Deep in the foothills of Whistler, where I’m writing this, many an arm and a leg are broken on a regular basis. People push their bodies to the limit for sports until they can take no more. It leads me to think about how grueling a full season can be for a player in the most physically intense league in the world – the English Premier League – at the highest level week-in and week-out. It’s one thing to max out an individual performance, but how about doing it against another player at his physical peak? That is what separates the men from the boys.
I’ve thought a lot about whether or not it’s worth breaking the bank to buy multiple world class players in each position. Surely having a strong squad on paper alone won’t necessarily get you a result on a “rainy day away at Stoke” (especially after the Shaqiri deal).
For a squad to mitigate the risk associated with injuries to key players, many players are pumped into a team to cover for each position. This creates positional competition and pushes each player to train hard and not slack off. This also means that if there is an injury, there is an able-bodied replacement lurking on the bench just waiting for a start. The squads who can afford two or maybe even three world class players in each position are the ones competing for the top spots.
Resources are plentiful for these squads and they can do more-or-less what they want in the transfer market, but there comes a point where the harmony of a squad becomes a risk with too many world class players battling it out for playing time. Players want to get minutes and win trophies and be a part of their national side for big tournaments. Management wants to keep a winning team playing as much as possible. Would you risk the harmony of your players to have the comfort of having a quality 25-man squad on paper? A disgruntled sub surely wouldn’t perform as well as your 20-goal per season started who just picked up a knock. What good is it then to have the best squad on paper? I firmly believe that having an average player who is highly motivated is more effective than having a quality player who is demoralized.
Injuries to key players
Imagine that your star striker has scored in the past six games, and now picks up a knock… that’s a big deal because even though you may have a quality replacement on paper, this player isn’t match fit and the goals will not be scored the same way. The balance of play will be upset. A team on a five game win streak with an injury to a player in red hot form is set for a rough patch…it doesn’t matter who steps up to take the mantle. You may now be thinking about super-subs. This is exactly the type of player that a team needs in this situation, not some high flying diva who thinks it is his divine right to play 90 minutes every match. Super-subs, however, are not great starters, hence them more regularly coming off the bench. Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was the perfect example. This is the million, even billion dollar balance that managers are looking for in today’s game. Look over the course of this season and notice which squad performs the most harmoniously, and I’ll bet you that missing a core player will upset their balance entirely.
Longevity of the core players to a team will be the deciding factor for how teams perform. Don’t sign three world class players for a position. Even if there are quotas to fill, that can be done easily and cheaply with alternative options. Is this really news? I’ll give you one example – Asier Del Horno won the league with Chelsea in Mourinho’s first stint (in arguably the finest Chelsea side ever seen). Yet he was garbage outside of that environment. An average player with a high level of motivation right there! Case and point surely? Over the years, Sir Alex Ferguson used countless average squad players but motivated them to perform at a title-winning level. Think of Fortune, Brown, O’Shea, Park and Fletcher to name but a few. Which is the team in the Premier League today with the best balance of players? I’ll let that one simmer in your minds for a while.