“Effort without talent is depressing but talent without effort is a tragedy”
I remember watching an America’s Game recently (which chronicles the season of the Super Bowl winning teams or the best teams never to win the trophy) which featured the 1981 San Diego Chargers. Hall of Fame tight end Kellen Winslow explained just why the diminutive running back Hank Bauer played such an important role on that team.
“You have to have a Hank Bauer on your football team, an overachiever. Because then it forces people who were gifted, you know that natural ability, to ask themselves, why am I not working harder? He’s a guy who pushes everybody else”.
Bauer wasn’t blessed with athletic ability. There were others in his position that had the raw attributes, others that were technically better. But because he worked harder and because he wanted it more he became just as important as the star names.
I thought of Bauer yesterday when Gary Neville was described by many as an ‘overachiever’. For nearly two decades, Neville has held down a right-back berth at one of the world’s most successful clubs and on top of that he has amassed 85 caps for his country.
I can fully understand the ‘overachiever’ tag but it could be seen as too simplistic. It suggests that Neville was more of a passenger during Manchester United’s two decades of dominance. It proposes that he didn’t deserve all the accolades.
But Neville’s biggest strengths were those which could not be visibly seen. He possessed a burning desire, a winning mentality and his game lent itself to natural leadership. He also had a knack for being in the right place at the right time, for knowing when to attack and when to defend. He wasn’t blessed with searing speed or a bulking frame like a Micah Richards; he didn’t have an evergreen engine like a Gareth Bale or a Cafu. But mentally, Neville possessed all the traits that are typical of a Manchester United player in the Sir Alex Ferguson era yet they are often overlooked by many.
Was Neville an overachiever? Perhaps. But then this is no bad thing, in fact it should be revered. Many players waste the talents they have and the sport’s stars who punch above their weight should be celebrated.
When people look back at the Manchester United and England sides of Neville’s generation they will wax lyrical about Beckham, Scholes, Shearer and Rooney and with good reason.
But you need a Gary Neville on your football team, an overachiever. Because it forces people who were gifted to ask themselves, why am I not working harder? He’s a guy who pushes everybody else.
“Your future is created by what you do today, not tomorrow”
With untold riches, Manchester City’s relentless pursuit of instant gratification is understandable. But even with their wealth, it has not been easy. Unlike Chelsea, who provided the blueprint for quick success, City started from a lower rung on the ladder. Chelsea finished fourth the season before Roman Abramovich weighed in; City only achieved ninth place before the Abu Dhabi United Group arrived. The squad needed reinforcements and the new recruits could not be guaranteed Champions League football. Two years on and the same problems exist. To cure this ill, City have again delved into the transfer market.
The worry is that assembling a team of global superstars will come at the expense of their own fledglings. The academy has been praised in recent years and rightly so. Few English clubs have produced players of the calibre of Micah Richards, Nedum Onuoha, Stephen Ireland and Daniel Sturridge. The academy won the F.A. Youth Cup two years ago and two of that victorious team, Dedryck Boyata and Vladimír Weiss, have been on the fringes of the first team. While Sturridge willingly opted for pastures new, Richards, Onuoha and Ireland have struggled to establish themselves as mainstays in City’s revolution. Jérôme Boateng’s arrival this summer could result in departures for his psychical prototypes, Richards and Onuoha. Meanwhile Ireland continues to be linked to a host of other Premier League clubs. Shaun Wright-Phillips, back for a second spell at Eastlands, has Adam Johnson ahead of him in the pecking order. Even Joe Hart, England’s brightest young goalkeeper, faces a spell as Shay Given’s understudy.
It is a problem which has caused concern over at Stamford Bridge after Chelsea’s initial triumphs. They pumped money into their academy and Frank Arnesen was installed to bring through the next generation. No longer would Chelsea rely solely on Abramovich’s millions, rather they would look to their own to step up. Up until now, the exercise has been a colossal failure but with the forthcoming homegrown rule about to come into effect, its importance cannot be overstated.
The blame shouldn’t lie squarely on manager Roberto Mancini’s shoulders. He needs to build a successful team and quickly or he will face the axe just like his predecessor Mark Hughes. Those who have worked their way through City’s ranks may not be Champions League standard just yet and Mancini needs established talent if he is to go one better than last time around. His first priority is not to develop future stars; it is to bring in trophies. By jettisoning too many of their own, City may struggle to find leaders and long-term servants. These types of players not only help create a club’s identity but they also spearhead long term success.
Across Europe the top sides all have these players, men who have become synonymous with their clubs. Xavi, Iniesta and Puyol at Barcelona, Del Piero at Juventus, Totti at Roma and before his retirement, Maldini at Milan. At the revolving door that is Real Madrid, Iker Casillas has out-lasted two waves of Galácticos and until his recent departure; Raúl was an ever-present figure since he broke through 16 years ago. Inter Milan’s Champions League winning squad included few Italians but the man who lifted the trophy in Madrid, Javier Zanetti, has been captain for over a decade. In England it is no different. Giggs, Scholes and Neville are a part of the furniture at Manchester United, scousers Gerrard and Carragher make up the fabric of Liverpool. Chelsea’s turnover of players has been greater than most in recent times but John Terry is still a figurehead for the West Londoners. Even Arsenal, with their foreign legion, possess Cesc Fàbregas who epitomises the exciting, young attacking side Arsène Wenger is honing.
It is a key ingredient that City lack and it is not something which should be underestimated. He need not be a local boy and as Fàbregas and Zanetti have shown, he does not need to come from these shores. What he does need to be is a player who embodies their club’s style, a leader who works harder than most and can be called upon in the toughest situations. Even in pursuit of short-term success, City need to find their own Terry, Giggs or Zanetti, their own heartbeat. It is something which should be taken under consideration when in their quest for glory; they contemplate offloading their bright, young hopes to free up room for the more household names.