Home > Football > Does football overvalue the big fish in the small pond?

Does football overvalue the big fish in the small pond?

“You were a big fish in a small pond, but this here is the ocean and you’re drowning”
Last week, Scott Parker was crowned the Football Writers’ Association Player of the Year. It was met with glee from the masses who felt the award was wholly merited.
Parker’s ability to singlehandedly try and keep West Ham United afloat this term earned him the award. In what has been a peculiar Premier League season, Parker’s efforts could ultimately be in vain in a collective sense despite his personal glory. There’s also been widespread appreciation of Blackpool’s Charlie Adam in his first year in the Premier League.
The two represent big fishes in small ponds. The two brightest stars in an otherwise crystal clear sky. The question then, is would they be so highly regarded were they plying their trades at the other end of the league table? After all, Parker was deemed expendable during Chelsea’s initial revolution under Roman Abramovich and Adam was surplus to requirements at Rangers.
The issue can be translated to a continental level when you consider the career of Schalke striker Raúl González. Raúl spent 16 years at Real Madrid winning a plethora of leagues and cups. He holds the record for most appearances and goals at Madrid and in the Champions League. He is Spain’s most capped outfield player and until recently he was also the country’s all-time top scorer. Not only is he a gifted striker with an impressive scoring record, he is a Madridista and for many years, was the captain of the European giants. By all accounts he should be recognised as one of if not the greatest striker of the last two decades.

But Raúl has never acquired the personal accolades to match his statistics. He has, for example, never won a Ballon d’Or (coming second once in 2001).

Parker has shone despite West Ham's poor season

His love affair with Madrid ended in 2010 when he opted for a new challenge rather than witness his career fade out on Real’s bench. Since his move to Schalke, Raúl’s name has risen to prominence once again. His goal scoring record in Germany is decent but still some way short of the figures he produced in his prime at Madrid.

When looking for an attribution factor, football’s penchant for overvaluing the big fish in the small pond seems like the logical explanation. At Madrid, Raul was overshadowed by two eras of Galacticos. To strive for recognition he had to outmuscle Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, David Beckham, Luis Figo, Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaká. At Schalke he is by far and away the biggest pull.

If you need more evidence that we overvalue the big fish in the small pond take the career of Matt Le Tissier. He was a midfield maestro with magnificent technical attributes who spent his whole career at Southampton. Yet Le Tissier only amassed eight England caps. His talent surely deserved more but are we right to hold him such high esteem when reflecting on his career? Would Le Tissier still be as revered had he played for Manchester United or Arsenal?

Just like the scouts who scour this country’s playing fields for prospective talents, it is the diamonds in the rough that come to the fore.

When the media hype up the next generation, we hear just as much, if not more, about talents like Ipswich’s Connor Wickham and Southampton’s Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. They are young men of unquestionable ability but we forget that like Le Tissier, Parker and Adam, they are still making large splashes in small pools.

You can follow me on Twitter @liamblackburn.

Do you think that football overvalues the big fish in the small pond too? Let me know in the comments section.

  1. chbeckett
    April 27, 2011 at 10:38 am

    I am biased as a West Ham fan, but I think you are missing the point. Scotty is not the best player in the league, not even just this season. But the dedication he has shown alongside his technical improvement and his overall contribution has been immense. It’s all the more impressive because he’s in a ‘small pond’. If you are playing with a team of superstars then your game will improve – the passes to you will be better, other players will make better runs. So your performance will look better. Scotty has been working with a rathe lack-lustre team that lacks quality and form. It’s not just in England that we admire footballers for their character as well as technical ability, because it is often character that translates to success against the odds on the pitch. I hope for my team’s sake that Scotty’s efforts will be rewarded with West Ham staying up – and achievement for a ‘small pond’ team that matches anything achieved by the cash-swamped Big Pond teams at the top of the league.

    • April 27, 2011 at 4:27 pm

      First of all, I really do like Parker. He’s technically brilliant and as I said on Twitter after the Wales game, it’s refreshing to see an England player so dedicated who isn’t all about enhancing his ego. I’d have had him and more of his ilk in the starting line up a lot sooner had I been Capello. I think he’s a fantastic player and I don’t begrudge him the award at all. And of course the Football Writers’ Player of the Year doesn’t have to be the best player in the league. But the two times when he’s really gained a lot of praise are at West Ham and Charlton. He’s played for four clubs and only at those two has he really shone.
      You say that’s easier to shine for a top club when you have great players around you. To a certain extent you’re right. I imagine for example I’d look far better at a Barcelona where their players movement is increible than I would do at a Stoke!
      But I’m not so sure it is always the case that being surrounded by good players makes you better. Some players flourish with better players, others don’t. I’m not sure Parker and Adam would have got as much praise had they been playing for top sides. I’m not saying this is a terrible thing, just that we do tend to overvalue those who excel in weaker teams. It’s impossible to measure of course but should West Ham and/or Blackpool go down, I imagine we’ll see next year.

  2. April 27, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Full credit to Parker – must have felt like giving up at times surrounded by players not as dedicated / talented but he has stuck at it.

    I have seen this a lot in the lower leagues when ‘big fish’ wind their careers down in a small pond. I watched Paul Merson at Walsall for two years where he effectively gave up after half a dozen games when he realised the quality (or lack of) he was playing alongside.

    • April 27, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      As I said above, I’m a big fan of Scott Parker. And he seems to be a classic example of somebody who flourishes when surrounded by weaker players. I think it can be a pyschological thing as much as a technical thing too. Some people really like being THE man in those teams.

      At that stage I’m not sure Merson had anything left to prove in the game. There is however a motivation there for the younger players like Oxlade-Chamberlain and Wickham who will probably move on to bigger clubs in the future.

  3. May 8, 2011 at 2:42 am

    I think the fact that Matt Le Tissier only got a few England caps is evidence of the big fish in the small pond being undervalued.

    And Raul, there’s no argument for him being the best striker of the last twenty years. Not in the same league Batistuta let alone the greatest, Ronaldo.

    Good blog though.

    • May 9, 2011 at 5:34 pm

      Thanks for the comment.

      See your point with Le Tissier but he’s lauded far more than midfielders who played plenty of times for England. Unfair in my opinion.

      No argument for Raul being the best striker? He’s probably in the top five if not the top overall for goals scored in that period. Surely that alone warrants consideration?

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