Simple is special
The beautiful game is made up of small intricacies and little details that despite their importance, often go unnoticed to the spectators. The supporters and the media are too often caught up in the cult of the personality and look for that ‘special’ player to exalt. The focus is on the Lionel Messis and Cristiano Ronaldos and less so on the likes of Sergio Busquests.
But managers, who know their players better and how their teams are set up, are given to having a different interpretation of what a ‘ special’ player is. Perhaps the fault is in ourselves that when the word ‘special’ is used in relation to a player, we are more likely to think of such player as being skillful, having flair and scoring outrageous goals.
Over time, however this writer has come to recognize that there is another special player- the simple special player. Simple but effective, simple and smart, simple and efficient. Yes, you read it right and here, some simplicity is special. The game’s two vital elements in my view, are space and speed. In a football match one has an area of space to defend, as an individual and as a collective. The speed at which one executes what he does: when to make a pass, to hold or who to pass to in the blink of an eye, at most have a telling effect on the game.
There are some players who seem to not be there but are always there: your Sergio Busquets and Michael Carrick; the invisible men. There are very few who would call Carrick a special player. He is slow of pace, rarely scores a goal, has never gone on a slalom run and at 34 gets limited game time. But for all his snail’s pace, his mind is razor sharp.
The ability to move a bit to the side to cover a marauding full back or anticipate where a pass will be made and calmly take it without a full bloodied tackle that gets fans baying for blood, the simple pass. That there: a sharp football brain is a trait even some highly regarded players are lacking. It is in my view, the single greatest trait a footballer can have. Speed is lethal but there are countless players who are blessed with such but little or no end product and a very limited game awareness. Some rely on brute strength but lack the smarts to know when to use such and often make costly mistakes.
The hardest thing to do in football is to do the simple things. It is ironic however that the players who play it simple are often overlooked. The fans are mad for a ‘Hollywood’ pass; that raking 40m pass across the pitch as opposed to a shorter one and a mazy dribble will grab the headlines over a team goal. Growing up I used to overlook guys like Claude Makelele and Gilberto Silva.
My friends and I were mad about the likes of Denilson, Ronaldo and all those Brazilian dribbling wizards who could make the ball talk, walk and listen to their orders. Only later did I realize how indispensable the former players were. They were special. It might not be the special that tickles our fans because we have come to construe simplicity as dull, boring, lifeless and insipid. We disregard more important matters? The player’s ability to keep the ball moving, to create a platform for his teammates to thrive, how he is the first to press high up the pitch or go deep or generally set the tempo for the team to gain positive results.
Arguably for most youngsters the dream and lure of being the next superstar often means they think standing out from the rest of the competition has little to do with playing it simple. Simple in this context must be distinguished from playing it safe. For youngsters, arguably, they want to be that one skillful player who leaves defenders trailing in his wake and even managers sometimes overlook the simple player; the case of Arsenal’s Alex Iwobi being a case in point. Had it not been for the intervention of Arsene Wenger in noting that his seemingly passable talent ought to be looked at critically, he would have been one of those who got away. And there are many who have gotten away even locally because in the view of the managers they weren’t anything special.
Perhaps it is time the ‘simple club’ gets some recognition and how much more they bring to the game.