Wednesday, June 15, 2011 by Paul Grech
There's nothing as brutal as a football forum during the summer.
Sign Brad Friedel as a back-up to Pepe Reina? Well, why bother, he was "garbage the first time round"? A promising midfielder like Jordan Henderson? "£13M ++ for a youngster who can 'do a job' sounds a bit steep.." Or someone like Connor Wickham? "Seen him play twice. Did f**k all in both games." Scott Dann? "FFS. What is it about managers trying to show us how clever they are in the transfer market. Is he better than Agger or Kelly?" As for Stewart Downing,well he's "average, one paced, very little ability to beat a full back". Yes, those are actual quotes picked off a couple of fora. And, no, they weren't the most viscous.
It goes on and on. Invariably there are those for whom nothing bar players of established repute are good enough. Anything else is immediately criticized and hacked to pieces. As are those who express diverging views, particularly anyone trying to inject a dose of realism.
Whilst the underlying sentiment might be reasonable enough - far too often in recent seasons Liverpool fans have tried to reassure themselves that the players being bought were good enough (Paul Konchesky was portrayed as being a good option) - it is the vehemency and absoluteness with which the verdicts are delivered that amuses. Players of whom, realistically, only occasional games have been seen are nevertheless criticised because they failed to win the game singlehandedly. Or because they weren't as involved as anticipated. Or because, quite simply, they failed to control a pass or two.
Factors like the level of opposition faced, the atmosphere round the game or whether the player was fully fit don't even register.
Strangely, foreign players seem to be excluded by this viscous criticism. Juan Mata or Mahmadou Sakho are praised and deemed as being potentially excellent buys which is reasonable enough because both are exceptional prospects. But then you add in someone like Roma goalkeeper Alexandre Doni, who is far less reliable than Friedel, and barely a peep.
Regardless of nationality issues, this is a mentality that is partly a by-product of Football Manager and other management simulation games. There the qualities of a player are nicely laid out with numbers that determine whether he is good or not. Easy as that. So why should real life be any different? A player is either good or crap; no in-betweens or exceptions.
Of course that isn't the case. You have to see where each player fits in and not just what his play is like. Is he going to accept being a squad player, what sort of impact will his wages make, is there potential for him to develop, how does he fit in with the style of play that the club wants to develop, does he bring to the side an element of play that others haven't?
These are all questions that have to be asked before a player is bought. They are all points that those close to the deal will have reflected on. The real objective for them is to build a squad that has the right blend of talent, tactical intelligence, patience and determination. And they try to do this by working within certain parameters such as which players actually want to join the club, whether their club is willing to sell and how much money is available.
It is nice for fans to fantasize a bit about which players they'd like to see. Yet there is a big difference between dreaming of players you'd like to see and presenting them as the only acceptable option.
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