Earlier this week I read this outstanding article by Paul Tomkins, looking at the attacking quality Liverpool possess in the light of their recent signings especially as compared with recent teams.
In his analysis a name cropped for whom I’ve had much mixed feelings – Dirk Kuyt. As I read the article and it’s look at the importance of balance around the team especially in what players can contribute to the attacking effort a phrase sprung to mind that is often used in the football world and rarely explored in much detail, namely that of work ethic.
To earn a living wage I work as a tutor with young people helping to bridge the gap between education and employment and a key area of training and observation is on the issue of work ethic. A crucial part of that training gets us to define work ethic and then see how it applies to the everyday challenges you might come across in the workplace. Translating that to the football pitch and that man Kuyt comes up again.
Let me be honest. Part of my mixed feelings about Kuyt, unlike Tomkins’ more analytical approach to the guy, is a gut-feel about the guy’s merit in the team. Having bought a prolific striker for Holland, I was expecting him to be a prolific striker in England for LFC. As it’s turned out he’s spent most of his time plying his trade down the right. He is no silky winger, he won’t beat many for sheer pace, he is not a trickster and he is hardly sending panic down a full back’s spine with his crosses. Yet for seasons Benitez in particular has persisted in playing a striker on the right of midfield. There would be the occasions when he was given freedom to play up front and give glimmers of what we could have expected from him if he played in his natural position.
As he was not then the ideal guy on the right, I was fairly harsh on the guy and felt he epitomised the state of the side in being plucky but essentially without that touch of class to make the difference when it mattered.
I have had to change my views because of that concept – work ethic.
Tactics fascinate me, team shapes and how individuals fit into plans or not is part of the game’s appeal to me. I appreciate sometimes you can be in a situation like United with Cantona, but the particularly appropriate image is of Le Tissier at Southampton. To get the best out of him, the team would be built around him and allow him to flourish. Others would tackle
and run for him, leaving him to come up with the shots, passes and game-changing dribbles that would be the difference between life in the lower divisions and retaining Premier League status. It may appear a bit unfair to other players at the club, but once the thinking is explained and experienced the pro would just knuckle down and get on with the job especially if as would be likely the main man carries weight with other club officials.
There is that option, or there is the one that most managers go by which is to ensure every team member is mobile and available to take passes and play simple ones. this is where Dirk comes in. He expresses all the time excellent work ethic. He is up and down his wing and putting in challenges if called upon. He has scored his fair share of goals and it’s no wonder he is an Anfield favourite for the contributions he’s made to it in good days and bad. If one guy deserves a trophy winners’ medal for the work he’s done then its Dirk.
So what about work ethic then? What role does if play in a team’s success? Well Manchester United have not been so successful without every player on the pitch being known for putting the effort in. Cantona was a great team player and for all of the criticism Berbatov receives, even he has learnt to play more for the team than to seek to be the focal point of the team.
Chelsea’s success, for whatever is said about the big guys, is down to their willingness to work hard for the team. Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba act as good role models for those coming in about the level of effort that has to be put in to allow a team to be successful. Even when games are not going their way, it is the hallmark of champions to continue putting in the effort, demanding the ball, seeking to do something to pull the team through.
Such work ethic is prominent even in such glamourous teams as the Brazil one of 1970 or Barcelona’s current crop of super-footballers. Even Messi will put in a shift. Pele was no liability or luxury as a player. The team ethos supported hard work and the industry it takes to retain possession and when it is lost regain it. Such is the team balance in getting that job done that the platform is given for the flair and creativity that excites the fan.
I think there is a British mentality when it comes to work ethic that requires muddy shirts, heavy sweat and possibly the scars of the effort to put in. Yet skilful players can be just as industrious, the issue is how to appreciate effort even if it’s by playing smart rather than the gung-ho, steaming into challenges that meets the criteria of those who are ‘giving it their all’.
With regard to Liverpool, there have been times when it appears as though it is only the likes of Carragher and Kuyt who are pulling in a shift. Sometimes it can appear as though players can go missing. Hopefully those issues are being ironed out and for all the contention over the amount spent on players, if they can apply themselves to the Liverpool way – a way steeped in the folklore of Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley and one that the current boss is familiar with – then success can be round the corner for this Liverpool team.
It is not all about the flash technique and headline grabbing performances, sometimes the difference between winning and losing is the effort the eleven players on the pitch are willing to put in.