Our Game is always evolving, and one of the biggest recent impacts on the game has been the emergence of the “squad” and “rotation”..now let me be clear the very best players will always play, regardless of formations, tactics and rotation, but the principle of a squad of 23 experienced players contesting 11 starting positions come game day have moved the goalposts.
“Never change a winning team” was the mantra and the accepted way of doing things as I made my way through the leagues, but as more teams brought into the squad ethos, not just the top teams but teams in the second tier Championship as well.
In my opinion squads and rotation changed the culture within the dressing room dramatically. Whereas before you would have a core of 11 players who notwithstanding injury or dramatic loss of form would always play, with maybe 3 or 4 real options on the bench then some young prospects. Managers or Coaches now pick teams for individual games, previous recent form is now measured alongside energy levels, training form and tactical considerations for any specific opposition. This could result with players in form being left out for a variety of reasons, but how does this affect the players? In ways it can result in a dampening of the competitive edge of players. Coaches contend that players should put the team first and play the role needed by that team, but all players strive to be the focal point and the best player in the team right?
Nobody dreamt of being a sub when you acted out winning the World Cup as a kid in the park did they? At its worst, it can lead to a “shrug your shoulders” attitude towards selection. Alternatively, when you have a real squad mentality it can be inspiring. In our recent promotion campaign at Reading, Jay Tabb came to epitomise what it was to be selfless in the pursuit of success, here was a man who trained harder than anybody, was a revalation every time he turned out for the team and picked or not, and it was mostly not, he never complained.
In light of his attitude and sacrifice for the team how could anyone else complain about their own personal situation. It is my opinion that without Jays example our team would not have achieved any success, and he was as crucial to our promotion as any other single individual.
I have had my own taste of being an “impact” player, and I must confess, I found it very hard to wrestle with my ego enough to become content with it. I found it hard to feel part of the team and my frustrations would often lead to me agitating for moves at regular intervals. Even now, after all I have previously written, that is how I feel a professional should act, “if you don’t rate me, I will go somewhere where they do and prove you wrong” and I am sure many players would agree.
I am quite sure I was never once “rested” without verbals between me and the manager, usually in the privacy of the managers office. As I read that back, I think that says more about me than anything, and in our new game I wonder what is more of an acceptable attitude, one of a team player, even if it does not include you? Or the ruthless ambition of an individual?