How much do individual players matter?

This thought springs from a comment Tony Gilroy made at Friends of Fulham.  It really is a team game, so most praise and criticism of individuals needs to be seen within that context.

Remember Juventus?  Our midfield that day:  Duff-Baird-Etuhu-Davies

There was a game at Spurs a couple of years ago.  Hangeland was ill at the last minute, so Chris Baird (pre-Bairdinho) stepped in at centre-back.   No worries; 0-0 (and £45 for me, £5 at 9-1).

Look at Manchester United, who will win the league despite playing teams like: vds, O’Shea, Smalling, Evans, Evra, Fletcher, Scholes, Gibson, Nani, Rooney, Hernandez (and Berbatov – the league’s top scorer).    That’s a team at work there.

Teamwork is the missing link; it’s what Hodgson’s coaching gave the team and allowed it to over-achieve.  It’s what occasionally seems to be lacking in Hughes’ less rigid approach (although we must always remember that Hodgson wasn’t great without Zamora either).

Which players in the Fulham side have the magic mojo to make those around them better?  Which are important players but who don’t necessarily raise the game of others?

4 thoughts on “How much do individual players matter?

  1. Man Utd’s whole run over the last twenty years has been about the team. Yes they have had great players but one leaves and is then replaced. look at how well Smalling has done, he has just slotted in to place.
    Last season we had a system and players knew what they had to do, no matter if they had to play up front, on the wing or at LB. All of them to a man knew what the player in that position had to do.
    But saying all that if a player fails to do his job in the team, he gets the criticism and likewise if they do well the praise.
    A player wins player of the season/goal of the month or man of the match.
    A team wins trophys & matches

  2. In defending Etuhu I’ve frequently said that his role is (or was under Hodgson) to block the approach to our central defence. If he wins the ball he passes it instantly to the nearest available midfielder. If not he forces the opposition wide and retreats to be an auxiliary central defender. He should not be criticised for not doing anything other than that.

    I said that so often that I bored even myself and just once was met with the entirely reasonable response – how do you know? were you at the team meetings?

    That I think is the crucial point. Unless we know how the team is required to play how can we know how well or badly individuals perform within that framework.

    Take Bullard. He would do wonderful game winning things and sometimes go missing when the opposition took up goal scoring positions and we assumed that he drove Hodgson to distraction by ignoring his instructions. In what way did he play well or badly if (and it is an if) he ignored orders and made it harder for teammates. Well if we won and badly if we didn’t?

    At Everton the midfield couldn’t get or use meaningful possession. I don’t know why. The team plan may have been wrong or they all had a bad day or Everton were just too good. It clearly didn’t work but I don’t see how it can be assumed that Etuhu, say, played badly whereas Dempsey, say, didn’t. His role changed and he scored. Does that redeem the poor first half display for him but not his colleagues?

    Dembele is now being criticised for going down dead ends. No end product. What I see is a guy moving the ball forward and being crowded out. Is he unable to know how and when to release the ball or are other players failing to offer him the correct outlet at the right time?

    Murphy and Etuhu (again) get criticised sometimes for poor passing. Rich regularly gives statistics which show that not to be the case and maybe the invariable accuracy of the passing shows up the mistakes. Murphy’s certainly stand out for me because they’re unexpected. Maybe though a “bad” pass seems to be that because the player who should have been in position to receive it went missing.

    We probably wouldn’t understand the game plan if Mark Hughes spent an hour patiently trying to explain it to us. Without even knowing the plan it seems weird to me to judge each player carefully with marks out of 10.

    1. Last year Hangeland and Hughes hardly had to tackle. I haven’t got the numbers, but this year it seems like they do a lot more of this, simply because they don’t have the protection. It’s not making too much of a difference to results (if the effect is even there), which suggests that Hodgson was prone to taking safety too far.

      There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Etuhu played according to very strict instructions under Hodgson. Based on all I read about Hodgson’s philosophy of coaching, based on a number of sources, he was very prescriptive of what his players should do. This got laughed at on TiFF but I stand by it. The fact that WBA are already weaving the same sort of passing patterns Fulham did, and the fact that the Guardian’s Secret Footballer recently compared top level football to chess, with a series of pre-rehearsed passing moves, suggests that there’s a something to this.

      Hodgson’s attempts to make Liverpool’s players do this didn’t work (as might have been expected in hindsight), but his ability to take below-average/fringe players and get them working in a strong team was phenomenal. Etuhu seems to miss that sort of instruction as his performances this season do seem to have dipped, but this could be injuries, having a small child (same for Dempsey?), or even a lack of clear instruction from Hughes as to what he should be doing (whcih seems unlikely).

      All of which is to say, yes, I agree…

  3. You’re both so absolutely correct that my head hurts!! We will never know if the flat first half on Saturday was due to poor performance or conservative coaching. How could we rate individuals (especially Dembele) without knowing the overall strategy?

    Until we hire Maradonna or Gus Hansen, I wouldn’t put it past any Fulham manager to play for 1 point on the road, including our current Sphinx.

    If we went to Everton and played shy, what will happen in Manchester April 9?

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