Rabu, 6 Julai 2011

Manager or player?


Right now Tottenham hold Chelsea over a barrel for Luka Modric, and Barcelona protest unconvincingly that Cesc Fabregas should join for their price, not Arsenal's. In many ways though, which particular player you sign is immaterial.

Of course, if you replaced Diego Maradona with Darron Gibson, you'd have problems. However, as long as a side ends up signing a player without a corrosive personality and with reasonable talent, then a manager should be able to construct a successful team. Unavoidably - by the nature of the transfer market, players are coveted by more than one club at a time - most sides are full of plan Bs. It's the manager's relationship with his squad that should have you fretting.

An example: Liverpool almost signed Michael Laudrup in the 80s. An outrageously talented and elegant player - missing out on him would surely be a remarkable blow? Nope. Liverpool kept winning, doing just fine with their own, other outrageous talents, overseen by the Boot Room managerial ethos.

When Manchester United's goals dried up as they chased their first Premiership, Sir Alex Ferguson tried to buy David Hirst from Sheffield Wednesday. Despite offering £3 million, a huge sum for the time, he couldn't get him. However, an unexpected call from Howard Wilkinson at Leeds secured Eric Cantona for a little more than £1 million, and the league titles soon followed.

Ferguson again benefited from his hand being forced in 2003, when he planned to replace David Beckham with Ronaldinho. After the Brazilian's capricious fit he decided to settle for Sporting youngster Cristiano Ronaldo instead and can count himself fortunate; while Ronaldinho and Ronaldo are as inherently brilliant as one another, only the Portuguese is committed to winning.

While Chelsea get glued on Modric, there's a threat. It's imperative to rebuild quickly, giving Andre Villas-Boas a full pre-season with his new team, but the problem is Tottenham have a habit of holding out until deadline day to maximise profits. For the Blues, it's not worth the risk. Chelsea need to reinvigorate their side, and Luka Modric is not the only suitable candidate, with Javier Pastore, Marek Hamsik and Wesley Sneijder all easier targets.

They're not exactly the same player as Modric, but are fresh enough to cure the staleness of the squad - the Blues' greatest weakness - and their talent makes them just as effective. It is far better to sort out a squad in time for the season than hold out for a particular player, though there is of course plenty of time in the transfer window yet.

Chelsea should know the benefits of moving on. In 2005, Steven Gerrard was half a hair away from joining them but for a last minute change of heart. True, Gerrard won a Champions League, but that was his last success (no - you can't count the 2006 FA Cup). The rejection clearly didn't bother Chelsea, or the replacement Michael Essien, who won Premier League titles and overtook Gerrard as the finest dynamic midfielder in Europe. Jose Mourinho was still able to shape a team in his image, despite missing out on his first pick.

It is the manager, after all, who makes a football team. Mourinho wins titles and it's almost irrelevant which teams it's done with. His template is so successful it has been implemented at Chelsea, Inter and Porto already. The manager designs success, players are simply his instruments for achieving it.

There's more weight to the argument. Imagine Ferguson at Chelsea, Arsenal or Manchester City last year. The Premier League was not decided by a gulf in class - it was instead a matter of an intelligent use of resources and of getting the best out of evenly-matched squads. Given Ferguson's genius, a convincing argument has been made that if he was in charge of any of the other sides in the race for the title, then they would have been the club to succeed.

All four of the sides have coveted one of their opponents' players at one point or another, yet all still manage to attain almost the same level of performance. It is the manager who separates the clubs. The focus should not be on signing individuals (unless they're called Lionel Messi) but maintaining a functioning squad. In the days of rotation, this becomes ever more important.

Arsene Wenger proves the same point. He deserves all the criticism he gets for not steeling his side with experience, but he has consistently achieved top four finishes, avoiding chasing the usual transfer suspects in doing so. He doesn't get fixated with players that require a lengthy wrangle and a typical Wenger signing comes with minimal fuss.

Barcelona, the club trying to take Arsenal's captain away, should also be commended as they make other plans; the Catalans will stick to their valuation of Fabregas, aware that other players, such as Giuseppe Rossi and Alexis Sanchez, are available. While Rossi and Sanchez don't play in the same position as Fabregas, the key is that Barcelona's squad retains a reasonable balance - all positions are covered without obvious weak links.

The problem comes not when you miss out on a particular player, but when you miss out on a particular position entirely. Manchester United need a central midfielder, and at this stage of the transfer window look to be making little headway. Similarly, Arsenal have not made any concrete offers for a defender. Fans can obsess over Modric or Samba, but it doesn't make much more than a smudge of difference. When you fail to sign a player, you switch targets, and a reliable manager will form a coherent squad and exploit their abilities. When you fail to provide for a particular position, these are the real concerns for a fan, and just as importantly, a club.

source: http://soccernet.espn.go.com/columns/story/_/id/931122/alexander-netherton:-managers-maketh-a-successful-team?cc=4716

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