Sunday, 9 May 2010

Still not a real team

509 words. Estimated reading time: 2 minutes

As our season finally drew to a close today with its simplest win, over Fulham, the immediate over-riding thought is that while we possess lots of talented footballing technicians, they aren’t a true team.

One of the greatest achievements of the Invincibles generation, beyond the silverware, was that they appeared to become proper teammates. Here was a group of professional footballers brought together from around the world to north London and they managed - despite the disparate backgrounds, cultures and languages - to form a pretty solid collective that, for the most part, wanted to support each other.

Ever since that group was broken up, there has never been that same sense of togetherness. It always strikes me during television close ups how little our players seem to be talking to each other, cajoling and encouraging them, or giving a rollicking when it’s needed. Are they all just introverted or do they just not get on with each other?

The age factor is an issue. Teenagers and players in their early 20s aren’t likely to possess the character to dominate or inspire a team, unless they are a rare breed like a young Tony Adams or John Terry. If there was more experience in the side you could imagine them being able to pull the group together and lead it forwards.

Where's the never-say-die attitude?

There is inevitably also a lack of the spirit you associate with the English game that even the Invincibles were infused with. As much as they were an international bunch, the presence of Keown, Parlour and Cole offered a foundation of never-say-die attitude that is lacking from the current side which has only one regular English starter.

But more than the age and a lack of Brits, it is the character of the players Wenger has gathered together which means they struggle to realise their full potential.

It needs a variety of personalities to create that unique mix which forms a title-winning team, and it should include people who will fight for you and people you want to fight for. How many of the current squad do you expect to back up their colleagues when tackles start flying in and some steel is needed? Not many would enjoy being nastier than their opponents, a quality that is often needed more than pure technique when trying to become number 1.

Technical v mental qualities

The problem lies in Wenger putting players’ technical ability and statistical performance ahead of their personality (and so we stick with Denilson ahead of, say, Scott Parker who could arguably add something extra to the side). Of course it is no use having a group of inspirational leaders who can’t pass, dribble, tackle or shoot (or catch…) but there is a judgement to be made on balancing the technical and mental qualities of the squad.

And just as with the attack and defence, Wenger has got the balance wrong in recent years. It’s another element of the squad that he has to address – and make the right judgements – this summer.

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