At some point in life we all need a hand, and we all need to be saved. Sometimes from a bad situation that we’ve gotten into by no fault of our own. Sometimes we need to be saved from the bad decisions that we made, decisions we hope to never repeat again.
In football many things can lead us on this path; injuries can stunt a career, chasing money instead of being patient, believing in the wrong clubs or even having the wrong agent. Luckily there’s always a way to be saved, the hard work has to come from the player though. If the player doesn’t realize they need to be saved then nothing can be done for them.
Save me from being played out of position!
This is particularly common when a team doesn’t have a specialist for a particular position and they look for the most versatile player they can think of to plug that gap. The problem is really highlighted when a manager thinks that a player is a lot more versatile than he really is or even really wants to be. Take the case of Javier Pastore, the first mega signing from neuveau-riche Paris Saint Germain. He was bought as a number 10 and was magnificent in his first season. Pastore scored 16 goals, contributing 8 assists while playing in his preferred position behind the striker. Then PSG really started to flex their muscle and bought a slew of attack minded players causing both Ancelotti and Blanc to shift the Argentine to the wings. Pastore has even been deployed as a deep lying play maker, none to the desired effect. Now Pastore finds himself marginalized and his career is at a cross roads. A player like Pastore needs to realize that he can be of great value to a club that allows him to play in his natural position. He is on a large wage packet but in order to save himself he will likely need to take a pay cut and move to club perhaps a level below PSG where he can be guaranteed first team football. He will need to swallow his pride and accept that his time in Paris is over. Perhaps a move to Inter Milan who would welcome him back to Italy with open arms could be his way back to club and national stardom. Wayne Rooney of Manchester United nearly fell into this category as Sir Alex Ferguson began deploying him in the middle of the park and on the wings but since Fergie’s retirement, Moyes has reversed this trend, saving Rooney from torment and frustration, at least for now.
I’m a God at this team how dare you drop me (even if there’s someone better)!
Some players think they are untouchable. Many see this as pure arrogance. I don’t share in this line of thinking in any way. Some players have earned the right to feel like Gods among men, especially when they haven’t lost their form. This is the story of Iker Casillas, or is it? Many thought Mourinho dropping Casillas was ludicrous and perhaps even sinful, however Carlo Ancelotti has backed up that decision and Iker is on the outside looking in. Now Iker has a choice to make, stay at this fantastic club for whom he has given his whole life and for whom he is adored or admit he’s not as good as the guy in front of him. In Iker’s case there is still time to prove himself at Madrid, but at 32 a goalkeeper’s job is nowhere near done. Casillas may need to move on from his Madrid dream to avoid stagnation if Diego Lopez continues to keep him out of the team.Not many clubs will be able to match the wages he is earning at Real Madrid so Casillas may have to determine what’s more important, money or the joy of playing. Only then can he be saved. A club like Arsenal only gives players over 30 one year contracts to avoid such a situation. If a player like Casillas were at Arsenal it would easy for the club to move him if needed and easy for the player to move if he was in the same situation there.
You bought me, now you’re gone?!
No two managers think the same way. Therefore no two managers will want to necessarily use the same players. I don’t believe it’s always a difference in opinion in regard to a player’s quality or lack thereof. In most cases it’s a matter of a player not fitting into a manager’s philosophy or style of play. Promises may have been made by one manager that another has no intention of upholding. In many ways I think this is the biggest problem for players and why so many players fall by the wayside and end up lost in the doldrums.
The best current example of this is Manchester United’s Shinji Kagawa. Loved and adored by Sir Alex Ferguson who bought him to play under the striker (until he bought Robin Van Persie that is). Ferguson felt that he had to accommodate the playmaker in some way, even deploying him on the left. Though Kagawa performed admirably as a winger, it wasn’t his preferred position. Ferguson was determined to have Kagawa in his starting 11 and before the end of the season promised “the boy will be even better in his second season.” Unfortunately for Kagawa, David Moyes doesn’t share this sentiment. Kagawa has hardly played for United this season. What is stranger is that in both starts he has had he has been quite good. Maybe it’s the insistence on playing Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney as a forward two or maybe it’s the emergence of Adnan Januzaj. Whatever the reason, a man favoured by a legend has been ignored by the successor, a case in football that is not at all uncommon. Another United player feeling this way is Javier Hernandez. Though he wasn’t a starter for United he made numerous appearances in cup games, champions league and even in the league as a sub. It’s safe to say that the little mexican has made a major contribution to the United cause. Like Kagawa, Moyes just doesn’t see what Fergie saw in Hernandez and this might be final season in Manchester for both men.
Don’t follow the money, let the money follow you
Some players move to clubs because they feel the club can advance their careers and make them better players. Some players like Hulk have moved to teams solely for the pay package they can receive. Players like Hulk and Eto’o moved to Russia knowing two key things: 1) They will be paid ridiculous amounts of money. 2)They will play in every single game. Some players move for the money and think they are better than they really are. They think they are worth the pay check when in reality it may not be the case. Take Emmanuel Adebayor for example. The Togolese striker left Arsenal for the cash-rich Manchester City and his career has been in a downward spiral ever since. Now Adebayor for whom so much was promised can’t even make the Tottenham bench. Samir Nasri is another one that comes to mind. He had a choice, move to Manchester United, wear the number 7 jersey and have a team built around him with a slightly lower pay package OR go to City, earn a killing and struggle to usurp David Silva who plays in your position. As it turns out Nasri’s City career has been a disaster. He’s never played in his true position and now he finds himself on the bench, watching from afar. He truly is a shadow of the player who took Arsenal by storm when Cesc Fabregas left. The goal below is proof his quality, which you just won’t see any more.
The only way back to footballing relevance for a player Nasri is to move to another team. Forego the huge wages you currently earn, perhaps go to a Roma or AC Milan where you can be the focal point of the team and regain that love of the game. Otherwise it’s obscurity for players like Nasri and Adebayor.
How can I be a great player if you don’t let me develop?
One thing that clubs don’t do much of anymore is nurture youth players. Some do it better than others, like Barcelona while clubs like Madrid take loans out to buy the Gareth Bale’s of this world. Bayern Munich were somewhere in the middle, grooming youth while buying quality when necessary. When Bayern bought Xherdan Shaqiri the whole world knew the Bavarians had a star on their hands. The type of star that a little polishing would turn into an unstoppable weapon. In recent years patience has not been Bayern’s philosophy. Guardiola bought Mario Goetze and Thiago Alcantara causing Shaqiri to be on the periphery of things. Shaqiri has done nothing wrong and when called upon he has done well. He just isn’t that high profile player that Guardiola craves and relies on. The only way forward for Shaqiri is to move to a team that will allow him to flourish. A team like Arsenal who need a player of his quality and in his position would turn him into a star. Whether Shaqiri sees that or not will be vital to his salvation.
To sum this whole thing up, any player can be saved, they just need to have the right people around them to guide their decisions. They need to be reflective and humble and in most cases, the love of the game needs to come before the love of the wallet. When all these guys have retired they will be rich, how much richer than the other won’t matter. The only thing that will matter is how they are remembered. Will they save themselves and become legends or will they wither away into irrelevance?