Ever since the Denilson interview came in the public domain a lot has been said about the leadership issue at Arsenal. In all the talk, I didn’t notice many people talking about the role of a leader in a football team.
Lack of leadership at Arsenal is not a new topic. It’s been around for a while and crops up every now and then when the team seems to put a flat performance. I don’t buy most of the popular criticisms of the club but this is one where I see some merit.
Simply put, there are times when the performances are seriously below par and one wonders if it could have been better if there had been a leader on the pitch who could help or inspire everyone to raise their games.
I have shared this feeling often but have also been thinking about this issue for a while now. I asked myself, “Suppose there was a leader in the team, what could he do when the team is not performing?”
Can a player just stare at others and make them perform? Can he shout and improve the level of his teammates? Should he wave his arms around to lift everyone? In such a fast game, would a player get time to go and talk to individuals?
If four or five guys in a team are not playing at the level expected, what can one leader, or three leaders for that matter, do?
The next question is how often can they do this? If there are a couple of poor games every month, can the leader keep on making a difference? If not then does he lose his leadership after a point in time? Would it lead to situations like the ones with Gallas and some of the players?
As you can see, once you start thinking about it, it is a very complex issue.
I figured one of the ways of inspiring the team would be to lead by example. If the leader performs at his best the others will be motivated to do more.
So if Fabregas holds off pressure and plays some good passes or if Van Persie knocks on the opposition goal in tight situations, I guess other players will be fired up to give more.
On that front it seems to me that Arsenal do have leaders. Nasri showed it against Leeds, and later Fabregas came and controlled the situation. That is certainly one form of leadership. And we see that often enough. It’s not by accident that Arsenal have a better win percentage this season than Chelsea, Spuds, City or other teams.
Undeniably, there are days when this doesn’t work. Cesc might be a bit off form or playing with an injury. The opposition might be doing a good job of defending or pressing. There can be many reasons. What then?
If it happens to one odd player it can be managed but what if the game is really tight and the defence is under pressure? People panic, some players lose their composure and start hoofing the ball, the passing game is broken down, and a negative cycle starts. How does one arrest that given that the main player or players are out of form?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying nothing can be done or that what goes on at Arsenal is good enough. I’m trying to think in terms of specifics and not some general statements.
It’s easy to say there should be a leader. That’s like putting the onus on someone else without even trying to understand the problem. Fans can do that; after all the team’s performance is not their responsibility, fair enough. But once they do that they do lose credibility and, in my opinion, the right to criticize because they don’t know what they’re criticizing.
People claim to recall older games but forget that those teams lost plenty of big games and crucial encounters as well. To me that just seems like a convenient and at times lazy argument. Once again, it’s easy to say we had it in the past without knowing what ‘it’ really means.
We have a very good example of Chelsea right in front of us. They’ve the same players who had been winning a lot. Did they all suddenly lose their leadership? It’s not so easy when a bad patch strikes, is it? If a team of so many experienced players who have won many trophies can struggle, what can we expect from a team of young players who are all coming up the hard way? Can one or two guys coming in from the outside make a big impact?
To me it’s clear this is a complex issue. I can understand the idea of ‘shared leadership’ that Arsene talks about. Each individual must take responsibility for his own performances. Some players will have more flair, others might have more to offer physically, and so on. Individual characteristics vary. And depending on the situation in the game one quality might be more valuable than the others. In such a case the right person would have to step up and take charge.
On most days one would expect the best players in the team to lead from the front. Right now we’re seeing that with what is being loosely described at the first eleven. Nasri, RvP, and Cesc perform really well and that team is producing good results.
The second string didn’t have some good games but that could be down to one or two key players being out of form and one or two others just coming back from injury. Most of those players didn’t have a run of games. Many factors probably came together and we saw the impact on the performances.
I liked the way Arsene rotated against Leeds. By leaving Nasri in there, he ensured one of the key players was there to lead by example. It was a subtle change but made a big difference. If Wenger can manage his future team selections similarly I think we’ll be fine in majority of the games. Sometimes it won’t work and we just have to minimize those days.
These are just my thoughts on the topic and I haven’t formed a strong opinion yet. I’m sure there is more depth to this issue and there must be aspects that I haven’t covered in this post. Would love to know your considered thoughts on this.