An unfair criticism often levelled at football clubs

A one-man team, it’s a criticism often levelled at clubs; but is there such a thing? Teams such as Arsenal’s current squad are just one example of a club being perhaps over reliant on the performance of one individual player. Similarly Liverpool have, in the past, been subjected to accusations that without Steven Gerrard their performances would have been nowhere near the standard they were. However when perpetrating this sort of evaluation of a team it is easy to get confused between having a team centred around the abilities of one player and a team being exclusively dependant upon that individual.

Team mates

Even if you were to ignore the obvious existential problems of a team consisting of only one man I still think you would have problems showing me a team that was genuinely powered solely by one man. Even a team who relied on one particular person for their goals, for example, would only be competently reliant on that man if he scored all of these goals without the help of his team mates. For example if all of Arsenal’s goals for the season consisted of Robin van Persie dribbling the ball past every opposition player without passing to anybody before slotting the ball in to the back of the net. Then, yes, Arsenal would be a one man team.

Nobody is doubting that Arsenal are over reliant on the goals from their captain but to accuse them of being a ‘one man team’ is disrespecting the performances of the rest of the squad. The talismanic Dutchman has himself come out publicly in his admiration for the performances of team mates such as Szczesny, Vermaelen, Walcott and Song recently and admitted that his form is only as good as it is because of those around him. Similarly at the unveiling of Thierry Henry’s statue outside The Emirates Henry echoed the Arsenal captain’s words as he thanked each and every member of the Arsenal team during their invincible season for the way they helped him reach his potential.

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Similarly when Liverpool were being accused of being over-reliant on Steven Gerrard he was full of praise for his midfield partners: Javier Mascherano and Xabi Alonso. Each of them played their roles and it was only because of how effective the other two were that Gerrard was able to perform to the standard that he did.

Can’t tell until they’re gone

The problem with arguments about the effectiveness and importance of an individual is that you can’t really prove anything until one member of the team leaves. Take for example when Xabi Alonso left Liverpool, suddenly it looked as though Alonso had been there most important player and not Gerrard. Or you can look at when Thierry Henry left Arsenal. In his final season everyone had said that without the Frenchman Arsenal would have been in serious trouble. However their next season was in fact the closest they have come to winning the title since 2004.

What this shows us is not necessarily the importance that such a player has on a team but what effect they have on their team mates. When the best player leaves a club sometimes other players up their game and fill that person’s boots, as Adebayor and van Persie did for Arsenal that season, and sometimes the players fail to adapt and new players are needed.

You cannot assess the importance of any player or manager until they are gone. However important they may seem to be for your club, every player’s form is a reflection of those players around them and just because a manager might play to the strengths of a particular team that doesn’t necessarily make them a ‘one man team’. It may well be a tactical decision to use a squad to get the best out of a player that is clearly the most important player on the team. By that reckoning were said team to lose that player they would be able to adapt their tactics to suit the strengths of others. I’m not saying that certain teams aren’t over reliant on particular players but what I will say is that whenever I hear a fan accusing another fan’s team of being a ‘one man team’ I take it as a sign of jealousy that they don’t have that player.

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