the likes of Chelsea and United to clinch the title, yet.

2) Spurs  Van der Vaart, Bale, Modric, Lennon, Huddlestone, Pavlyuchenko.
All of the above players are more talented than the "average" top flight footballer, with van der Vaart still  arguably the pick of the bunch, having had enough talent and determination to play for Real Madrid. Given recent performances of Bale and the talk of "Modric to Barca", they may hold more potential to become world class, but until their defensive depth improves, they have no chance of regaining their Champions' League qualifying position, let alone a league title.   
3) City  Tevez, Balotelli, David Silva, Johnson, Milner, Adebayor.
Last but not least, Manchester City's middle east revolution has seen them put world class wages into the bank accounts of average players, with only 3 acquisitions having the potential to be world class players. In Mario Balotelli, David Silva and Vincent Kompany, they have potential to win things, if ( and its a big if) they get rid of the multimillionaire -deadwood around the edge of the squad that forces Mancini to play 90s style Italian football.    

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