Fancy Dans

By Kieran Kinsella 29/12/2015  0 Comments  [Jump to last]
When I was a naïve teenager my mates and I used to spend every waking hour honing our football skills. We didn't always use a football though. We used tennis balls, golf balls, even erasers because our focus was on heading, volleys, and Matt Le Tissier tricks. Full of optimism we entered a local tournament. We prepared for it by practising direct free kicks and scoring directly from corners. Much to our surprise, we lost our first competitive game 10-0 to a bunch of overweight, middle aged firemen. We were perplexed. Technically we were better. We could do all kinds of Le Tissieresque tricks but we were beaten by a bunch of talentless cavemen. The problem was that for all of our party tricks we didn't know how to play the game of football.

I bring this up because I see a correlation with Roberto Martinez. He doesn't shy away from giving Barkley, Geri, and even young "diamonds" like Dowell free reign to focus on producing tricks for the highlights show at the expense of hard work, and learning the game. Consider some of our phenomenal youngsters such as McAleny, Kennedy etc who've been sent on loan only to be sent back barely used despite their apparent talent. Could it be because they don't know the fundamentals? The basics of the game? Early reports on Jonjo Kenny at Wigan specifically mentioned his talent but his lack of positional awareness. The former is natural but harnessed the latter is learned.

Looking back at Wigan you can see the disservice done to a team when you put personal glory ahead of results. Case in point, Callum McManaman. For a season he was hailed as the new wonder kid but things went south once Martinez left town. Why? could it be because he had free reign to try his trickery without repercussion when his fancy dan leg work led to mistakes? Now he's a washed up journeyman bench warmer and only in his mid 20s. A latter day McGeady you could say. Hugo Rodallega, Paul Scharner and Moises are examples of others who were shining stars at Wigan but complete flops elsewhere.

That's what happens when you no longer have a benevolent coach saying "Don't worry about passing, tackling, hard work that is for the water carriers." Most professional football teams expect everyone to carry the water at least occasionally. In fact, there isn't a single Wigan player who went on to be a success anywhere else after a schooling in the Martinez class of showboating and trickery. They learned some tricks but they lack discipline, drive, desire and a sense of responsibility to the team.

Looking at our current crop it's fair to say Barkley is improving but look how quickly Dele Abele came out of nowhere to usurp him as England's midfield maestro. He was schooled in the lower leagues at MK Dons but quickly made the step up to playing for Spurs and England. Barkley on the other hand (three years older) is still young, carefree, bound to make mistakes. At what age do we say "enough is enough, you've got talent but learn the other aspects of the game." In the Martinez world that day never arrives.

The pro-Martinez camp will argue that the team would be poorer without the indulgent managerial approach of Martinez. Remember in the 90s how fun it was to watch Le Tissier at Southampton and all those great goals he scored? People would have said you were insane if you said he was handicapping the team. And yet, no big club ever came in for him. His England career can be measured in minutes not caps. Most interestingly of all, Southampton ended a years-long battle with relegation to finish eighth the year AFTER Le Tissier retired.

Far from building a successful team, Martinez is building a pipeline of Harlem Globetrotter style fancy dans. 20 years from now Barkley, Geri, Stones and co. might make a living sitting alongside LeT issier, Marsh and other win-nothing Flash Harrys who put self glorification above results. If you want tricks go to the circus. Football is about results, style is optional.

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