Looking over the latest Whoscored.com data for the Man City game, I noted with interest that Bryan Ruiz was rated as our Man of the Match, largely based on the fact that he had more of the ball than anyone else, used it quite well, had a couple of shots, made a couple of interceptions, and generally acquitted himself decently in a tough match.
This means that he’s behind only Berbatov in the website’s ratings over the season.
It made me question something we hear a bit, that Ruiz is a ‘luxury’ player. I think this is not a new term. I first came across it being used about Glenn Hoddle, Matt Le Tissier, too.
What does it mean?
My reading is that football is a team game and that when teams attack individual contributions are quite obvious. But when teams defend it’s all about the collective. If a player contributes one way, but not the other, he’s doing the flashy stuff that attracts attention, but not the dirty work that really matters. Hence luxury.
Now this is a questionable definition and it’s a questionable subject matter. England’s teams in the 80s and 90s were generally pretty good. Sometimes very good. But probably not so good that we could afford to leave out players as gifted as Hoddle and Le Tissier (I remember Hoddle, when he was England manager, scheduled an England B game before selecting his squad. Le Tissier got a hat-trick, but wasn’t picked in the squad, which makes you wonder exactly what Hoddle was looking for, and why he picked Le Tiss in the B Squad in the first place). Le Tissier in particular could do things with a football that needed to be seen to be believed, and year upon year he kept Saints in the top division on the back of these extraordinary moments of genius. It wasn’t just the occasional moment, he simply kept pulling rabbits out of the hat. There was a video at the time: Matt Le Tissier, Ubelievable! And honestly, it was. Not in a Rodney Marsh show-pony type way either, Le Tissier was legitimately useful. Goals, goals, goals.
But he was a luxury player and we never did work out how to fit him into the England team.
Ruiz suffers a bit from the term but such criticisms miss the point entirely. A) he is making useful contributions to the team when we have the ball. B) he’s not a great defender but he does try, and often that’s enough. Just get in the way for a bit, cover, contribute to the team’s shape, then do your thing when we win it back.
I don’t know what more we expect. A goal would be nice but he’ll get there sooner or later. He’s already creating chances for others, too. And he does his bit defensively, given the position he’s playing. He isn’t a luxury player at all.
On the defending thing, City’s first goal was a good example of the type of thing we’re vulnerable to now with our new attacking approach. Under Hodgson we were always very controlled in our attacks, mindful of what might happen when we lost the ball even while we had it. This meant that when we lost the ball our team could transition to defence quickly, and helped to keep games tight. It also limited our attacking options, as getting men ahead of the ball creates space and openings (for both teams). All this partly explains how Clint Dempsey leapt up to 23 goals in a season last year.
Anyway, Hugo Rodallega got caught upfield and initially started to jog back. By the time he realised that there was trouble afoot it was too late, Tevez wandered unchallenged for too long, got off a shot that eventually got turned in by Aguero. It was a bit annoying because the move unfolded in a sort of slow motion in my eyes, danger growing, Rodallega jogging, goal scoring. It felt like someone might have been there to block Tevez, although we must accept that Silva/Aguero/Tevez were making the defence nervous about over committing, resulting in some of the backing off we saw. But mainly it was Tevez running straight through where Rodallega would’ve been had he been back. And I think he could’ve been back.