There are those players who conjure up the most superlative of descriptive adjectives when they are discussed – think of Kaka and immediately words that spring forth include “graceful”, “elegant” and “composed”. Journalists, broadcasters and pundits have almost run out of words to describe Lionel Messi, so prodigious is his talent – some descriptions include “mercurial”, “amazing” and “outstanding”, with Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola going as far as saying “there are no adjectives to describe Messi”. Cristiano Ronaldo conjures up “talented” and “arrogant” and Didier Drogba makes one think of “skilful” and “powerful”. These players invariably increase the level of excitement felt by the team’s supporters and fans when the team line-ups are announced.
And then there are those other players who don’t elicit the use of the type of adjectives illustrated above. They do have a lot of adjectives used to describe them, but they are not typically of the complimentary variety. The players I shall describe often get a mixed reaction from the fans – some people hoping that the player will put in a good performance and justify the manager’s faith in him, others just wishing that the player could be sold off and replaced with a better and more talented option.
One such player, in my opinion, is Liverpool FC midfielder Maximiliano Rodriguez who I think is best described as “underwhelming” or “disinterested”. Now I know he is an Argentine international and is well regarded for his good dribbling ability, footballing intelligence and great technique – the problem that I have with him is that since his arrival at Liverpool I do not think I have seen all of those qualities in more than one consecutive game of football. The elements of his game that I have seen consistently are an awful first touch, a lack of physical strength and an ability to go to ground (like a extra in Apocalypse Now) at the slightest hint of physical contact from an opponent. Although that accounts for some of the ire I have towards him, I do believe the main thing that irritates me about his time on the pitch is his body language, which seems to indicate a lack of spirit and hunger.
Another player from a different team who brings out the worst in any supporter’s or fan’s dialogue is Abou Diaby, also known by his nickname “Diabolical” due to the large number of unforced errors in his performances. When he was brought to Arsenal by Arsene Wenger, there was a lot of talk about the “new Patrick Vieira” as he was rumoured to be a tall, powerful and skilful box-to-box midfielder. Unfortunately, the resemblances started and ended with the fact they are both tall and French and the player has come in for a lot of criticism as he seems to lack heart and commitment to the Arsenal cause.
The Manchester United whipping boy of the moment would appear to be Darron Gibson. Certain supporters seem to have it in for the Republic of Ireland player who is often described as “lazy”, “inept” or “pointless”. Gibson certainly has some qualities that made Alex Ferguson offer him a contract, including a thunderbolt of a shot, decent passing ability and an ability to carry the ball with his head up. Some of the criticism levelled against him appears to be somewhat over the top given the fact that he is not a regular starter for the club and can be considered a squad player. Gibson added more fuel to the fire with his decision to join Twitter and then abruptly quit the site two hours later, having been subjected to barrage of abuse from his own “fans”.
Perhaps the biggest challenge that the players described above have to contend with is simply the weight of expectation at the clubs they play for. Although Liverpool have fallen away significantly from the highs of the 70’s and 80’s, their fan base still demands and expects the club to sign superstars who perform consistently at the highest level. Similarly, Arsenal and Manchester United are both clubs that have succeeded in the Premier League and in Europe in the recent past and there does certainly appear to be a lot of pressure for the players of both clubs to play high quality football on a regular basis.
Another possible reason for the lack of consistency of some players could simply be a lack of mental strength and fortitude that has become extremely important in the modern professional game. Strikers are most renowned for suffering from a lack of confidence which, in turn, leads to less goals as the pressure increases with each non-scoring match completed. In a similar manner, the players described above seem to almost freeze or panic when given a run-out in the first team.
Unfortunately, for every wunderkind like Cesc Fabregas and Wayne Rooney there is a decent footballer who falls by the wayside in that he fails to deliver to the high standards demanded by fans and pundits alike. However, not all hope is lost for the likes of Rodriguez, Diaby and Gibson – players such as Duncan Fletcher and Lucas Leiva have managed to redeem themselves in the eyes of the supporters and although they may not be superstars, can at least be thought of affectionately.
Who is your not-so-favourite player in your team?