Writing teams off in October is sheer folly
The most well-publicised revival of the season may have been the relentless fightback from 15 points off the pace in October which has seen Celtic cruise to the SPL title with more than a month of the season to spare.
However, there have been plenty other examples across Britain of teams making a mockery of unflattering judgements made early in a campaign. While Rangers looked certainties for the title in the first few months of the season, Annan Athletic were similarly coasting at the top of the Third Division after winning seven of their first eight games to go six points clear of Paul Hartley’s Alloa at the start of October.
Fast forward six months and Alloa have tied up the title with four games to spare and are a huge 27 points ahead of Annan. This was clearly a case of Alloa, under a new manager, requiring time to bed in a new group of players. Of course, time and patience can be rare in football, as Arsene Wenger found when he endured his worst period as Arsenal manager at the start of the campaign.
After the 8-2 defeat to Manchester United in August, Wenger’s head was called for, and when his team trailed Tottenham by ten points in January, Arsenal’s top-four hopes were written off and Spurs were lauded as the most entertaining side in the country along with Manchester City. As is often the case when time is afforded, however, Wenger’s class prevailed and Arsenal had duly cruised past Tottenham by the end of March.
Likewise, in the same period of time, a previously ordinary Everton side wiped out Liverpool’s ten-point advantage to pull four ahead of their hapless city rivals. These instances highlight the folly of rushing to judge a team or manager too harshly on the basis of a few months’ results. The danger of knee-jerk reactions is that people can lose their jobs when a clamour of short-termists gang up and demand instant change.
It is also irritating when there is a rush to acclaim the likes of Steven Naismith or David Silva as player of the year after just a few months of the season. This campaign, like pretty much every one before it, reinforces the old adage that a football season is a marathon rather than a sprint.
Endurance, consistency and staying power are of far greater significance over a season than an ability to go off like a train, hog the early headlines and then fade at the business end.
It seems managers or players who are being written off in October may well have a point when they ask to be judged over the course of a season.
With Euro 2012 less than two months away, you have to fear for England given that they still have no manager in place. The new man will have little time to ponder a squad for which there are several decent but hardly world-beating contenders to pick from.
In order to ensure a semblance of togetherness and understanding among the squad in such a short period of time, whoever is appointed should try the Spanish approach and load the team with players from the best team in the country. While Spain have benefited from building their team round a core group of Barcelona players, England would perhaps be best served simply by picking as many Manchester United players as possible.
By building their starting XI around Rio Ferdinand, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney (after his ban) and Danny Welbeck, England would at least enter the tournament with a core group who are buoyant, at ease with each other and fuelled by a winning mentality.
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