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The Twisted Logic of Bad Support


Thursday, April 21, 2011 by

Some of the qualities that mark a great player are rather obvious and are largely centred on how he uses the ball when it is in his feet. Other qualities, however, are not that apparent. Strength of character, for instance, falls into this category. With the first, one can achieve some success but that won’t be lasting if there isn’t also the latter.

It might be too much – or perhaps too early – to call Lucas Leiva a great player but, even so, he is perhaps the ideal player to put forward as an example that proves such a claim. No player can be voted as being the best in Brazilian football if there isn’t some obvious talent but for two years Lucas struggled to show that at Liverpool.

It was hardly surprising. This was a young player who had not only moved from a completely different culture but was playing a style of football that was alien to him. The speed with which the ball got moved around along with the little time afforded to anyone having possession of the ball was a shock to his system. What he went through was understandable.

Yet not everyone understood. Shamefully, there were many who constantly picked on Lucas. Good games would be pushed aside whilst bad ones – or even bad spells in otherwise decent performances – would be used as a stick with which to beat him.

Others would have given up and pushed so that one of the many offers that came in for him from across Europe would be accepted. Most would have hidden behind the criticism to claim that any lack of progress was down to the unnecessary pressure being put on him. But, rather than take the easy option Lucas stuck it out, worked hard and has emerged as a fine midfielder; perhaps even more than that.

That much is recognised by the fact that the criticism has stopped. Although, in truth, that’s not the case: it has merely been shifted on to others.

Last summer, Liverpool signed Danny Wilson. A central defender who had impressed hugely at Rangers, he had won the league playing fairly regularly despite being just eighteen years old. There was an acceptance that he would need some time to develop but little doubt about his potential.

Yet, at least there seemed to be that acceptance because patience with him seems to be running low. Little does it matter that when he has been called to play for Liverpool this has been out of position at left back. Much less that, defensively, he has shown that he can play at this level. What matters is his apparent inability to offer anything going forward.

That is where the attention has focused and that is what has led to criticism. So far they haven’t been too audible but the groans that used to welcome Lucas every time he got on to the pitch are now being heard when Wilson gets near the ball.

Not that he’s alone to get this treatment. Up till a couple of months back, there were plenty willing to write off Jay Spearing. This despite him excelling in the reserves and doing reasonably well when given a chance in the first team. No one complained as vociferously as they did with Lucas but that was because he didn’t play anywhere as near much as the Brazilian and also because he was a local player which obviously granted him added leeway.

Now Spearing is proving that what he needed was games to show what he could do. He, like Lucas, had the mental fortitude to keep on working hard to improve despite the criticism that was coming his way. The hope is that Wilson is made of similar stuff.

Yet it shouldn’t be like that. This apparent need to classify a player as good or bad within a handful of games is not only illogical; it is harmful. Some players just aren’t good enough to play for certain clubs but that’s not what’s in play here but rather a perverse desire to find villains to blame. And once they’re identified, there’s hardly anything that they can do to get out of it. From then on they become a very comfortable commodity for those who can then condense every defeat or bad performance to that player’s perceived failing.

Such a failure to recognise that players need time to settle and, much worse, that they are working hard to improve is a myopic attitude that makes a mockery of the phrase supporters, people who’s sole purpose should be that of giving encouragement to their own players and not sucking it out.


Anonymous said...

Great article.Some of our fans would do well to remember a certain Jamie Carragher!Not every player will be a Gerrard or a Owen.

Mia Fiona said...

bingo. I guess as a fan myself, I need to be patience and give the boys support, especially when things went bad. I like this piece :)


Joe said...

Great post (& blog!).

A couple of significant builds on Lucas are that:
* he has been asked to change his game totally at Liverpool; from a marauding free-scoring box-to-box midfeilder to a disciplined water-carrier-type holding midfielder
* both fans & reporters forgot his young age... he was only 20 when he joined our first team

Kudos to him, and best of luck to youngsters like Wilson, Kelly, Pacheco etc who break into the team and get judged on their early performances playing out of position.

Joe said...

Great post (& blog!).

A couple of significant builds on Lucas are that:
* he has been asked to change his game totally at Liverpool; from a marauding free-scoring box-to-box midfeilder to a disciplined water-carrier-type holding midfielder
* both fans & reporters forgot his young age... he was only 20 when he joined our first team

Kudos to him, and best of luck to youngsters like Wilson, Kelly, Pacheco etc who break into the team and get judged on their early performances playing out of position.

