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A Word of Caution

[Editor: One of our sporadic contributors K9 returns with this article. So welcome back to him. The article may appear a little controversial. So read through first and then get your in opinions later.]

There are many statements in football that ought to be taken with a pinch of salt. Not all of Fergal’s comments have been prophetic. In fact, I remember him having to eat his words about many an incident, especially in Europe and with referees. Anyway, the question is whether this team is the best we’ve had. In my opinion, NO. (By the way RedRanter, your comment policy was pretty hilarious to read. I know how it feels to have SMS lingo in my blog comments… Pardon the caps.)

For convenient reading, I’ll break the article down into three arguments.

First, this team lacks a very, very important ingredient to be a world conquering juggernaut we all hope it will become. That is called footballing intelligence. There is not a single player in our squad right now who knows how to pull the strings in case of a deadlock. The playmaker in our team is still firmly Fergie (its certainly not the Ginger Ninja, who, mind you is a very good passer and has good vision but doesn’t create moves from thin air like Cantona or Zidane). Anderson is fast, hardworking and a superb midfielder in the making but again doesn’t pull strings in a deadlock. Please don’t come up with all those games against small clubs as counter examples. When the shit hits the fan, not one member of our squad has the ability or the potential to rise above the game and take charge instead of getting bogged down by the goings on.

Secondly, and this is an issue which I’ve raised before too; we have no aerial prowess at all in our team barring the two central defenders. Entire games are won on that ability, especially in the midfield. Take a look, for example, at the game against Arsenal. The net count of the headers we won in midfield was…zero. The net ratio of the passes intercepted in midfield (even if against a fast moving short passing game) was abysmal. Hargreaves can’t challenge well in the air. Carrick can’t. Giggs…er…Scholes, nope. Anderson, too short, Fletch…er again…Ronaldo nope, Rooney and Tevez are too short again and so on ad nauseam.

If you watch that Arsenal game closely, you’ll find out why the game turned on its head the moment Saha was introduced. The guy is a very agile, tall player who knows how to move into the right positions at the right time. Most importantly, he knows how to take possession of an aerial ball and is the only player besides the defenders who knows a thing or two about challenging in the air. This team will find itself hard pressed for air, and thus directly, midfield superiority.

Lastly, football is not a game of statistics or of technical brilliance alone. The game on the ground is very different from how we see it on the telly or from the stands. On that field, it makes little difference what you can do with a ball in your backyard. The most influential thing that can win or lose games for you is morale. Not off the pitch but on it. That’s the role of a manager, to keep that morale high. That’s the role of a hardy captain, the role of Keane. That is the reason we miss him so much from the squad. When things aren’t going our way, I’ve often seen some of our ‘world class’ talent lose its cool, become frustrated and bicker on the field. Ronaldo is the prime culprit. Rooney isn’t much better off either, and neither is Carrick, Scholes or Hargreaves.

There are other players who are much more composed and get their head down and work quietly but don’t have the flamboyance to dictate a midfield scuffle (Milan last year, champions’ league) or crack open a really tight defensive setup (Chelsea, community shield). And the cracks in morale that develop in such high pressure games (Rooney vs Ronnie anyone? Anyone?) become that much more apparent and magnified on the boob tube. I don’t claim to have seen too many seasons to be able to judge over a large span, but I’ve seen and played enough football to know what makes good and what makes great.

All said and done, this team still lacks one thing- genius. It lacks that which is an integral part of all great teams. Be it Zidane for France in ’98, or Maradona for Argentina in ’86, or Puskas and Di’Stefano for the great Madrid of the 50’s. And please don’t begin with Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez et al, because none of them are overly blessed with both the pitch intelligence and the gritty perseverance of that order, though all of them are amazingly gifted in terms of physical capability and technical skill. That spark is irreplaceable.

As long as these things aren’t taken care of, there’s going to be no legendary feats here. Though we hope and pray with due vigour that this becomes a successful team, it would be a bit over the top to call it the best team ever and all that jazz. So let’s all be a little more sensible and take heed before the trumpeting becomes obnoxiously loud.

I rest my case.