One of the things often said about the Premier League is that it is a marathon, and that to win it you have to have a good squad to cope with the inevitable injuries and suspensions. This is no doubt true, but what must the Championship be – a double marathon in a war zone? I’m sure that the team with the most “high quality players” will always be there or thereabouts in the Premier League as long as the manager knows what he’s doing.
I used to be a fairly seriously involved in working on ways of predicting the outcome of horse races so that the vital factors could be worked into computer software (later I rejoined the human race and got a proper job). In the big races a quality that often crops up is this elusive thing called “class”. The way we used to identify a “class horse” was to find races where 2 horses were in a long drawn out battle for the finish, way ahead of the rest of the field. When this happens, and they are both flat out in a long duel for the line, the one that wins is the one with the most heart, who can dig that little bit deeper and just simply refuses to give up.
That idea of “Class” in horse racing is very similar to what I call “Quality” in a football player. Sure, they have a lot of ability, that goes without saying, but the quality players have a winning mentality, a never say die attitude – a total focus and commitment which says “you shall not pass, no matter what” in a defender, for example. They also have intelligence and an instinct for doing the right thing at the right time. Going a goal behind is not a problem for these players, it merely galvanises them to work harder and play better until they inevitably get the equaliser and then go on to win. I think a team as a whole can have this quality, if they are made up of enough quality players with the right manager in charge. Players like Henry, Adams, Bergkamp and Vieira were not just passengers, they drove our team to victory through their quality.
Anyway, I thought it might be interesting to play “spot the quality” with the top teams. Everyone has an opinion but here is my idea of “top quality” players by team:
Man United: Hargreaves, Ferdinand, Ronaldo, Rooney, Giggs, Vidic, Scholes, Tevez.
Chelsea: Cech, Cole, Essien, Carvalho, Lampard, Drogba, Ballack, Deco, Terry
Liverpool: Gerrard, Torres, Alonso, Mascherano, Carragher
Arsenal: Gallas, Fabregas, Van Persie(?)
Aston Villa: Barry (?)
Man City: Hamann, Robinho
OK, several of those players are a bit past it, but I believe their presence in the team is hugely beneficial. Given the lack of quality players, how good must Martin O’Neill and David Moyes be as managers? Very good, to have done so well with so many players below top class.
When we last won the league in 2003/04 we had Lehman, Campbell, Cole, Keown, Gilberto, Ljungberg, Pires, Vieira, Bergkamp and Henry. Maybe you could argue some of them were not top quality, but that side was bursting with quality compared to what we have now.
I think that the performances of Arsenal in recent seasons shows the good and bad sides of Arsene Wenger and his team. On the one hand, to stay in the top 4 with so few top quality players is a great achievement. It says a lot for the team spirit and the coaching set up. On the other hand, for such a big club why are there so few absolute “top of the tree” players? And given how threadbare we are compared to Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool do we really expect to be champions again any time soon? Things have changed since Blackburn won the league. Now the premier League is the best in the world and to win it without top players is just a pipe dream.
join the forum www.goonerforum.com