One of the central thrusts of recent posts has been how little of a difference single players make to teams. I’ve currently settled on a range of about -5 to +5 goals per season per player, which doesn’t sound like much but which, really, is about all that makes sense (see previous posts for more).
A nifty example of all this lies with Matt Smith, widely acknowledged as having been a great success with Bristol City this year.
Smith scored 13 in 17 games and his manager at the time was extremely positive about his contribution to the team.
Thing is, while Smith was at Bristol the team averaged 2 goals per game to .8 conceded, and while Smith wasn’t at Bristol the team averaged 2.1 goals per game and .8 conceded.
Pro-rata that over a whole season and you get a +59 goal difference without him and a +54 with him. Both are phenomenal, and I’m not about to suggest that the team were actually better off without him, but the point stands: even at this level of productivity, the team didn’t miss a beat without Smith. They worked as a team, and while he was there Smith was good enough to turn this overall play into tangible results; when he wasn’t someone else was.
(There is some substance to what we might call a ‘launch pad’ theory here: Bristol were good but not superhuman before Smith, got really good with Smith, then were astonishing after he’d left. This is without correcting for opposition, and is skewed by two thrashing late in the season, but those thrashings did happen: you don’t win 8-2 or 6-0 without being a really good team. So.)
This, I think, brings us back to the coaching. A good coach builds a system to the extent that it doesn’t necessarily matter which players are on board on any given day. We saw this with Roy Hodgson, and while few managers build system-based squads to this extent, you need to be some way in this direction if you’re ever going to succeed: managers who insist on keeping on changing personnel, looking for “the right combination” are sometimes, I feel, just deluding themselves. The right combination is always just around the corner, if only the right player can be secured. This is true to a degree, but again we come back to to point we’ve made a few times this week: you need a solid tactical base (you need to put players in a position to succeed!) and solid recruitment.
Fulham need a platform and a profile. It’s become too scattergun, too random. We need to get back an ethos, and build a team around this. This, I feel, is crucial to our bounce-back, if it’s to happen.