The above is a quote about something that has been on the back of my mind for a while. I love the fact that there is still football to watch. I am sure that without it the series of lockdowns and tiers would have been a lot worse for a lot of people. But as much as I am glad it has not been cancelled; I find it soulless without a live crowd watching it. I find it difficult to get too excited by it. I’m also pretty sure that it has had a huge effect on the results of the matches so far.
Soccer AM does a section where players talk frankly about their teammates. When asked whom the best players in training are, it is often a player that you would not expect. This idea is transferable to all levels of football. I am sure everyone who has played football has played with someone who looks like a million dollars in training and often two bob in a game. I saw an article on Vinny Samways on Facebook where he was described as workmanlike. I remember Peter Shreeves dropping him in the Winter and telling him it was the because the heavy pitches didn’t suit him. He was christened Vinny Sideways by the Tottenham fans due to a distinct lack of ambition when in possession of the ball. Vinny Samways was in fact one of the most talented players I have ever seen. He was a clever passer, a good finisher and appeared to run quicker with the ball than without. In training and in the reserve games, he was the best player on the pitch week in week out. Why did he fail to produce this form on the biggest stage? In my opinion it was the crowd. If he gave it away trying something difficult they got on his back. So instead he took the easy option. Players like Gazza and Chris Waddle would just shrug it off. They could give it away five times on the spin, but still do what they felt was right. The mark of a truly great player. It is why I consider Maradona the best player in my lifetime. The bigger the occasion the more he stepped up. I have no doubt that Messi is a better footballer than Ronaldo, but Ronaldo has consistently stepped up on the big occasion. Messi, particularly in recent years has not. I feel that history may place Ronaldo as the greater player of the two.
It may seem like I digress but let me explain my ramblings! This year, without a crowd, lesser players are flourishing. The very top players are often the very best because of their mentality. Think Gazza and Waddle. Now the gap has been shortened. Without a crowd affecting their confidence and decisions lesser players are taking advantage. Shortening the gap between them and the very top players. I honestly believe the best players feed off the pressure of a crowd, rising to the occasion. There are some grounds where the fans really feel like the extra man. It is why any team can beat any team this year. With the exception of Sheffield United!
Not that it is all bad. The development of some players might be enhanced without the pressure cooker of a crowd. I wonder how the Samways of the world might have faired this season. Given a chance to show their true worth. Has the future careers of many players been changed for ever by the virus? Free of the shackles able to do what they want without the fear of feeling the wrath of the supporters.
As an aside I also blame coaches and managers for the waste of talents like Vinny Samways. Too many are happy when a player keeps the ball rather than risk losing possession. I remember Rooney when he first burst on the scene being unpredictable, capable of moments of brilliance. I have always thought he was overcoached, turned into a safer tamer version of himself. A problem in English football for years. Chris Waddle thinks that children should be allowed to dribble, learn for themselves by their mistakes. Too many young players are told to just play the easy pass. Every week I see players receive the ball one on one against their defender with space in behind and they turn back playing an easy safe option. Joe Cole is another name that springs to mind. The truly great players never take a step backwards.