Danielle Warren said...

Great post, Paul. I absolutely agree with you. And I'm not going to lie, I was definitely in the camp of people "hating" on Lucas, especially last season as we were so poor compared to the season before. In my eyes, all he ever did was send misplaced passes and receive yellow cards for bad tackles. This season, it's a completely different story and I'm so glad he proved me wrong.

I think there are two issues here. One, there is evidence of other players, at other "top" clubs, who come in with the same circumstances and adapt right away. Unfortunately, this makes everyone think that ALL players should do this or else they are just not good enough. While we know that's not the case, it's so difficult to have patience even when we should as fans. Suarez is a shining example as he has absolutely bedded in better than anyone thought he would, but that doesn't mean everyone else will.

The second issue has more to do with a "once bitten, twice shy" kind of attitude with players. Over the last handful of years, LFC have had a lot of players come through who were talked up and had reputations, only to fail after the team supported them and gave them what they needed: time. I think it can be difficult to keep doing that with new players because we've seen so many flop. I think Babel is a good example. He has so much potential, yet year after year he never quite lived up to it and perhaps there is a feeling that other new players will be the same.

All that being said, I definitely think we all need to be more patient. Every player, especially young players, need time and games to grow in confidence. We have to believe that the manager knows what he's doing when he picks the team and we should trust the players even when they take some time to bed in. My only hope right now is that Aquilani is afforded that same luxury as Hodgson was foolish enough to write him off after one poor season. Sorry for such a longwinded comment, but it's a great topic for discussion!

t.p.l.winstanley said...

Glad I read this piece, another good read with some well made points.
I am a complete Lucas lover and was thrilled when we managed to sign him. That said I have groaned and sighed when mistakes have been made but I have also fought his corner during games where people have all but resigned his career to failure. For me Lucas has been the player of the season, calm, collected, hard working, strong in the tackle (as it were), a team player with the good of Liverpool at his heart. However I think that Suarez will end up with the player of the season accolade from most fans and the more short-sighted members of the press. If this were the case it would raise the need for some way to teach people about football tactically. I think that people need to move away from thinking that goals/assists/clean sheets are the be all and end all of a good player/team. There is far more to the game than that and this is what makes it so compelling. Off the ball matters as much as on the ball, but very few statistics exist to describe this. As a result people cannot quantify the effect of a player such as Lucas. There is the challenge for the stats people to solve.

As for Danny Wilson and Speo, only time will tell, but they have a top class man in charge now who will certainly do their chances no harm. Wilson in particular has the chance to be great, but he will need the chances to play which does bring me to say - with a worried voice - maybe Carra should sit it out for a bit and let Wilson have a crack? If Wilson is one of the next great LFC defenders the the sooner we get him settled the better, realistically Carra cannot go on for more than 2 seasons.

One final prediction before I have to get back to work - Lucas to be LFC captain or VC in the next 5 years...

Buckley said...

Great article and I agree fully. I don't mind frustration, or having real doubts about players, that;s all part of being a fan. But some people simply don't want to give anyone a chance. Jova this season a prime example. He's been permanently tarred with his couple of outings that were, pretty bad in fairness, but in many ways he was never any worse than any number of his team-mates were under Hodgson. He's not really been seen since as i think he might have offered something under Dalglish.

Ben said...

Great post. I've always been a big fan of Lucas (have his name on my shirt) and lots of 'mates' from the pub who were always bashing him now face a situation where their opinions are no longer welcome :)

John said...

Its the problem with the internet age. every Tom, Dick and Harry is allowed to have an opinion and to publish it on an internet forum (or blog :)). This has given rise to the 21st century internet warrior fan who has no respect for the traditions of the club!

Anonymous said...

This is a really good article and definitely should be read by some of the fans (me included about Spearing) who jump on player's backs when they perform badly. But I think that having this criticism might not be the worst thing as well. These players get thousands, millions of pounds a year to play well. If they can't take the criticism then they shouldn't play in such a high pressure league. Maybe Lucas wouldn't have been such a success now if he hadn't had that need to prove himself to the fans. I'm not saying that the players deserve all the criticism they get because they get a mighty lot but them having it might also result in more hardened and hard-working players.